I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson. I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.
Chapter 20 – The anti-nuclear family – LEAVE THE KIDS ALONE
We have this dream that families are these nurturing glowing cosy cuddles, your place of sanctuary against the world. In reality, too often the family is just a small group of people who happen to live in the same house, and are often isolated and hostile to one another.
Could it be that where in times gone by, work was done co-operatively – making, mending, growing, cleaning, cooking – where now it is done by nobody, or by just one resentful person. Families used to work together, now they are uncreative, and home is about crashing out, chilling out, zoning out, anything but engaging with one another or the world.
We produce these wonderful children to make our family, and then farm them out for others to look after, while we work to pay the person to look after them, and buy them things that they don’t need. Instead, get the children engaged in “work”. Get them gardening, making things, decorating things – it doesn’t need to be perfect, just creative.
Tom also strongly suggests avoiding family days out – costly and full of strife. Better to spend some one-to-one time with your children, getting to know them, giving them full attention. Or make the family bigger – not by having more children yourself – by inviting others to spend time with you. More adults and children spending time together means that the children take off and entertain one another, and the adults get some quality time too.
DH Lawrence has the best advice of all for child-rearing, “Leave them alone”. This makes looking after the children much less like work, and you are more likely to enjoy the time you spend with them, than if you are constantly trying to entertain them. We over-schedule our children, and make them dependent and expensive. Surely we would do better to just let them play and create.
Just let the children be. It’s a fine idea, and I am a huge advocate of unstructured play and creativity, but sometimes you need to be a little more present than that, to stop them from accidentally killing one another (C likes to put the beanbag on top of Bug and sit on it. She doesn’t like it so much and screams. I don’t like the screaming, but at least when she’s screaming I know that she can breathe. I usually step in and make him get off.). I also think that they need some structure and support to give them ideas for their creativity. With no structure at all they start to roam, and usually head for some sort of trouble, but a simple “invitation to play” where some interesting resource is set out, or you sit down and make something with them, gives them lots of ideas. Then, when they are engaged in their new ideas and play, you can slope off and get on with something else. I’m also all for getting the children involved with the housework – mine are certainly involved with cooking, which they both love, and C adores hoovering.
As for the nuclear family being a bunch of people living in the same house who don’t like one another very much, and family days out being a no-no. Not here. We live in the cuddly dream. The children are still of an age where nothing beats a day out with mummy and daddy, and as luck would have it, Daddy and Mummy have similar interests and thoroughly enjoy a day in one another’s company too.