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 1 – Bring Back Child Labour
Here in the West we view parenthood as hard work. We seek ways to entertain our children, to prevent them from becoming bored and to develop them. The best way to make parenting easier, is to simply do less of it!
Start by doing less. Don't rush to do everything for the little darlings, just stay in bed a little longer and see what happens. The answer is: it will make them more self-reliant. Not only does this make life easier for us, but it also makes things better for them, both in the short term where they feel they are making a useful contribution to family life, but also in the long-term where they seek to sort themselves out rather than relying on the world to support them. Children who have too much done for them do not have the ability to do things for themselves - the parents are even expected to know the location of the minutiae of childish life.. "where is teddy?" "Where is my PE bag?". Children are actually happier when they can do things for themselves.
One way we need to do this is not to make the work "workish", it needs to be part of what we do to be independent people, and a little bit of fun mixed in can't be bad either. Tom even suggests that the more the children do, the less they will whine, because only the powerless whine.
One way we can do this is by just enjoying the child's company, making things and doing jobs around the house together. Tom does concede that this can be tricky. Children see through the media that other children are coddled and cossetted, and spend their time in front of screens, so may protest that they are expected to do more. Trying to force them to do things makes them resentful - it's about getting them to want to contribute. The well-being and common good of the family comes above the whims of an individual. Part of this is to enjoy your own contributions to the home, not to moan about the big pile of ironing! It's all about doing things together and making it all into a game.
How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?
This is all very well, but this morning I asked 4 year old C to put his pile of clean washing away in his wardrobe - despite the fact that he is completely capable of doing so, ten minutes of lying on the floor and moaning followed before I finally shouted at him and got him to come and do it (I could have done the job myself four times by then). An hour later I ask who will help me make the coffee, and this time I have two volunteers, and the one who was slower off the mark (C), this time has a melt-down because he couldn't help!
I have given the children the responsibility for keeping their own bedroom clean and tidy, and also one other room, which rotates through the family, and I have a timer set for a "ten-minute tidy up" before pre-school every day. In reality, at the ages of three and four, they still need showing what to do, and to be guided through the clean up. Bug loves to help load and unload the washing machine and hang clothes. C has found new joy in walking down the road to where a neighbour sells eggs on the doorstep, and putting coins in the honesty box and bringing back eggs. They both have their own bit of garden. Both love cleaning windows (we'll overlook how badly!). C loves to wield the vacuum cleaner. Both love to get involved with the cooking and to prepare their own breakfasts.
At this stage I'll settle for getting them to do the things that they enjoy helping with, and to try to make other things fun and teach them how to do more things. I think we've made pretty good progress for their age, and am hoping that despite his teenage horror at being asked to do things sometimes, C is actually pretty helpful around the house and has the potential to continue in that vein.
I'm not terribly good at enjoying the housework myself. I do get satisfaction from doing it, but have been known to go down the martyr route, talking about how "I'm constantly following you two around the house cleaning up after you"
How do you get your children labouring around the house?