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 3 – Seek not perfection, or why bad parents are good parents
Tom starts this chapter by outlining a few different cultural variations on how parenting can work, to illustrate the point that there isn't a single "right" way of doing things. He then goes on to suggest that our construct of the lonely stay-at-home-mum isn't right either. Far from suggesting that mums should head back to the corporate grindstone as soon as possible (this is Tom Hodgkinson after all!) he suggests that parenting should involve as many people as possible, and be a sociable activity. That women should not shun work, but seek work which creatively fulfills them, and which they can be flexible with, as required in those early years of parenthood. Once you make the decision to both work and look after the children, you can enjoy doing both. We constantly talk about "having to" look after the children... what, those joyful creatures that we chose to bring to this earth? Surely we can find a way of doing it that isn't a chore. And the key to that lies in...
...Not trying to do it right. There isn't a perfect way of bringing up children. Find the way that works for you and do it. The best quality a mother can offer her children is her own happiness, contentment and independence - not selfishness, but self-love. Try to keep a light touch on the tiller and leave the children alone a bit more. We need more lazy-and-loving-it parenting. Carry on with your pleasures and just let the kids tag along, rather than putting their wish for a soft-play trip first and ending up sitting alone with a coffee and a kindle.
Turfing children out into the fresh air not only leads to more time for us to do what we'd like, but it also leads the children to the "fleet of foot, the burning flame in the eye, the natural child, the tough, self-sufficient boy and girl." In short, being a lazy parent and getting more time for the things we want to do, is good for the children. (Not advocating neglect of course - there's a clear difference between encouraging independence, and starving and under-dressing your child)
How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?
I'm sure that I'm like so many other mothers out there when I admit that I spend an awful lot of time worrying about whether or not I'm doing it right. This chapter is quite reassuring for pointing out what we really all know, that there is no "right".
I'm a stay-at-home-mum, but I admit that I'm quite looking forward to next term when Bug starts pre-school and I'll have at least two mornings every week without
having to look after the little ones. I have many work plans simmering away because I just don't find the time to make them work (too many hours Scouting I think!). I do feel much more able now to just let them play while I get on with things around the house, from decorating/personalising the inside of the caravan, to chopping trees down and making fires in the garden, doing the ironing or cooking a roast. Sometimes they come and join me, sometimes I have to abandon my efforts to go and referee a fight or clear up a disaster, and sometimes I don't hear from them for an hour or so... it's all good.