Suburban Correspondent linked to a fascinating article, in which someone finally articulates my own philosophy of parenting–the Idle Parent. (Read the entire article–it’s worth it, especially for the Manifesto at the end) Kids thrive when parents leave them alone, says author Tom Hodgkinson. They don’t need to be shuttled back and forth from soccer and piano lessons to Latin tutors and horseback riding instruction. That’s too exhausting, and not just for the parents. They don’t really need Baby Einstein and Mozart in utero. Paradoxically, argues Hodgkinson, the idle parent is actually the responsible one, raising children who are independent, self-sufficient, self-entertaining, imaginative, and all sorts of good things. These parents are thrifty, sociable, and anti-materialistic.
Best of all, idle parents get to sleep in.
Can I get a hearty AMEN here?
I first realized I was an Idle Parent (without exactly putting it that way) the year we lived in France. I had already been training the children–from Day One really–to let me sleep in. When Elliot was two and had switched from a crib to a toddler bed, he’d bounce into my room every morning and announce at the top of his healthy lungs, “Five more minutes! Five more minutes!” “Yes,” I’d mumble. “Just five more minutes,” while keeping my eyes firmly closed. Of course he had no idea what that meant, and would usually bounce right up in bed next to me (often landing on one of the twins, gone back to sleep after that darn early morning feeding), but still. This shows that I was working on the concept.
By France, they were 8 and 6; good ages to grasp the concept of Not Disturbing the Parents. On Wednesday mornings and the Saturdays that they didn’t have school, they learned to get up on their own. Anybody can fix cold cereal if they’re hungry–none of this hot-breakfast-every-day for offspring of the Idle Parent. They would carefully close the door to the combined kitchen/living room and turn on the TV. Elliot wanted to fix us coffee but we were a wee bit uncomfortable with that, so instead we’d get ourselves up round 9:00 or so, when the cartoons were ending. Sometimes we’d even send Elliot across the street for croissants, which are as special and meaningful as pancakes any day.
Although my friend Heather might not be the person who would spring to your mind (assuming you actually knew her, which you don’t) when you think of Idle Parenting, when our family inevitably end up spending weeks and weeks in their basement during our visits home, we do practice it together. She and I spend hours in the kitchen, talking and talking, while the children swirl and flow and eddy around us, moving outside and in, demanding and being satiated in turn. So that I told her the other day, “I don’t really know your boys–I just see them in passing.” And when we’re here, I don’t see much of my own children either.
(However, Heather is not very good at being Idle. We were room-mates in college and I noticed in her then a tendency towards hyper-organization and a mania for cleanliness. I just wanted to get that on the record, in case you do know her.)
But here I am, staying at her house again. She and her husband have been going through a rough time lately, and a friend gave them two nights away at a nice hotel, and she asked us to stay with their kids. Today, three women, friends of theirs, stopped by to do yard work as a surprise for them, spending a cold March day pulling weeds and filling bag after bag with yard debris. (Don’t they have terrific friends?) These friends brought their kids, and their kids’ friends who were staying with them (it’s Spring Break in these parts), and there were a lot of children here–16 if you count the baby, which I very much do since I’m in charge of his general feeding and changing and happiness and things like that.
But I held true to my newly-articulated philosophy. I mostly ignored them all, and they did great. They held fantastic battles in the tree house, played bumper-cars with scooters in the driveway, pushed the two-year-old on the swing for hours, and allowed me several uninterrupted minutes to blog in peace. Amazing what can be accomplished.
Although I’m still glad that we’re back down to 9 kids in the house now. Which is normally rather overwhelming, so I guess I’m making progress.
Are you an Idle Parent? I’d love to take a poll. If you are, share your most proud Idle Parent moment in comments. Here’s mine:

Last school year, we had Idle Parenting Mornings down to a science. We had only one alarm clock, next to my side of the bed. It went off at 7:00 a.m. “ELLIOT!” I’d yell across the hall, and I’d wait to hear his answering, “Ok Mom!” Then I’d happily roll over and go back to sleep.
The kids would get up and go downstairs, where they’d make their own breakfasts, eat, get dressed, and brush their teeth.
By 7:45 I’d be up to check that they had everything and that their clothes didn‘t clash too horribly, and I’d brush and braid Ilsa’s hair. At 7:50, another American named Todd would pick them up and take them to school (we car-pooled). After seeing them off, I might shower and make coffee, or I might go back to bed for another 20 minutes. My classes never started before 10:00 so I had some time.

Looks like Elliot had it right, when he accused me of inactivity.

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