Friday, April 24, 2009

Implementing idleness

In Slate, there is a series of articles by Tom Hodgkinson (someone we have encountered before) about being an idle parent. He starts with a situation where he tries to delay interaction with his children.
I have noticed this tendency in myself: Sometimes I am staring at my computer screen and a child comes into my study and asks to play a game: "Will you play Tractor Ted with me?" Self-importantly, I sigh and say something along the lines of: "I'm working" or worse, a querulous: "Can't you see I'm working?" The child persists for a while and then gives up. I then look at my screen again and wonder whether checking the Amazon ranking of my last book can really be considered to be important work. Can it not be left for five minutes?
Been there! (Currently, 105,000. Doh!) Of course, you are supposed to think that perhaps you should be paying attention to your kids but Hodgkinson doesn't think that is the goal: he is all about being left alone. The surprising thing is that he argues that to achieve idleness you need to religiously say yes to your kids in precisely these situations.

The story goes that if you say yes and play with your child for 5 minutes, something unexpected will happen.
Give children whatever they want, whenever they want it, as soon as they ask. If children know they can have your undivided attention for any reason, no matter how paltry, at any time of day or night, lo and behold, miracle of miracles, they stop asking.
It is quite hard to understand this argument. Apparently, they don't come to you looking for some affirmation of love and instead only if they actually want to play which is, I guess, not often.

This seems a stretch for me. They may actually want to play most of the time. But I guess it can't hurt to try something counter-intuitive.

Hodgkinson does have other interesting ideas such as outsourcing parenting to pets (again, if it doesn't work, you face big costs), avoiding family days out, and not getting up from bed. There is more in his book, The Idle Parent (available in the UK).