How to be an idle parent.

Snapshots of life at home.
April 20 2009 4:21 PM

The Idle Parent

We had children, and then we complained.

Excerpted from The Idle Parent © 2009 Penguin Books.In Part 2, Tom Hodgkinson explains why you should just stay at home  and never take your kids to amusement parks or museums.

Oh, how we whinge, we pampered parents of the West, attacked by choices, condemned to strive always to do the right thing, to get it right. We complain about money; we complain about lack of sleep; we complain about our partners, our co-workers, the newspapers, social networking sites, the government. We stamp our feet and shout at the usurers in the banking corporations and the swindlers and avaricious cheats on Wall Street, but most of all we complain about our own children.

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The first few months after the birth of the first baby are fairly blissful. Then the competing elements of the artificial constructions that we grandly call our "lives" become locked in mortal combat. We try to "get the balance right" between unenjoyable and enjoyable activities. But we are moaning about the very lives that we have created for ourselves. We took that job, we bought that house, we chose that boyfriend or girlfriend, we had that baby, we bought that car, we live in this city, we live in this country. We were free to go and retire alone in Goa and live on the beach for the rest of our lives, childless and free. But we chose not to do that. And then we complained!

What we so often observe in the old-fashioned cultures is a stoical attitude to life, an inspiring lack of self-pity. What you get in rich societies, by contrast, is a hell of a lot of moaning. My friend John Lloyd, the producer of such TV shows as Blackadder and Spitting Image, has observed a phenomenon at dinner parties which he calls "moasting," an unpleasant combination of moaning and boasting. Complaining about the chalet girl in Gstaad, or about poor treatment at the hands of Virgin Upper Class, or how the Eton English master is not up to scratch. To bring two unpleasant phenomena into one intensely awful new form of whinge takes a particularly British form of negative genius.

Both should be avoided at all costs by the idle parent. (As with all these suggestions, bear in mind that the idle parent is against fanaticism in all its forms. A bit of whingeing in moderation will not have the idle police knocking.) Whingeing is the adult's mirror image of the child's whining. When they hear us whingeing about things, they assume that it's normal to complain, and therefore they whine. Indeed, we encourage them to whine and complain by continually probing them for their judgment on things: "Did you have a good time? Was it fun? Is it a good book? What did you think of the film? How was school?'"

It's what the ancient Chinese called the "discriminating mind," the false setting up of good things and bad things. This discriminating mind is really a way of making children into consumers, because consumers are the biggest whingers of all, always ready to fire off complaints and always ready to buy better products.

We are not obliged to have children. We choose to have them. Now, instead of whingeing and moaning and wishing that things would somehow change, take my advice and learn to say "Yes!" to your kids. This very simple idea was suggested to me by the aforementioned John Lloyd. He said that he had noticed in his own life how much he was fobbing off his kids: from the early days, when he would linger late at the office because that seemed preferable to facing the mewling infant and general chaos of home, to later, when the kids were a little older, when he would become angry if disturbed by a child in the middle of a phone call.