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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Full of wit and wonder"
[ This review originally appeared in
THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS - 14 June 2010 ]

I'll admit that I was a little skeptical when I first heard about Tom Hodgkinson's newest book, The Idle Parent. I have appreciated Hodgkinson's work in previous books (e.g., How to be Idle and The Freedom Manifesto) and will occasionally read The Idler, the magazine...
Published on June 15, 2010 by Englewood Review of Books

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123 of 130 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing but frustratingly inconsistent
Tom Hodgkinson's "The Idle Parent" is a frustrating mix of refreshingly anarchic parenting advice (relax, leave your kids alone, enjoy the journey) and weirdly didactic philosophical manifesto (quit your job, don't buy anything plastic, reject most societal norms) -- with plenty of tongue-in-cheek satire sprinkled liberally throughout. Hodgkinson is profoundly...
Published on June 11, 2010 by Amazon Customer


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123 of 130 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing but frustratingly inconsistent, June 11, 2010
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This review is from: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids (Paperback)
Tom Hodgkinson's "The Idle Parent" is a frustrating mix of refreshingly anarchic parenting advice (relax, leave your kids alone, enjoy the journey) and weirdly didactic philosophical manifesto (quit your job, don't buy anything plastic, reject most societal norms) -- with plenty of tongue-in-cheek satire sprinkled liberally throughout. Hodgkinson is profoundly pro-environment and anti-capitalist, and believes in living a life as carbon-free and detached from The Man as possible -- yet the extent to which he foists his radical beliefs upon readers quickly becomes an irritant. Despite claiming that all Idle Parents should find their own way and create their own rules when it comes to parenting (yahoo!), his rhetorical style doesn't follow his own mandate -- instead, chapter after chapter outlines the way he's creating his own Idle Family (by getting rid of the dishwasher, eliminating "Family Days Out", growing a garden with his kids, etc.) and strongly intimates that unless you do the same, you're not following The Rules of Idle Parenting.

Indeed, by drawing almost exclusively upon his own experiences (which affords him plenty of opportunities for humorous self-denigration), he alienates readers who don't live on a farm in England with easy access to animals and wilderness; ultimately, he fails to provide readers with a balanced sense of their options. Living in an urban environment, for instance, I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take my kids outdoors to a nearby park -- yet Hodgkinson roundly labels all man-made parks the devil's work (!). Perhaps most egregiously, his categorical cries against both daycare and full-time work outside the house don't acknowledge those of us who find both those societal conventions to be an excellent start at Idle Parenting, given that they allow us to achieve two of his purported goals: a) widening the circle of adults to help care for our kids (daycare), and b) maximizing our own adult enjoyment of life (through meaningful work).

Finally, Hodgkinson barely addresses the world of parenting with kids under three (his three kids are ages 3-8). He touches briefly upon sleeping arrangements (he's an advocate of co-sleeping, which does NOT make life easier and simpler for all parents!), and gratuitously notes that he thinks swaddling is a restrictive practice which should be banned. (Clearly none of his kids had colic... Swaddling can be a true godsend for the Idle Parent of a Fussy Baby.)

With all that said, Hodgkinson's basic credo -- relax and stop feeling guilty about everything you're NOT doing for your kids -- is such an essential antidote to the toxicity of modern helicopter parenting that I'm willing to recommend this book to many of my friends -- with the caveat that much of what he writes (the book could/should have been about half the length) needs to be taken lightly, or ignored altogether.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Full of wit and wonder", June 15, 2010
This review is from: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids (Paperback)
[ This review originally appeared in
THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS - 14 June 2010 ]

I'll admit that I was a little skeptical when I first heard about Tom Hodgkinson's newest book, The Idle Parent. I have appreciated Hodgkinson's work in previous books (e.g., How to be Idle and The Freedom Manifesto) and will occasionally read The Idler, the magazine for which he is the editor, but the idea of idle parenting didn't sit well with me at first, as I have seen far too many self-absorbed, idle parents here in this urban neighborhood who don't care at all where their kids are or what they are doing. However, by the time I had wandered leisurely through the pages of this new book Hodgkinson had won me over.

The roots of this philosophy of idle parenting lie not with any of the familiar parenting gurus of the hour, but with noted enlightenment philosophers Locke and Rousseau (though Hodgkinson is quick to note his points of disagreement). Freedom lies at the heart of Hodgkinson's approach - freedom from the oppressive forces of television, toys, school and other cultural expectations - and indeed one gets the sense, though Hodgkinson himself wouldn't likely use this sort of language, of what a sabbath-infused way of life might look like for families. In a world where the struggle against the oppressive powers of greed, isolation and consumption too often grinds us down, Hodgkinson suggests a life of joy that is marked by virtues that resonate with Christian tradition: simplicity, rest and community. Many readers might prejudge this book, as I admittedly did, as driven more by the vice of sloth than by any virtue, but what Hodgkinson is advocating here is not complete apathy, but rather freedom from over-parenting. Consider, for instance, his take on family routines:

[A] routine, applied with a light touch and flexibility, can be a friend to the Idler. I'm not recommending a von Trapp-style military regime. ... [N]aughtiness is the child's attempt to resist tyranny. The more tyranny, the more naughtiness. The more rules, the more rules there are to be broken. ... Children resist tyranny at every turn. Do not become a Captain Bligh, ruling through fear, hunger and the lash until the men can see no other option but mutiny (30).

At the heart of Hodgkinson's Idle Parenting approach is the perennial philosophical distinction - one cannot be too surprised here given his penchant for Locke and Rousseau - between being and doing. The important aspect of parenting is not what we do (or don't do) with our kids, but rather our relationship with them, and Hodgkinson is quick to point out that there is mutuality to this relationship. There is much that we can learn from our kids, he says; for instance:

* Living in the present
* Being silly and laughing the face of disaster
* Drawing and playing tricks and games
* Discovering that work and play can be the same thing
* Learning the pleasure of dens
* The pleasure of making noise
* Loving liberty

Hodgkinson's approach is also centered on leaving much room for the sort of creativity and play that comes naturally to children. He is particularly critical here of toys, and especially store-bought ones. "Left alone, children will make their own toys," he says, "and in the process will develop their creativity rather than relying on entertainment from costly gadgets made by greedy toy manufacturers." Engaging nature is particularly important as well. Let the kids be outside, explore, make up games, grow things. Reading with your children is also particularly important for Hodgkinson, and his chapter on "Good Books and Bad Books" - which thankfully is mostly about good books -- will undoubtedly be of much interest to readers of The Englewood Review. I won't spoil this chapter for you, but I was pleased to find much of what I would call classic children's literature here (C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll and more...) as well as his emphasis on poetry ("Reading good poetry to your kids," he says, "is a way of reigniting your own pleasure in it.")

The Idle Parent is a refreshing read, not only in the ideas that it offers us, but also in Hodgkinson's laid-back, narrative writing style that is full of wit and wonder. One wonders, however, how much the element of privilege plays into Hodgkinson's approach to parenting. I can appreciate the wisdom of not being obsessed with one's career, but working "as little as possible" simply is not an option for most of the people that I know. I fully agree with Hodgkinson that we need to think creatively about how we work and provide for ourselves, and to paraphrase Wendell Berry that we need to be more concerned with making a life than making a living. However, it seems that the life of leisure that Hodgkinson imagines could easily be confused, whether he intends it or not, with the extension of Western privilege. Furthermore, much of what he has to say about letting kids roam and explore outside is much easier to consider when one owns or has access a bit of land for them to be free to explore. There are many factors in an urban setting like mine that would pose a significant challenge to some of the ideas that Hodgkinson poses. These concerns notwithstanding, there is much in The Idle Parent for all parents to reflect upon and indeed, it seems to me that if we are attentive to Hogkinson's message we will learn much about the sort of freedom and delight for which we were created!
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am not a terrible parent after all! Who knew?, May 25, 2010
By 
Kategal (New York, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids (Paperback)
My love for Tom Hodgkinson's book "The Freedom Manifesto" borders on the obsessive, so I have been looking forward to the US release of "The Idle Parent" for a long time. It did not disappoint. This is the only parenting book I have ever read (and I believe I have read them all) that makes me feel as if I have actually been doing it (sort of) right all these years. I say "sort of right," and I think Tom Hodgkinson would approve of that - because unlike the other 1456 parenting books I've read, this author is happy to point to specific examples where he has totally messed up in the parenting department. How refreshing! This is the anti-helicopter-parenting bible, as far as I am concerned. Enjoy your own life, and let your kids enjoy theirs. Brilliant!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Would have made for a great article, March 20, 2013
By 
Ready Mommy (San Francisco, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids (Paperback)
Tom Hodgkinson presents a fascinating contradiction: on the one hand, his "idle parenting" school of thought involves minimizing parental burden on a day-to-day basis (e.g., "The problem is that we're putting too much work into parenting, not too little."); on the other, he urges parents to base major life decisions on their children's development ("Better to be penniless and at home than rich and absent, certainly during the first three or four years of each child's life. There will be plenty of time for hard work for you when they grow up."). This seeming ideological conflict permeates his practical advice as well. Designing games that you can play without getting up off the couch sounds great for parental relaxation, but how does getting pets decrease the workload for any parent but the most rural? And therein lies the answer: Hodgkinson lives on a farm. His ruminations about what decisions have worked for his family aren't the value offered. Rather, he suggests that each couple reason to their own policies by applying his overarching ethos: "[l]ower your standards" and encourage children to do things for themselves (brilliantly combined as "[d]o not suffocate them and do not allow yourself to be suffocated").

Unfortunately, this message could have been much better communicated in one tight, funny article - rather than a rambling, uneven book. In particular, I could have done with fewer quotes from Locke and Rousseau; less anti-consumerism and technophobia (I'm also an anti-brand, anti-TV gal, but, "everything that a computer can do can be done with more pleasure by the old ways," really?!?!); more of the dry wit for which Hodgkinson is apparently famous (my favorite line: "You have to have rules, otherwise they will mess up your house."); and more editing out of mediocre content in favor of astute observations like the following:

- "Music and dancing should be woven back into the fabric of everyday life."
- "[W]hining is an expression of powerlessness and dependence . . . [and] repeated requests . . . [a]re a sort of demand for recompense for earlier love starvation."
- Modern lack of community support is, in part, owed to the fact that more grandparents have s*** going on in their own lives these days than in times past.
- "[W]hen kids dawdle, it is not they who are at fault but the system that attempts to regiment them so strictly."

On that last note, I was quite taken with the following passage in which Hodgkinson starts with the rally cry of modern feminists critiquing stay-at-home motherhood and then swoops in with a common sense take that resonates with my own opinions and choices (though, again, is a bit too rage-against-the-machine for my taste):

"[H]istorically, philosophically and socially there are many different conceptions of what being a parent is all about, and probably one of the least common is the lonely, stay-at-home mother of the Western imagination. Things do not have to be like this. You can choose your own way. Motherhood is not a role. It should not actually be a full-time job. The children don't need so much mothering. . . . Today, we commonly see family life where the husband leaves at 8:00 a.m. and returns at 7:00 p.m. and all the company the mother has during the day is a washing machine and daytime television. . . . The boredom of the full-time mother is compounded by her own guilt: she feels guilty because she is not enjoying the company of her own baby, her own children. She feels a failure for not enjoying motherhood. . . . [M]otherhood is a myth and woman was not made to shop, clean and burble at baby all day on her own. She needs to combine motherhood with other creative activities and sociability. . . . So the idle mother does not actually avoid work. On the contrary, like the idle father, she embraces it. Work of her own choosing, that is, independent work, autonomous work, creative work. What she avoids is that terrible, fearful, spirit-sapping invention of the industrial age: the full-time job. For the idle mother, it is not a choice between `going back to work' or `staying at home.' She explores that vast and rich territory between those two barren poles. She creates her own job, one that she can fit around her children or even stop doing for a few years. And having made the conscious decision to both work and look after the children, she enjoys both."

That said, I can't recommend the book. If Hodgkinson had separated the wheat from the chaff and produced a kick-ass article, or dropped the philosophers in favor of making the chaff more amusing, I'd be a huge fan. As is, reading this book is like dating a guy who could be so awesome! But isn't.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars love this book!, March 4, 2011
This review is from: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids (Paperback)
Ok so the author is a little wacky but in a good way. Aside from his views on drinking and being hungover (which I guess is not a big deal as long as you arent' an alcoholic and don't drink and drive), this book is a gem. His belief is that we are a society which takes itself way too seriously, and hover over our children (the helicopter parent) to the point where we make them miserable. Better to sit back and let kids be kids--let them argue with each other, make messes, make noise, run around in their bare feet, dance/sing, etc.

He also believes (as I do) that kids today can't do anything for themselves and don't know what to do to keep themselves occupied because we are running them from school to sports to camp to music lessons to chucky cheese etc. The end result? A nation of whining, bratty kids who are bored and cranky.

So I have tried this approach on my kids--I've limited their activities to 1 per child, plus we go to the libray once per week for a reading program where they read to dogs (yes, live dogs which is really fun). I've also taken a more laid back approach--I really don't care what book they read to the dog as long as it's enjoyable. In the past I would have gotten on my 10 year old son's case for not selecting a book that is "age appropriate". I let them make some of their own food without worrying how messy the kitchen will be. And if they don't do their homework or god forbid it's messy, than oh well. Will this be the end of the world? I think not. It's also made dinnertime so much easier. If they don't eat everything on their plate and don't use perfect table manners I don't stress over it.

What's ironic is that the more I lay off my kids and take a laid back approach and simple let them be who they are, the better their behavior has been. My kids seem to sense that I trust them to do things I normally would have done FOR them or NAGGED them about. And being able to be who you are is the greatest thing in this crazy world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One man's very long philosphical rant, March 21, 2013
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This review is from: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids (Paperback)
Although I am not motivated by idleness but rather by what I consider to be the best interest of my children (and family), I agree with many of the suggestion brought forth by the author - relax more, let the kids do their thing, simplify life, spend more time out of doors, down with TV, down with plastic and toys and organized activities, etc. So really, I should have liked this book, for even if it didn't offer me any new ideas (preaching to the choir after all) it is nice to have one's opinions validated. But the whole thing felt like a long essay on one man's thoughts on parenting, with the occasional references to Locke and Rouseau (because they are so relevant today??) thrown in. It was nothing but anecdotes from his family (they have three kids, live in the English countryside, raise animals and drink copiously, from what I understand). Also his occasional digs at the government and at being a slave to ones job left me mostly annoyed - what about those of us who enjoy our work? Shouldn't that be an aspiration in life if one so chooses?

Another area where I feel Hodgkinson goes to extremes is in his anti-school rants, homeschooling apparently being the ideal situation. While one can certainly lament the state of education overall and the emphasis on tests and standardized curriculum in particular, there are still schools out there that are well worth sending your kids to. I found his opinions on curriculum contradictory at times. On page 81 he says "It would be a thousand times better, as things stand, to chuck overboard all the drawing and painting and music and modeling and pseudo-science and "graphic" history and "graphic" geography and "self expression," all the lot." Instead he suggests teaching just reading, writing and arithmetic. But then later on in the book he talks about how great music is and that he actually teaches kids at his kid's school how to play the ukulele. In short, I don't agree with this views on education.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It is like a magazine piece expanded - too far, August 2, 2011
I really wanted to like this book, but I'd say it is 2.5 stars. It reads like a piece from a magazine that was expanded to book form, only without enough substance. The author mentions drinking so much that one might think his "idle" parenting is an excuse not to get off the couch or out of bed because his hangover is so bad. He incorrectly cites historical expamples to support his points, and somehow found Locke and Rouseau in enough quantity to quote them repeatedly. Many suggestions he makes are just plain dumb---quit your job so you can nap at home? Really?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a must read !, November 9, 2011
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This review is from: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids (Paperback)
I loved this book, it reminded me to take a breath and let my child enjoy his childhood. It reminded me to let him live his life and have fun with him and not worry so much about everything !! I want him to grow up self sufficient and brave --this is a good reminder of how you treat them in their youth will reflect in their adulthood.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Idle Parent, January 26, 2011
This review is from: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids (Paperback)
I wish someone had given me this book before I had children and before I read literally dozens of child care books. What a lovely idea to let the kids be kids and the adults act like adults instead of toys for the kids. The author's approach is so common sense based that you have to wonder where all of these other "experts" got their ideas. This book is full of practical advise tinged with anecdotes and humor. I will definitely purchase more books by this author.
(The reviewer was compensated for posting this review. However, the opinion stated in the review is that of the reviewer alone. Further, the reviewer independently selected this product to review and has no affiliation with the product maker/distributor, Amazon, or the review requester.)
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing, June 16, 2010
This review is from: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids (Paperback)
The Idle Parent is a refreshing, funny, practical approach to parenting and boy do I wish I'd read this much sooner. Rather than live with your stomach in knots trying to do the right thing and often failing miserably because of the impossibility of it all, author Tom Hodgkinson encourages us to relax. All that worrying, obsessing, and helicoptering does not a happy childhood (or parenthood) make.

The guy is old school progressive. I confess I'm guilty of a little (a lot) of hovering, but I have ambitions of having a free range kid. As my son gets older, I'm getting much much better. This book will be one that I come back to again and again for that reassurance and the reminder to lighten up. It's also good for a laugh, Hodgkinson writes with a great sense of humor and he had me chuckling throughout the book.

Idle parents are, by default, eco friendly parents, eschewing plastic both figuratively and literally in favor of the more real, authentic, and closer to the earth. Hodgkinson suggests walking or busing over driving, gardening, farming, and keeping waste and want to a minimum.

Turn off the TV, forget about all the lessons (apart from swimming), theme parks and expensive toys and get down on the floor and play with your kids. Build forts with blankets, play in the fields. He argues we have lost touch with nature and references old world themes like having reached the ideal of a Bruegel type situation at a get together--kids playing at one end of the field while the adults chatted over beer at the other. This is the stuff of life. Not seclusion in front of screens and the "digital straightjacket of the internet."

There are some contradictions and the guy likes his drink, butI don't think it's meant to be taken entirely literally. Read it for amusement, comfort and some good old fashioned common sense.
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