in praise of “lazy parenting”

in praise of “lazy parenting” post image

I’ve been thinking about “lazy parenting” a lot. Partly because I asked the question for this edition’s post: What’s a “lazy” thing you do/did as a parent, caregiver or teacher that ended up benefitting the kids? 

But then the phrase kept showing up, in different spaces.

I’ve also been thinking about my kids making forts. Different spaces, made by them.

* * *

It used to drive Chris crazy when H and L started in on one. In my memory, H would instruct L to go gather pillows and blankets from around the house while he got to work in the family room, dragging the two leather chairs back to back, maybe, or setting two couch cushions on end, balancing a third across the top.

Chris dreaded how much effort it took to get them to put everything back after they’d moved on to some other game. Me? Totally worth the trouble.

Because they never built forts. They built shops and caves and pizza stands and ships–for pirates, for Swedish immigrants–and rabbit burrows and Hagrid’s hut and prairie homesteads and ant tunnels and rock museums and structures for Ohlone people.

They spent hours in those structures. Nagging about clean-up, no problem.

* * *

Did you happen to hear the interview with research psychologist Peter Gray on WNYC last month? I keep talking about Gray, I know, but he’s on to something and it’s the same thing I can’t let up on: for the last several decades we’ve been stealing kids’ play, their independence and it’s factoring into their mental health.

We need to bring back what used to be common sense, that children need independence to grow up. The whole purpose of childhood is to become increasingly independent. That’s why we have such a long childhood.

It’s such a great interview. You can listen or read the transcript.

I made a TikTok about it and it got a lot of views, comments–like that other video I made about losses in youth autonomy. Most of the comments–the heartbreaking comments–on that original video came from teens and young adults in their twenties.

This time, most of the comments came from parents. Most centered on the idea that the world is no longer as safe as it once was, that you can’t give kids independence if you can’t let them out in the world.

Those responses made me sad. First, I don’t believe the statistics support this fear. Second, freedom in the world is only one form of independence we can offer kids. We’ve taken so much freedom from their daily lives–why aren’t we talking more about that?

* * *

When H built a fort, he’d start with a basic structure–the two chairs, those cushions–and then he’d circle around it, consider what it needed next. L, at two or three, would chatter and watch, her Cookie-doll hugged against her chest. H would build a pillow roof, or tent a blanket across a span, anchor it with books.

His hands would hover, wait for the thing to hold. If it did, his fingers would flutter back like birds. If something collapsed, he’d adjust. Find a new way to make the structure stand.

* * *

In his interview, Gray talks a lot about play, kids’ need for it–he’s been researching the play for decades. He talks about how kids these days are over-scheduled, over-protected.

I think a lot about what a wonder, what a privilege it was that my kids had so much time to play. Play at home, in their educations, with their friends. At our weekly homeschool park days, the kids were pretty much off playing all day, we parents checking in but not constantly supervising. Long days like that, not to mention twice-yearly camping trips: days and days of playing, hanging out. It didn’t quite occur to me, then, that this type of independent play was disappearing for most American kids.

That might have looked like “lazy parenting”–we moms and often a dad or two, sitting at the park, chatting for hours while our kids were off playing. But it so good for them–and us! How fortunate we were to have that time.

At home, being with my kids so much, I had to embrace “lazy parenting” to keep my sanity. In another video, I offered two of examples of what that looked like. One “lazy” thing I did: allowing lots of audiobook listening.

Another? Letting my kids–cleanup be damned–make family-room forts.

* * *

I wanted to help those TikTok parents see other ways of giving kids independence that might not involve being out in the world. I made another video about how they might do that, and also reposted one I made last fall about the capitalistic origins of intensive parenting and how today’s parents have been, unfairly, maddeningly, trained to follow the advice of experts.

I started that video with some opening words from Dr. Spock, whose Baby and Childcare might have been the only parenting book my parents owned. Look how the book begins: Under a heading of “Trust Yourself,” Spock writes, “You know more than you think you do.”

Look how a TikTok commenter responded:

I legit started crying when you read the quote from Spock. I have bought so many parenting books whose openings either imply or straight up say that I’m the problem. This is one of the reasons I’m struggling with my mental health recently is because I keep getting told that I’M the problem. On my worst mental health days the thought I have is that my children deserve a better mom. One who can give them more patience, time, a cleaner  home, opportunities for extracurricular experiences, and doesn’t have these mental and chronic health issues. and now I’m PISSED that I feel all this because someone wanted to sell me something. sorry for the rant but that one quote, though simple, was so healing.

* * *

I read that and thought dammit. Thought: this is constantly a message given to MOTHERS.

Thought: time to preach the benefits of “lazy parenting”! The benefits of doing less.

Funny that I’d already been thinking about that last month, when I first posed the question to you.

Some of you were kind enough to share–when I asked for feedback in an Instagram story–some of the “lazy” things you’ve done as a parent and how they benefitted your kids. Others left stories in the comments of yet another TikTok video.

Below, some of those stories!

* * *

I’d love to hear from more of you. I know many of you are here because we share similar ideas about parenting, education, writing, life. Maybe you’re a creative sort. Maybe you’re a teacher. If you’re a parent, you likely were a different sort of parent, one who questioned societal norms. Maybe you homeschooled.

I’m guessing that many of you know the value of giving kids more space in their lives. I’m guessing that if you’re a parent, you learned how to embrace “lazy parenting”–and often saw how your kids benefitted from that freedom.

Won’t you share some small experience in the comments? Let’s offer young parents an alternative to the dominant societal message that says they need to constantly do more for their kids, force the kids to be doing, constantly doing–or the kids will fail.

An idea: I’ll make another TikTok. Me, reading your stories. Make that thing go viral.

* * *

Fort-building comes up in my manuscript chapter about our first year homeschooling. Not just because H and L at five and two were constantly building forts–they were–but because it’s such a good metaphor. The kids were building structures for themselves, changing and adapting them as needed, just as I was learning to help them build their educations, their lives.

That blurry image at the top of this page? A texted photo of a fort H made in college, for a student film shoot.

It wasn’t easy to decide to homeschool back in 1996, to go against society like that. To learn to let go, give the kids more freedom. To be brave enough to let them do less. But I had my homeschooling support group–new then; lifelong friends, later–to give me confidence to break free of norms. And I had my kids in front of me, showing me what it looked like when they were really engaged and learning.

H would start with a basic structure. If something collapsed, he’d adjust. Find a new way to make the structure stand.

As parents, we can do this too. Let’s spread the word.

parents, caregivers & educators chat

Here are some of your responses to the question: What’s a “lazy” thing you do/did as a parent, caregiver or teacher that ended up benefitting the kids? I’d love to hear from more of you in the comments below!

My daughter alllllways wanted to stay up after I put her to bed. Initially tried coaxing her to sleep. Then one night left a flashlight and a couple chapter books next to her bed. Said I’m tired and gonna head to bed. And that started it. Now I have a 6 year old addicted to reading chapter books. –Jenna W.

Let my tween have WAY too much screentime. He’s now a 17 yr old selftaught fullstack programmer, designing & selling websites, building computers. –KO

Sent my kid to school (a Sudbury school) with groceries instead of a lunch box. Now he’s a professional cook at 16–Stacey R.

My kids listen to their yoto boxes every night before bed. One of the best things for kids I’ve found. My son especially likes podcasts.–Chelsea G.

I’m not cooking all day. I’ll make lunch and dinner but everyone is on their own for breakfast and snacks. Thus, my 15 yr old now makes dinner for us. –Alexandra E.

Quiet time every afternoon for *years* (strong introvert over here-we all needed it!!) and now I’ve got a 16 yr old who is a brilliant pianist and violinist and a multi-faceted artistic daughter. Both have read/listened to thousands of books over the years. Out of everyone I told about quiet time who did it consistently has similar experiences-it gives the kid unstructured time to deep dive into whatever they want, and they look forward to it (gotta get past the “bored toddler” years lol). The gift that keeps on giving!! —Sarah M. 

We don’t let our neighbors come in–everyone must play outside or in the garage. The garage has a kid table and art supplies – they can use the recycling to build things. We do a “fun factory” at the big table, you can get our legos, play-doh, etc.–BB

My little brother refused to read books so my mother would read to him or play audio books. He did a lot of play based learning and not a lot of hard curriculum. We were always worried he wasn’t learning enough. Now he is in med school and graduated college with 5 degrees in 4 years.–April J.

 I chose to have them direct their learning and follow their passions. My older daughter chose to read anything and everything and to dance and draw whenever she wasn’t reading. Now she’s a literature major, entering her junior year of college in NYC, still tap dances and teaches tap private lessons, and draws whenever she’s not doing the former. My younger one just graduated high school and is beginning the trainee program at Alonzo King LINES Ballet in SF after being in the Sacramento Ballet trainee program for the past year and a half. She didn’t truly read until 4th grade, but is now a voracious reader. Both are still pursuing their passions and I love that. —Lori W.

writers & book lovers unite

Question for next issue: What book have you loved lately and–in three sentences or less–why? Let us know in the comments below!

  • Love this graphic/text essay about Bay Area cafes we’ve lost, created by Briana Loewinsohn, my daughter’s beloved high school art teacher! I can’t wait to get my hands on her graphic memoir, Ephemera.
  • Writer friends, this free newsletter by the ever brilliant Leigh Stein on how to make social media your laboratory is so good–and maybe you’ve noticed how I’m following her instructions with my TikTok shenanigans. She’s the one who convinced me to get on there in the first place.

misc. good stuff

  • My bees lost their queen somehow. I tried to give them a new, purchased queen, but they made their own instead. She’s doing great, Queen May, which I can tell by all the new eggs and brood in the hive. Check out that cycle in this incredible one-minute video.
  • Do you know about third places? This is something I’ve been thinking of a lot as Chris and I help my brother open his long-dreamed of taproom in Fort Bragg, CA!

If you know someone who might appreciate this post, please consider sharing. ❤️

4 comments… add one
  • CathyT Jul 20, 2023 @ 3:44

    Alright, I will bite about the books I am reading, albeit late. Maybe others will also join in as late as me after reading your newer post :/

    Lately, as in the past few years, I have been drawn to books based in other countries that have the main characters lives chronicled and developed as the series progresses. I like detective stories (I think this came about when I was nursing my youngest 29 years ago and would watch CSI at midnight — at least one person/show had closure and an end, unlike my life where there was always laundry to do, mouths to feed, sleep to crave). So, authors I currently like whose characters are not in the US – in no particular order are Tana French, Elly Griffiths, Donna Leon, Louise Penny, and Martin Walker.

    My current book on my kindle is Abraham Verghese’s book The Covenant of Water. I like it more than his last book Cutting for Stone — but that one was good too.

    • patricia Jul 20, 2023 @ 10:11

      Aw, zero comments no more! One is good, if it’s from you, CathyT. 🙂

      It’s so fun to hear not just what people are reading, but what draws them to the work. Your books are totally different from my books! And I love that, just love that people still read and have genres and styles of books that they make theirs. I want a world where that keeps happening.

      Thank you for taking the time to share–and to wipe that zero away! I’d like to get back to this question in my next set of blog post links. You’ve given me a start!

  • Alanya Sep 11, 2023 @ 7:59

    Thank you for this and your whole blog, Tricia! It is the FIRST that I recommend to new homeschoolers.

    I loved lazy parenting. Whenever my kids called “Mom!” I would say “Hold on” (usually because my mind/hands were occupied). Generally when I got to them they said “Never mind, figured it out!”

    • patricia Sep 21, 2023 @ 9:24

      Hi Alanya! What an honor that my blog is the first you share! I’m doing some thinking about my blog/newsletter, wanting it to be useful to people. I hope to make it more of resource to readers, like it used to be.

      “Hold on” as a parenting phrase–yes! Ha! I wrote 30 examples of lazy parenting on Threads, but did not think of that one–although it’s probably a phrase I said daily as a parent. “Never mind, figured it out!” is really our ultimate goal, right? Who knew how well we were preparing them with our “laziness.”

      (I miss seeing you. We need a little park day redux gathering!)

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