Monday, 18 August 2008

Lazy parenting versus benign neglect

I feel like a bad parent. We are approaching the end of the summer holidays and the children go back to school on Thursday (hurray!). That's not what is making me feel bad - I doubt there are many parents who do not heave a sigh of relief to see the end of the long summer holiday lurch into view.

No, what makes me feel inadequate is the other parents. To explain, FB has gone over to play with a friend of his a few times during the holidays. FB loves this and his friend's mother assures me it is doing her a favour as it keeps her son occupied too. We have been meaning to return the favour but have not yet managed to do so (more confirmation of our laziness) SB however has sulked every time this has happened. His friends have not invited him over and it's NOT FAIR and I have had to explain that inviting yourself over to someone else's house is just not done. SB considers this unreasonably fastidious of me.

So last week I agreed I would phone round some of his friends and see if they were free to come over for an afternoon to redress the balance somewhat. Guess what. They weren't. I only phoned three and they were, variously: attending rugby camp; attending computer camp; attending organised events at the Book Festival; helping move house. Yeah, okay, that last one is fair enough. The others though? Made me feel like Inadequate Parent of the Year 2008. Other than going away on holiday with them, our arrangements for the children's summer holiday have consisted of making sure my parents are there to look after them, letting them go to Livingston a few times to stay with Granny and Grandad and otherwise expecting them to amuse themselves. They have gone to the museum and to the country park a few times as well as shopping and so on. But no organised clubs, camps or activities.

Now, we have a house full of computers, books, toys and more Lego than I ever thought any normal house could contain. We live in a fairly safe cul-de-sac over the road from a park. It never occurred to me we needed to organise camps and classes for them too. I mean, I did organise swimming lessons last year but that was because I wanted them to learn to swim, not because I thought they needed to have organised activities planned.

Am I out of touch? When I was a child (here we go, nostalgia overload) we were pretty much turfed out of the house during the school holidays. Admittedly I did not grow up in a city but the principle was the same: my brother and I and our friends were expected to make our own entertainment and we did. (Remind me to tell you sometime about the home-made version of "Superstars" we organised once.) Is it unrealistic of me to expect my children to do the same when they live in a city and don't have the freedom and space I had as a child? Or am I actually doing them a favour by making them responsible for their own free time rather than organising everything for them? Or is that just me excusing my own bone-deep laziness and apathy?

More importantly, why don't children come with instruction manuals so I don't have to fret over this stuff?


  1. I have a suspicion it's been proven by about 101 studies that too much scheduled activity is bad for kids: "creative play" (or whatever the hell they're calling "being bored thus having to think for one's small self" these days) is far better for their intellectual and creative development.

    I'd feel smug, if I were you.

  2. When I was on school holidays, my parents didn't organise anything for me to do either. I think it's quite important to be left to your own devices and to feel bored sometimes - you're kids will be able to figure out for themselves what they want to do, and they won't look to other people to make them happy. Sounds like you're getting it right to me!

  3. I went to camp a few times but more often than not was left to my own devices. That suited me just fine. (And in fact, the last time I went to camp I HATED it because my mother insisted I be kept with my sister. Who was 3 years younger than me. So I was 12, in a group of 9 year olds. Week from hell, lemme tell ya)

    However, I can see where kids might feel left out if everyone ELSE gets to do this or that or the other thing. And I feel for them because I often felt left out of things (not camp specifically, but brownies and martial arts classes and those sorts of social activities)

    So if you've got the money for a week's day camp or something along those lines, I'd certainly talk to the boys and see what they would like to spend their summer doing. It could be that they'd be just as happy volunteering at some community organization as going to some overpriced sports camp.

  4. I used to organise the odd week of activities but mainly my kids liked messing around at home. At least I think they did!

    If you have 3 kids (which I recommend) then there are usually at least two around to play with each other. On the other hand, no one ever asks three out at the same time, so you never get a free afternoon.

    We do now, mind you. Sigh.

    The show was very much NOT our thing, by the way. Sigh.

  5. But then you probably spent more time with your kids than the parents who shipped them off to a hundred organised activities in the summer did.

    Longest queue in Aberdeen ever was the queue for tickets for the Council's Summer Playscheme (which I don't think exists anymore). Not because these parents were anymore interested in developing their children's social skills than any other. No, in most cases they were working parents with a childcare problem.

    Best fun I ever had whilst on Summer Holiday was when we found a disused oil drum and spent days (about 30 of us) squashing two abreast into it and rolling down a hill. Health and Safety? Adult supervision? Educational? No. Fun? Yes.

  6. I like benign neglect. I thrived on it as a child, and is one of the many reasons I adore camping - it means Rebecca can have a taste of the kind of freedom we had as kids.

    Organised activities cost too much, take up too much time and don't foster any kind of independence, in my opinion!

  7. Other parents do what other parents do. I sometimes feel guilty that I haven't signed the girls up for weekend lessons or sports, but as a working parent, I feel it's more important for all of our sakes to have unscheduled family time as much as possible. As it is, there are bday parties, errands to run, family get-togethers, etc.
    I have a feeling if your kids really really wanted to go to a camp this summer, you'd have heard about it!!

  8. Camps are overrated. My kids would be very upset if I filled their summer off with these types of activities. Afterall, we do call them the "Lazy Days of Summer."

  9. Camps?! I only went to one camp, Brownie Camp when I was 8, and I was so homesick for the week I swore I never wanted to go again.

    Benign neglect in a small Highland village was easy and safe for my parents to practise. I climbed trees, guddled about in burns, made bonfires on hillsides, and got chased by cows, the usual stuff. It was great. I feel kind of sorry for all these kids nowadays who are organised within an inch of their lives.

    Sounds like your kids are making their own entertainment and enjoying themselves well enough too. Don't give in to the pressure of what their pals are doing!

  10. The sort of people who send their kids to organised "camps" are just show off's. Just let them wander the streets like I did when a child.