I have been reading about this concept branded “lazy” parenting. In case you haven’t heard, “lazy” parenting centers around the idea that we don’t have to provide constant entertainment, intervention, and guidance for our children. I love the concept, but does it have to be “lazy?”
The word “lazy” brings up such a negative connotation in our culture that prizes achievement, productivity, and outcomes. Not that parenting should be about all that, but it sure is a lot of hard work that could never be described as lazy. It implies a passive parenting approach of giving up and lying on the couch to scroll through our phones while ignoring our children. Okay, so we may have those moments, but that is different than lying on couches scrolling through phones while our children raise themselves.
Let’s review how others are defining “lazy” parenting, and go from there. It has been described as letting your children play with risk of injury, without hovering right next to them. It is allowing time and space for children to play totally independently, which then allows time and space for their grown-ups to do something grown-up nearby, like read an actual book. It is staying away from scheduling or structuring lots of time so that kids default to more free play, and learn what to do when bored. It is standing by rather than jumping in at every sign of “I can’t do this myself” or at every glimpse of conflict between friends or siblings.
If our mothers and grandmothers read this, they would probably just call it “parenting.”
It is an emblem of our modern parenthood that these ways to parent would even elicit the word “lazy.” Descriptions of lazy parenting lie couched in the context of “so much is expected from parents these days.” This implies that the level of involvement that is very demanding of our time and energy is today’s normal, so anything less than that is lazy.
It takes more mental effort to not yell out, “Be careful!” at every stumble, reminding myself a skinned knee is worth the trade off of developing confidence in how their bodies move through the world. They will have to fall to learn. My kids have scars from the repeated scrapes earned from the process of learning how to ride a bike. The howls of pain, the tears, and the blood are all part of the process. At the same time, my children know the rule to ALWAYS wear helmets. My brand of parenting? Let them get bloody; do not let them get a head injury.
I have spent years sitting down on the couch to do something I want to do and instead, spending the whole time fielding constant interruptions from the children to whom I am giving time and space for “independent” play. Over the years, it has started to pay off and I have watched my children become more adept at playing without my entertaining participation, but it took more energy than it would have to just give in and give up on my mission. It has required fortitude, persistence, and stamina . . . NOT laziness.
By minimizing extra-curricular activities, we have deliberately left weekend afternoons open without the demands of rushing three kids between various activities. This means we can accomplish necessary errands and household chores, while still being able to breathe and sneak in what’s important to our grown-up enrichment, like reading or exercising. These open afternoons, however, have often consisted of lots of sibling fights bred from boredom, constant pleading for the iPad, and us yelling about how they need to figure it out so we can fold clothes.
But guess what? We persisted. And a strange thing has emerged over the last several months. Our kids seem to have finally learned they are on their own. I will let the “I’m bored” bounce off my Mom bubble of resistance for a few minutes, and then they disappear. Later, they will bound up the stairs from the basement to announce they have made robots from cardboard boxes. By themselves. And they have crafted some elaborate game that somehow even meets the needs of the 3-year-old.
There have been long, drawn out weekends when I’m counting the hours until I go back to work and I have thought, “maybe we should put them in a few more classes just to give them something to do.” But I have convinced myself that these open afternoons have actually served a purpose beyond giving us time to meal prep. Just as some child development experts have pointed out about the value of free play, my kids are becoming more independent AND using their imaginations AND playing together without fighting. Not all the time of course, but the fact it happens at all is nothing short of miraculous.
None of this is lazy. It has taken years of steely willpower to withstand the torrential storms of whining, fighting, crying, and begging.
I generally take issue with parenting trends and their labels because it makes each approach sound exclusive to whatever value they are attaching to their label (e.g., you can still form attachments without practicing “attachment” parenting). Labeling parenting styles can encourage division and judgment in our precariously confident parenting worlds. “Lazy” parenting seems ripe for encouraging judgment of ourselves; I know none of us needs MORE judgment.
So I refuse to accept that I am practicing “lazy” parenting, even if what I’m doing by instinct fits the description of the articles circulating out there as part of a click-bait headline. If I were to propose a new label (since apparently that’s how to fit in these days), I would call it “Vintage Parenting: Taking Us Back To Our Roots.” Vintage is still cool, right? Or did that go out of style while I was “lazy” parenting?