Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 29th March 2009

The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson

Hamish Hamilton, £14.99, pp.233

On the face of it, Tom Hodgkinson is a harmless English eccentric. The editor of a magazine called 'The Idler', he is a passionate critic of the frenetic pace of modern life and believes we would be much better off if we spent our days living in yurts, tending vegetable patches and playing the ukulele. In person, he is immensely likable. At last year's Hay Literary Festival, he hosted a star-studded dinner party that ended with him urging the guests to accompany him in a singsong. Jeremy Clarkson was so embarrassed he hid under the table, but I joined in with gusto.

Hodgkinson has already written two books urging us to drop out - 'How to be Idle' and 'How to be Free' -- and 'The Idle Parent' extends this hippy philosophy to hearth and home. According to him, modern parents spend far too much time fussing over their children. Instead of constantly policing their behaviour, we should leave them to their own devices and they will quickly develop into independent, self-reliant little people. He claims to have experimented with this approach on his own three children, aged three, six and eight, and they are all thriving.

As the father of four young children myself, I can testify that much of what Hodgkinson says makes sense. For instance, he describes the futility of trying to use your "puny authority" to coerce children into doing their chores and recommends leading by example. "To escape from a master/slave duality is crucial, because kids naturally rebel when compelled to do things by authority," he writes.

Unfortunately, not all of Hodgkinson's advice is helpful to those who wish to put their feet up and do less around the house. The problem is, he wants us to rid our homes of virtually all modern technology. In Chapter One, for instance, he urges us to throw out the dishwasher and turn washing-up into an activity that all the family can enjoy. "One does the washing, one does the drying, one does the putting away," he writes.

Before long, the dishwasher is joined by the fridge. Rather than rely on "big supermarkets" for our food, we should take up gardening and encourage our children to do the same.

He also recommends chucking out the children's toys. "You can take your Pop-Up Pirates and your Hungry Hippos, with their huge cleaning-up time and mess-making potential, and their unbiodegradable oil-based ugliness, and consign them to the bin," he writes. From now on, all toys should be home made. "You - the parents: you can make your own toys," he writes. "Yes, you can. This is a noble calling for the dad of the family. Buy a saw and a chisel ..."

Inevitably, he urges us to get rid of the television, too. At first, he hesitates before suggesting an outright ban. "Who wants to ban things?" he writes. "That's what Puritans and governments do." But a few pages later he has overcome these scruples. "Throw the telly out of the window," he writes. "It is a great liberation."

By the end of the book it is clear that, far from being a laid-back hippy, Hodgkinson is an anti-capitalist fanatic who wants to ban almost everything, including newspapers, magazines, computers, advertising and non-natural fibres.

No doubt some of these measures would pay dividends. I can imagine my own children being much less spoilt if they were never allowed to watch television and the only toys they had to play with were ones I made myself. But to call this approach to parenting "idle" is a bit of a misnomer. A parent who followed Hodgkinson's philosophy would scarcely have a moment to himself, what with the washing up, the gardening and the toy-making. Without all the trappings of modernity to distract my children - computers, video games, television - they would be constantly tugging at my shirttails, demanding to be entertained.

In fairness to Hodgkinson, he considers this argument and points out that children in Africa are perfectly capable of amusing themselves. "African children rarely cry," he writes, and claims this is because "they have more control over their lives". That is a little naïve considering the average life expectancy in Swaziland is 32.23, but like all critics of modernity he has a romantic view of pre-industrial life.

As I say, Tom Hodgkinson is a charming fellow and this is an original, thought-provoking book. But because I'm a genuinely idle parent, I think I'll hang on to the dishwasher and the television for the time being.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter In this week’s ⁦@calling_podcast⁩ ⁦@JamesDelingpole⁩ and I discuss the looming Coronavirus pandemic, whether there’… link  (4 hours ago)


Why the left keeps losing by John Gray -
The closing of the conservative mind: Politics and the art of war by John Gray -
Cambridge and the exclusion of Jordan Peterson by Nigel Biggar -
The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film