The Idle Parent

Drink as much beer as you can and then lie in bed.

Excerpted from The Idle Parent © 2009 Penguin Books. Previously, Tom Hodgkinson discussed complaining about your kids, why you should just stay at home with your kids, and bunny rabbits.

For the idle parent, going to bed early seems a little, well, square. When the small ones have finally got to sleep, following an elaborate ritual consisting of bath, massage, story time, lullabies, small plates of sliced fruit, and beakers of water, surely it’s time for Mom and Dad to indulge in a little pleasure? This is the time when I generally drink as much beer as I can. And with each subsequent beer, the desire to go to bed recedes. Why would I want to go to bed now, when I’ve finally started enjoying myself? But Victoria and I have found over the years that unless we were in bed by half past 10, particularly if there was a child under 2 in the house, we’d find the daytime almost intolerable.

The way to make going to bed early enjoyable is to have a good book on the go. As far as pure pleasure in reading goes, I don’t think Keats can be beaten, and that goes for his letters or poetry. He’s got a sort of cheerful melancholy which is immensely comforting. And he’s also a great lover of sleep, of course. Going to bed early can become a pleasure rather than a penance, and whether that pleasure is found in reading, sex, cocoa, writing poetry, or reading the seed catalog is of no account. But it should be the ongoing goal of the idle parent to inject pleasure into the day, constantly. It is one of the tragedies of serious Western attitudes to raising children that fun and enjoyment seem to vanish from the agenda in favor of money-making and conversation about the kids. Do not become a slave to your children! You will become resentful, and they will hate you for it.

This last summer holiday, quite remarkably, we found ourselves lying in bed till 10 or 11 on several occasions, and this with children aged 3, 6, and 8 in the house. Sometimes, agreed, they would come and wake us by doing horrible things, jumping on our legs, “rampaging” as we called it, and hitting one another. But after we’d chucked them out a few times, they began to look after themselves. They are all quite capable of pouring milk on cereal, and Arthur, the oldest, can make tea and porridge.

Children actually have an inbuilt self-protective sense that we destroy by over-cosseting. They become independent not so much by careful training but in part simply as a result of parental laziness. Last Sunday morning, Victoria and I lay in bed till half past 10 with hangovers. What a result! And the more often you do this, the better, because the children’s resourcefulness will improve, resulting in less nagging, less of that awful “Mum-eeeeeeeh” noise they make. They can play and they will play.

So lying in bed for as long as possible is not the act of an irresponsible parent. It is precisely the opposite: It is good to look after yourself, and it is good to teach the children to fend for themselves. Our offspring will be strong, bold, fearless, much in demand wherever they go! Capable, cheerful, happy. It is also the task of the idle parent to ensure as far as possible that all members of the family are enjoying themselves here and now, in the present moment. There is far too much emphasis on that imprisoning capitalist abstraction “the future.” There is no point in sacrificing pleasurable todays for the promise of more prosperous tomorrows. So stay in that bed as much as you can.

All over the world, the sane take a nap after lunch. I don’t need to convince you, idle reader, of the many pleasures and many benefits to health and well-being of an hour’s kip each day. It is so important—particularly when the kids are small—that I would go so far as to say this: If you have a job that makes it impossible to have a nap—a full-time job far from home, for example—then quit that job. Your health and happiness, and that of your family, are more important than the profits of the corporation that you slave for. You don’t need much money. “Eat nettles!” as Austrian artist Hundertwasser suggested. There is a host of books out there that can show you how to live well and plentifully on small amounts of money, and your own imagination is a wonderful resource.

Taking a nap with your little kids is also a great pleasure: It’s like sleeping with a small hot-water-bottle, teddy-bear creature. And they do look cute when asleep. Father can put his feet up by the fire and nod off while reading “Ode on Melancholy,” retreat into dreamland, and wake refreshed. All right—you do not work at home. And you can’t quit your job. Then take a pillow to the office. Sleep in the back of a church in your lunch hour, stretched out along a pew in the delicious cool. Nap on a park bench or under a tree. Indulge in daytime sexual reveries. Do not power nap, which is taken not for its own pleasure but in order to serve the capitalist machine and make you more productive.

Idle parents take our naps because we enjoy our lives. And it is for that reason that partners should make it a rule to ensure that the other one enjoys as many naps as possible. We should not begrudge our wife or husband his or her siestas. It is all too easy to slip into that slavish, resentful morality whereby we imagine that the other person has somehow got it easier. I can’t stand that dreadful evening standoff where each partner tries to convince the other that their life is harder. We should be overjoyed when our partner naps: She is not slacking off, she is being merely sensible. We need sleep!

Sleep-deprived people lack reason. They are dark shadows of gloom. They become tetchy and irritable. Everyone seems an idiot, and the world is hostile. One friend says he gets into a sort of murderous rage, and he doesn’t realize that his fury is directly caused by his lack of sleep until he finally gets some rest. Sleep is a care-charmer. So follow the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Africans. Wherever people have a greater degree of control over their everyday lives, they nap. Sleep will make you strong and beautiful. We are always banging on about how rich we are in the West, yet we cannot organize our time efficiently enough to allow ourselves a nap in the day. What fools. Let us sleep. As soon as the first baby is born, prioritize the nap. Make those first couple of years together a pleasant sleep-filled haze.