Parenting Is Hard Enough Without Monkeys and Hula Hoops

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This is the first in a series of discussions regarding The Idle Parent Manifesto, which can be found in Tom Hodgkinson’s book  The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kid.  Need to get caught up?  You can do so here.

We reject the idea that parenting requires hard work.

Well, why don’t we just start with a doozy?  Have kids?  If you think it’s easy, raise your hand.  Anyone?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  So what planet is Mr. Hodgkinson parenting on?

After thinking about this concept for a while, what I think that the author is trying to say is that he rejects the idea that parenting requires all the extra work we pile on an already trying job.

For me, parenting can be like walking a tightrope.  You come home with this newborn and you have no idea what you’re doing or how you’ll do it.  Someone tells you that you’re now the official tight ropewalker and you panic.  You’ve never been on a tightrope, you can barely balance on flat terrain.  But you have no choice so you give it a go.  You’re terrible at first – jittery, anxious, lacking in confidence.  You fall off the tightwire, A LOT.

As time goes on, you get the hang of it.  You gain confidence and don’t need to refer to some kind of childcare manual every time something goes wrong.  They move you to the highwire.  Soon, other people are asking for tightrope advice.  You still have to work at it, you still have to pay attention to what your doing and make adjustments as you go, but you are a mighty fine tightrope walker/parent indeed.

Now try to walk the tightrope and juggle hula hoops.  Or maybe do it blindfolded.  Even better, try walking the tightrope juggling hula hoops blindfolded with a monkey strapped to your back.  Congratulations.  You’ve taken a difficult task and made it infinitely harder.

That’s my take on this notion that parenting doesn’t require hard work.  In and of itself, parenting is a difficult and challenging task.  And yet, once you get in the groove of what works for you, your partner and your kids (more on this when we discuss “There are many paths”), you’ve somewhat mastered the act.  Of course there are things that will throw your balance off – a new baby, sick kids, job changes, ages and stages, etc., but for the most part you can stay on the wire and not break a sweat anymore.

It’s when we try to add the hula hoops and monkeys that it gets harder.  It can be any number of things.  Maybe we helicopter parent, trailing our kids around the playground or micro-managing every inch of their school life, until we are weary.  Maybe we demand perfection of our kids before they’ve reached the developmental stage where they can even begin to grasp a task.  Maybe we leave our spouse in the dark in an attempt to be the Super Parent, assuming no one can do it better – or worse yet – everyone else is doing it wrong.

These are the kinds of things that make parenting so much harder than it has to be.  Parenting is work, taxing work at times.  But adding unnecessary tasks does more than just make your job more difficult.  It robs you of the joys the work can bring.

The tightrope walker who manages to stay balanced for the length of the wire finds pride in her work.  She’s probably even relaxed enough to smile during the walk.  The other tightrope walker, heavy with the extra burdens, has only the thought of making it to the end of the wire.  She’s not enjoying the walk, she’s just trying to get through it without falling off.  And if (or more likely, when) she does fall?  Does she remember with pride the length of the wire she successfully mastered?  No, she only remembers what she did wrong that caused her to fall.

Relax a little.  Ask for help, lower your standards, see if what your kids can do on their own is good enough.  Balance without the extra burdens.

Do you add things to your parenting that make the job harder than it needs to be?  What’s your hula hoop or monkey?



  1. Great post. I totally agree–parenting is hard enough without all the ‘extras’ we often feel like we need to add to it. If we want to raise our kids to be independent thinkers, problem-solvers and risk-takers (and, really, just normally functioning, psychologically sound adults) we owe it to them to step back on the hyper-involved parenting and let them learn some lessons/make some decisions on their own.

    After all, everyone learns best through experience. It’s great to keep this in perspective. Although I’ll admit, sometimes I’ll see another mom walking the tightrope with all those extra hoops and monkeys, and I’ll find myself thinking, ‘wow, that’s pretty impressive. I wonder if I should be doing that? I wonder if my kids are missing out because I’m not doing that? Should I be more worried about my kids?”

    Of course I know the answer is a big resounding NO… but I do sometimes wonder how my parenting style comes off to other people. I think my kids are totally fine and capable, and they know I’m always there for them if they really need me. But do I look like I’m slacking because I’m choosing to cross the tightrope without all those extras? (And, seriously, why do I care how I come across anyway!?)

    • Worrying about how my parenting style looks to other people is one of the biggest reasons I struggle with my more laid-back style of parenting. If I don’t have the chance to explain to someone why I don’t help my kids out on the playground or why we don’t participate in many extra-curricular activities, it just comes across as me being lazy. I have to consistently remind myself that proving to others I can do it all for the few moments that they can observe me versus a childhood of not being overparented is simply not worth it.