The Idle Parent: We Send the Kids Outside

This is the twelfth part 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 Kids. Need to get caught up? You can do so here.

We push them into the garden and shut the door so we can clean the house.



At one time, you would’ve been considered “odd” if your parents didn’t send you out to play.  I imagine for most of us, our childhood included many moments when our mothers sent us packing, giving us time to roam freely outdoors and them time to get some work done and collect their sanity.  What a gift we were given, and what a treasure this new generation has lost.

While I’m sure that my mother spent some time playing with me – helping me sew clothes for my dolls, board games here and there – she did not plan her days around how to entertain me.  She did not have Pinterest boards dedicated to being my cruise ship director.  I certainly don’t want to come off as one of those “in my day we walked 3 miles to school in the snow uphill both ways” parents, but it really was different.  We’ve made it harder on ourselves.

And here’s where I raise my hand sheepishly and admit that I’m as guilty as anyone.  We all have things we have to get done.  I work part-time, write for two blogs, and have the usual household/childcare chores we all have.  The laundry piles up, dinner needs made, toilets need scrubbed.  And lest you think my kids are always outside like free-range ninjas, or inside honing their Picasso or Einstein skills, let me assure you they are not.  That’s what I wish for, and strive for, and a huge inspiration for this blog, but it’s not what actually happens on a daily basis.

It’s hard to push them outside for a multitude of reasons.  The weather.  The lack of friends and appealing activities outside.  The lure of the screen.  And for many of you, fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of the worst possible situation, or fear of other parents and “helpful” adults.

Unfortunately, these undeniably difficult but relatively small hurdles are getting in the way of something bigger.  It’s paving the way for a new generation of kids.  Kids that don’t have the confidence to explore independently or the creative skill to engineer their own fun.  We’re raising a generation that doesn’t know how to organize each other into games and free play, or how to work out group conflict, because they’re never been given the chance to do it on their own.  The author, Tom Hodgkinson, writes:

Children are forgetting how to play.  Frightened by neurotic parents who believe what they read in papers and consider the real world to be fraught with danger, kids retreat into “safe” virtual worlds where there is no knee-grazing, no frozen water, no trees, no wood, no nails.  Just a screen and a mouse and splendid isolation.

And not only are they losing out on learning those valuable skills outside, many of us (myself included) are not using the time they spend indoors to teach them equally valuable life skills … like scrubbing toilets.

It’s easier to do it yourself.  I hear you … I know!  Lisa and I have talked at length about how we want our kids to grow up knowing how to do useful things.  We want them to leave the nest knowing how to do their own laundry, cook a meal, change a tire, balance a checkbook.  We’re not perfect, either, but we’re inspired to follow a different path.


Put them to work or send them outside!

So let’s vow to help each other out, inspire each other, and hold each other accountable.  We’ll send our kids outside when we need time to work, but you have to promise to send your kids outside, too, so they’ll have someone to play with.  And when they’re inside, why not delegate and put them to work as well?  If they don’t like it?  Well, they can always go outside.

Do you easily send your kids out or put them to work inside?  Or do you struggle with this as well?