The Idle Parent: Does Working Less Mean Happier Families?

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This is the thirteenth 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.

Is Working Less the Key to Happy Families?

We both work as little as possible, particularly when the kids are small.


If I had one complaint about Hodgkinson’s book, it would be that he can come across as pompous and out of touch.  Too often he paints situations with a broad brush, admonishing the reader with terms like “everyone should” or “you must.”  While he champions the idea that “there are many paths” to parenting, at the same time he sneers at those who won’t, or can’t, throw all conventionality aside and live the idle, wild life.  This particular part of the manifesto is just one of those instances.

The idea behind it is that the time when our children are babies, toddlers and preschoolers is a fleeting time when we should be most available to them.  In theory, that’s a great idea, and one that many families choose to adhere to – ours included.  From the time I became a mother, I’ve alternated between working very part-time (10-15 hours a week), part-time (20-30 hours a week), and not working outside the home at all.  It’s been absolutely wonderful, and a choice I would make again.  My husband also spent nearly two years working a very flexible schedule from home, allowing him generous chunks of free time during the day to be with the kids.

It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t come without other costs.  The cut in income was significant, which meant we had to make tough choices on a daily basis.  We went without a lot of things.  We stressed about money often, worrying about funny noises in the car, praying that tumble on a bike didn’t mean any nasty gashes or broken bones.  Did the kids enjoy their time at home with both mom and dad endlessly around?  I think so.  But it was not the laid-back, idle, golden days the author glorifies.

He also doesn’t take into account the families for whom, finances aside, this shift would make life less enjoyable.  I have many friends who would go batty if they were to all be home together, all the time, every day.  They are brilliant at their jobs, and their work feeds a part of their soul that in turn makes them better parents when they come home.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.  There are many paths.

There is one facet to this that I would totally agree with.  If you define “work” as the busyness of maintaining a home to a magazine-worthy degree, then I beg you to reconsider and “work” less.  This is coming from someone who gets jittery when there’s a spoon in the sink that could go in the dishwasher.  I know it can be hard.  But now that I’m coming around the flip side of the grueling baby and toddler years, I can see how overworking yourself in that sense doesn’t help anyone.  The kids don’t care and you’ll be cranky and exhausted trying to keep up.  Let your standards go … be idle for whatever chunks of your day you can steal away.  Take a nap.  Sit outside with a magazine or a book while the kids play.  Fiddle away with your iPhone.  The work will still be there, but you’ll be less resentful of it if you take care of you first.

So what do you think?  Should we all be working less when the kids are small (both inside and outside the home)?  Or is this an idea that just isn’t feasible no matter what the situation?



  1. Busy parents who work a lot typically have a hard time switching their brains to kid-mode when they’re home with their kids. For instance, I’ve noticed that parents who have packed schedules at work tend to pack their kids’ schedules more than parents who work less (or not at all). This is true even for their weekend time with their kids.

    I firmly believe that packed schedules are *not* in kids’ interests.

    It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to totally slow down and let things happen at home organically when you’re working your butt off in a packed schedule at work.

    • You bring up a great point, and made me think about the difference in how my husband plays with the kids now (when he works 50+ hours a week) and before (when he worked from home). He definitely has a hard time transitioning into playful dad mode. He still plays with them a ton, but I know that it’s harder for him.