The Idle Parent Manifesto: We Embrace Responsibility

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This is the nineteenth 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.

Embrace responsibility via The Risky Kids

We embrace responsibility.


What a crazy idea, right?  And why on earth would any parent not embrace responsibility?  We all want to raise responsible kids, but the burden lies in between the wanting and the doing.  There are four main areas in which I focus my efforts to raise responsible kids.  I want my kids to be responsible for:


I want them to know how to take care of their health, their home, their happiness.  Before they leave the nest, they need to know basic living skills – how to cook, how to clean, how to wash their own clothes.  They need to self-regulate the kinds of foods they put in their bodies, the amount of sleep they get to be functional.  They need to learn who they are and what makes them happy, so they don’t depend on people or things to fill a void only they know how to fill.


I want them to honor commitments, treat others with respect, think before speaking, empathize.  I want them to realize that everything they do creates a wake, with ripples that touch everyone around them.


My favorite nugget from financial author and radio host Dave Ramsey is to “act your wage.”  I want my kids to understand personal finance.  I want them to be good stewards of the money they have, to spend less than they make, to save, and to not let money rule their life or ruin relationships.

Their Virtual Self

It’s a brand new technological world for our kids, one we never had to worry about ourselves.  I want my kids to know what it means to be responsible in the world of social media – what they share, who they share it with, how they portray themselves online.  I don’t want to scare them, but I want them to realize the permanancy of the virtual world, and how nothing they say or do online is private.

How do we accomplish these things?  We model what responsibility looks like.  Not only should we show them how to be responsible, we should be transparent when we mess up.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes good ol’ responsible grownup Angie does some really stupid stuff.  A lesson in responsibility is even more impressive upon kids when you can show them you’re not perfect, but you’re open to learning how to do better yourself.

Secondly, we promise ourselves not to swoop in and fix things.  Our kids will disappoint us.  They will do things that embarrass us and make us question how others see us as parents.  They will do things that bring humiliation, suffering, and pain upon themselves.  I hate conflict.  I hate it when my kids are sad or hurting.  My first instinct is to make it better.  But sometimes it’s the pain and frustration that are the best teachers.  Putting a band-aid on the situation or stepping in to clean up a mess isn’t helpful, it’s irresponsible.

Finally, we pay attention.  I need to be present enough to see opportunities for my kids practice responsibility.  It’s so easy, especially for me as a stay-at-home parent, to do things for them.  Make their beds, bring a forgotten lunch, continue to do tasks for them they can do themselves because it’s easier or because I haven’t opened my eyes to see they’re not babies anymore- all of the things I do on autopilot sometimes because it’s what I’ve always done.

It’s not an easy task and it’s one that I often fail at miserably, but I know it’s important.  Embracing responsibility now means hard work and lots of little mistakes.  Waiting for responsibility to magically kick in later will mean disappointment and big, expensive mistakes.  I think I’ll choose the (seemingly) harder road now.

How do you embrace responsibility in your own home?  Does it come naturally for you, or do you struggle (as I do) to let some responsibilities trickle down to your children?




  1. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES.

    If we want our kids to be responsible (and respectful, resourceful, resilient, and relevant) then we have to model that behavior. Who you are = how you parent and you should act like the model you want your kids to see in you even when they’re not watching.

    I find it helps to use the use the word explicitly when applying it to situational lessons. “I’m glad you chose to handle it that way. That was a very responsible thing to do.” “Do you think that was the responsible choice?” “Good job being responsible for that! I’m proud of you.”

    Like you I struggle with when to help and how. Sometimes it’s so much easier to do it myself! Plus, as a step-parent, I’m always worried that I’m the *mean* one cracking down on the rules, nagging, etc. (Some of that is dealing with my own demons.) But I try to keep the long-range goal in mind and know that Anna will benefit as she gets older from having had practice tackling certain things. We’ve had talks, too, where I’ve explained that she may not like the consequences of, say, not budgeting her allowance or lunch money well but it’s better that she learn those lessons while the repercussions are mild (not having a treat) than when they could be much more serious (being evicted or actually hungry).

  2. Man, this is good.

  3. I struggle with it and I know it’s just going to get harder as my kids get older. I let my 4 and 6 year old do the dishes for real tonight (even the glass ones). Usually I just wash them myself and let them play in the water beside me but I only had to rewash a quarter of them so I feel like it was a win. 🙂

    • I’d totally call that a win! You’re a step ahead of us … doing dishes is on the short list of chores I must remember to delegate.

  4. I love this. Raising 2 sons after having a brother and sister who grew up knowing how to do NOTHING, I think it is beyond important to raise them up and teach along the way. Shockingly- a lot of people don’t do that.

  5. I am so bad about swooping in and fixing, even though I fully believe in being a laid-back, hands-off parent. It usually happens when we’re in a hurry – the four-year-old is putting his shoes on by himself and I swear TIME STANDS STILL. I need to be more patient!

    • Yes! I think so much of our success depends on us building in cushions of time to allow for tasks to be done at a different speed than we would do them. And I hear you, it’s often my patience that wears thin long before their enthusiasm to be responsible wears out. Good reminders for all of us.