My Problems With Slacker Parenting

I read Jane Caro’s recent piece celebrating her ‘minimum of effort’ approach to motherhood, most of which I enjoyed, and then I read Andie Fox’s response, most of which I also agreed with. Some things about Caro’s piece annoyed me, or just didn’t sit right. Fox did a better job than I could of articulating some of that, but I’ve had a go.

Here are the things that bugged me about Caro’s piece. First, it starts off saying she ate soft cheese while pregnant. Given the highly publicised recent listeria outbreak which resulted in the deaths of three people as well as a woman miscarrying her baby, I thought it maybe wasn’t the best opener. Without being overly sensitive, I’m not sure it’s something to brag about – I’m such a relaxed mum I ate soft cheese! And my kids were fine! Oh, yours weren’t? Well…

Secondly, I think Fox’s point about the classism (academic way of saying ‘this is something rich people can laugh about’ which was my thought) inherent in the ‘slacker mum’ writing is a good one. Caro could afford to take (small) risks with her unborn babies, to mess up school projects, to serve cheese on toast for dinner, to throw books across the room. Why? Because she had access to the best antenatal care, knowing that any risk would be well managed by professionals. Because her children went to school and had educated parents, and were therefore likely to do fine no matter if the occasional project was a complete disaster. Because she had access to food other than cheese and bread, so the kids probably got fruit and vegies at least sometimes. Because they had books, and they read them. Caro’s advocating ‘slack’ parenting therefore seems to me more a reaction against the unrelenting expectations placed on parents these days, rather than anything even approaching a situation where her children wouldn’t thrive. No one is going to call DOCS or have a Today Tonight special on Caro’s version of slacker parenting. Instead, it’s giving other parents, similarly privileged, permission to feel ok with the days when toast for dinner will have to do. It’s funny, and endearing, and refreshing – at least for readers of the SMH. It’s a change to the usual articles presenting the latest research confirming we are ruining our children’s lives. But it doesn’t do much for parents who are not in such privileged situations – for whom toast for dinner is actually all that will fit into this week’s budget, or caring responsibilities, or family chaos. That’s not quite so funny.

Finally, like Fox I take issue with Caro’s implication that parents who aren’t slack like her are instead taking it too seriously, and need to be if not judged, then pitied or laughed at. Remember in high school how it was cool to be dumb, and definitely uncool to try hard? I remember hiding good marks, dumbing things down, so as not to stand out (which is very important in high school). Or the way magazines are full of instructions on how to look effortlessly perfect. Sometimes it feels like parenting is the same. You can’t show how much thought and effort you put into things, because that’s not very cool. A birth plan? Bah, just do what the doctor says. Reading about ways to help your baby sleep? Bah, they all figure out how to sleep eventually. A balanced meal? Bah, Weet-Bix never hurt anyone. Trying hard on a school project? Bah, what does Year 4 matter? And of course most kids turn out okay no matter what their parents do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put a little effort the things that are important to us. That most days, trying to be a Good Enough parent, rather than a slack one, might be a worthy goal rather than a useless one.

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One thought on “My Problems With Slacker Parenting

  1. Excellent post! This really got me thinking, because I always tell people I’ll one day write a parenting book called ‘neglectful parenting by choice’. The thing that stands out for me is when I had guests over and we stayed up late at night, my children would fall asleep on the floor in the hallway (it happened more than once). At the time, the advice was to leave my children to cry in their rooms until they fell asleep, when I got the same results with letting them loose. I clearly wouldn’t do this every day – but as much as children need structure, they also need breaks from the routine and to learn to relax. There are some Type ‘A’ mums out there not relaxing – it appears to me – EVER.

    I agree with what you have written, and wonder if my fight against the uptight super mum has pushed me too far the other way. Comparison is always not a good idea and if you parent by comparison, then you are going to end up frazzled or with ratbag children. It is a fine line.

    You wrote that in parenting it may like high-school still be cool to be dumb but I disagree. I find my closest mummy friends are those that can share the ups and downs of parenting. The ones I can call when the house is trashed and equally, when it’s spotless. Friendships should be based on sharing and if you’re only sharing the highlights of your child’s day or the low-points of the toast dinner, than you aren’t letting people know the true you and probably feel very alone.

    I believe that what Caro was trying to do, was to say that the one time you ate cheese (by mistake), don’t sit up all night crying and worrying. That one time (every week) that you had toast for dinner, it’s OK. There is such high expectations on parents these days and we need to reduce it somehow – Maybe by ‘confessing’ – we are paving the way – but we do need to be careful not the glamorize the truly neglectful ‘a current affair’ type parents.

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