Let’s face it, parenting today takes work.
Something’s gotta give. We’re trying to do too much with our kids, too soon, too often.
By today’s impossible standards of how to be a good parent, I’m a complete failure. I love my daughter, and enjoy our time together, but at heart, I’m a lazy parent. Which is why you’ll never catch me:
- following my toddler around on the playground
- trying to cajole her into eating dinner
- spending every waking minute fixated on her
I accept, and embrace, that she’s an individual. As an individual, she deserves the opportunity to make her own choices, solve problems for herself, and build awareness of her unique interests.
Which is why I’ve dedicated myself to be as lazy as possible, as often as possible, when it comes to parenting my child. I’ve embraced “lazy parenting” with all my heart.
Don’t misunderstand — I’m not negligent, or uncaring. My daughter’s not walking through broken glass barefoot or watching seven hours of SpongeBob a day.
We just try to avoid extremes. There’s no lengthy list of activities we participate in, no major demands we feel the obligation to meet. If we’re interested in something, we explore it; if not, we move on.
Rarely experiencing a #parentingfail feels great!
So, what does lazy parenting look like?
- If I want to enjoy an adult conversation with my partner, we turn on an episode of Sesame Street for our daughter. And we talk.
- If I want to read a book, I do. Whether she’s in the room or not.
- If I’m not in the mood to play, I politely decline the invitation.
- Our pre-Coronavirus playground outings involved me parked on a bench, while my daughter (get ready for this) played.
You won’t ever see me running after my daughter on the playground, force-feeding Goldfish. I won’t interrupt her when she’s climbing something or force her to share when a new playmate arrives.
In the beginning, being a lazy parent took some work, because it’s so ingrained in us to be “on” all the time.
Enough with the guilt trip. Lazy parenting is working for us, and I encourage you to give it a try, too!
Bonus: There’s a lot of research to back up this hands-off approach. Keep reading.
Here are the 8 rules (that I totally made up) to be a better, lazier parent, while raising healthier, happier kids.
Lazy Parenting Rule #1: Ignore Your Kids
It’s good for them. Really.
By staying in the sidelines ready to offer assistance, but not taking responsibility for each and every minute of their time, you let your kids develop the lifelong skills of creative exploration, problem solving, and critical thinking, through self-directed learning and free play.
Self-directed learning is about filling children with the desire to learn, rather than just the knowledge. Without a constant stream of parent-guided activities, children determine for themselves what they want to do next and how to do it, to work around obstacles and get creative with solutions. Even employers agree the 21st century values self-directed learners.
Free play is self-directed learning applied to playtime. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) has shown free play is critical for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress in children. In addition to the psychological benefits, studies have also shown that free play has educational advantages where children engaged in free play showed better focus on academic activities.
How does that work in a lazy parent’s favor? Children who learn to play on their own seldom complain “I’m bored” and look to their parents to provide ideas for entertainment all the time.
Lazy Parenting Rule #2: Say Yes to TV
Okay, okay, this one has a couple of caveats, but television can actually be a good thing.
First, cancel cable. How do you watch television then?! Easy, stream your shows and movies. We have a Netflix account that allows (mostly) commercial-free television time and offers a huge selection of educational shows. (Bonus: avoiding commercials means avoiding the demand for more commercial stuff!)
Next, ban fast-paced shows. Research has shown that just a few minutes of SpongeBob is enough to decrease IQ levels, and impulse control, in preschoolers. Look for shows that encourage tolerance and learning. (Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer are great examples.)
Finally, limit tv time. The AAP recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2, and no more than 2 hours per day for children over 2.
Go ahead and turn on Sesame Street. Then, enjoy a glass wine, some adult conversation, and your partner. The benefits of a healthy, less-stressed relationship will more than make up for 30 minutes of TV time.
Lazy Parenting Rule #3: Let Hunger Prevail
When did we start thinking it was wrong for kids to be hungry? When I was younger, we used to roam around the neighborhood and come back starving.
Mom could set pretty much anything down in front of us, and we’d devour it.
Working up an appetite is a good thing! Our daughter eats more when we limit snacks during the day. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner. That’s the goal. No snacking in the car, or at the playground.
The benefit of limited snacking is two-fold. One, I’m able to plan healthier meals, and two, my daughter is hungry enough to eat healthy food. As Tribeca parenting authority Dr. Michel Cohen says in his common-sense parenting book The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent, “Don’t continuously dispense snacks… The same goes for numerous bottles of juice and milk. When mealtime arrives, Jimmy won’t understand why you just sat him down in front of all that food when he isn’t hungry.”
Be lazy and skip the snacks the next time you’re heading to the playground (whenever that may be!). Your kids will eat better for it.
Lazy Parenting Rule #4: Let Them Sleep On The Floor
My daughter has slept on the floor, for most of her life. With the exception of her newborn weeks, and a couple of regressions, she loves her floor bed.
A Montessori-inspired nursery (which includes a floor bed, very few toys, and a room child-proofed for exploration) is a useful tool for developing a child’s independence. It’s a nice break for me, too… instead of cries to release her from the confines of a crib, she’ll happily entertain herself for a bit upon waking, by reading a book, looking out the window, or exploring the room.
The upside to lazy parenting, Montessori style? It’s clean, cheap, and fosters independence and free play. Limited furniture and a handful of toys and books are all that’s needed to get started.
Montessori-inspired education encourages learning through action. Research suggests children who participate in this educational approach receive life-long benefits, including advancement in the math and sciences fields, especially.
“Help me to do it myself” is a main principle of Montessori education. And when my daughter learns to do something for herself (getting out of bed, making the bed, turning her white noise off) that’s just one less thing this lazy parent has to do.
Lazy Parenting Rule #5: Read a Book (By Yourself)
For 15–30 minutes a day, I sit down a read a book. Not a children’s book; an adult book, filled with long paragraphs and hundreds of pages. My daughter has learned to respect my reading time.
Expect an adjustment period, while your child gets used to this new daily task. The natural tendency is to interrupt and demand your attention. Calmly, but firmly, explain you’re reading your book for 15 minutes, and she’s welcome to do the same, or find alternative work of interest.
I try to read “real” books in front of my daughter, but often end up with books purchased on my iPad. I was pleasantly surprised the other day when my daughter noticed me retrieving the iPad, and then said, “Read booky now? Okay!”
I’d much rather have her associate an iPad with a book, than with Facebook, that’s for sure!
Research has shown a positive parental attitude towards reading is critical to raising a child who loves to read. Which occupies them and makes lazy parents happy.
Lazy Parenting Rule #6: Don’t Let Junk Food Enter Your House
A Dartmouth study of toddlers showed that children as young as 2 mimic their parents food choices, even when selecting items in a grocery store.
Parents everywhere know it’s impossible to keep children away from harmful foods (sugar in particular). What I’ve learned as a lazy parent is to simply not allow it in the house.
If I can’t control my own ice cream cravings — how can I expect my child to? By not allowing junk food to enter our house, I completely sidestep a whole slew of unnecessary battles.
Choice awareness is another method of encouraging healthy eating habits.
When junk food does make it into the house (goodie bags filled with candies, anyone?), ask your child if they would prefer 2 or 3 M&Ms instead of letting them dive into the whole bag.
What’s all this mean to a lazy parent? It means eliminate the poor food choices, and you eliminate the fight. If it’s not there, they can’t have it. End of story.
Lazy Parenting Rule #7: Refuse To Buy Toys
To a child, toys are work; it’s how they learn. And a toy should never serve solely one purpose. The ultimate parenting guru, Dr. Spock, agrees that creative playthings are much better than single-purpose toys.
Our home has an armoire of open-end playthings, and we refuse to buy single-purpose toys. We rotate the collection, bringing out a few items at a time, and replacing them when our daughter loses interest, or develops an interest in a different type of play.
Rather than being bored by her toys, our daughter enjoys a fresh selection of toys every week or two.
Look for toys that can be repurposed and reused. For example, I’ll tape a shape outline on the floor, and ask my daughter to collect items from her toy collection that match the shapes. Shape blocks are used for color sorting and tower building. (Hint: Poms-Poms may be the best open-ended play item you can provide. We’ve spun them, sorted them, launched them, and more.)
Creative play is important. Imagination develops around the age of 4. Create a building box, full of tools and odds and ends for your child to explore (think empty jar, toilet paper roll, twine, and cardboard boxes).
Let your child explore their imagination using simple items from around the home.
By taking a few moments to provide the supplies for open-ended play, you’ll be able to lazily take a step back, while watching your child’s creativity run wild. Check out my Montessori Toddler Pinterest board for easy ideas.
Important note: With older children, this is much easier to accomplish if you eliminate television commercials first.
Lazy Parenting Rule #8: Build a Cage
A cage is tempting, isn’t it? Alas, we don’t mean an actual cage, we mean an enforced framework of rules. We don’t want to go to jail here.
Build your family boundaries with rules that are always enforced (no exceptions), but within those rules, allow freedom and choice. This method is referred to by the French as a “cadre” (cage).
Our cadre rules:
- Daily nap
- Real-time clean-up policy (move to next activity only when first is properly stored)
- Bedtime Ritual (and early bedtime)
- Throwing food = end of meal
Within the frame lies freedom:
- Nap options: choice of blanket, stuffed animal, and book
- Clean-up: freedom to choose activities, play, and work
- Bedtime: freedom to order bedtime ritual as desired (teeth first or potty?), choice of 3 books, choice of blankets
- Offer a choice of food items, when possible. (Easiest at breakfast, we find.)
The last thing any parent, especially a lazy one, wants to do after putting the kids to bed is clean the house.
Lazy parenting is NOT uninvolved parenting! In fact, in the beginning it’s actually the opposite. Anticipate your child’s needs, and provide the tools to develop independence, imagination, and critical-thinking skills, on their own. Once you have established the new family culture of independence though, you can then choose when to be involved and how much.
At the end of the day, quality, direct interaction is crucial to a child’s development and well-being.
But quality time doesn’t have to mean all of your time.
So, go ahead. We’re giving you permission to be lazy. (It’s okay, we won’t tell.)
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick actions today –
- Cancel cable. Register for a Netflix account (or similar service). It’s like ripping a Band-aid off; just do it!
- Do a quick sweep of your child’s toys. Store the majority in a box or closet (you can get around to organizing later). Leave a few out, that you’ve seen your child engaging with most recently.
- Create a Building Box (odd-n-ends box for the youngest ones). Empty jars, paper towel rolls, cardboard boxes, and more.
- Introduce reading time, right away. Read a book for 15 minutes a day and explain the new daily activity. Don’t force your child to read, just lead by example.
- When indulging in a treat that’s not of the healthy variety, offer your child an option between two amounts to develop portion control awareness. Tough at first, but they’ll soon know you’re serious. After all, a little chocolate is better than no chocolate!
- Frame your “cadre” (cage). Outline 5-10 rules you plan to enforce consistently. Strive to say yes within the boundaries.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Going forward, remember to –
- Keep purchases to a minimum. If you and/or your child are unable to detail 3-4 ways they could use the toy, it is not an open-ended toy. Don’t buy it.
- Rotate the toys from the closet or storage box. Watch your child to see what they’re interested in and provide it. You’ll eliminate boredom and encourage independent play.
- Remember to resupply the Building Box
- Keep reading! It’s beneficial and relaxing, both to you and your child.
- Have confidence. Children are intuitive and can sense when your willpower is wavering. It’s hard work but enforcing the boundary rules makes for less work in the long run.