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The lazy mother's guide to parenting

From leaving their hair unwashed to letting them get their own breakfast, Katie Gunn owns up to being a lazy parent.

When I told my kids that there weren't any after-school classes on this term, I may have failed to mention that it was actually because I couldn't be bothered spending every afternoon ferrying them around from ballet to baseball and from football to French.

Of course I deeply admire parents who manage to bring each of their children to five different afterschool classes a week whilst simultaneously doing the shopping, cooking the dinner, arranging collections, cleaning the house, and managing to have one cup coffee a day that isn't stone cold. It's just that I can't manage it.

Too much stress; and with a report out this month announcing that stress 'is the top cause of workplace sickness' I'm not really feeling too guilty about it. After all, as a full-time mother I don't even have a boss that I can call in sick to.

My laziness extends far beyond after-school clubs though.

Take my children's haircuts -- it is in fact true that they have never actually been to a proper hairdresser -- unless of course you count me putting on an apron and a dodgy French accent whilst wielding a pair of blunt paper scissors at their heads as they run around the kitchen. Which I'm presuming you don't.

In fact, I'm ashamed to say that they rarely have their hair even washed. Just the other day we found a dreadlock at the back of the two-year-old's head, how long it had been there is anyone's guess.

It turns out, however, that this lazy hair approach has its advantages.

When my daughter's teacher asked them to tell their parents that there was a case of head lice in the school, she piped up saying 'Oh that's OK -- head lice only live in clean hair and my mum never washes mine so we'll be fine'. The shame.

Other no-nos for me are baby classes or toddler groups of any kind. My one and only experience of these was a music class when one of my children was about 18 months old.

I spent the entire 60 minutes of the session with a fixed smile on my face as my boy tried to fulfil his mission of either turning off the teacher's tape recording or sticking two drumsticks up the nose of little Johnny beside him.

I left with sore cheeks from my manic grinning, empty pockets from the cost of the class, and a screaming toddler who had wanted to nick the 'I love Barcelona' maracas. I just don't have the energy for it.

A quick poll of friends reveals I'm not the only lazy parent in town. One, who for obvious reasons refuses to be named, says very seriously, "Of course you should also never, ever play with them. It lulls them into a false sense of security and you'll spend the next three years explaining to them why you can't build a fortress and play Battle Warriors right now."

I think he was joking but I'm not entirely sure.

Another friend, Karen, admits that she recently 'killed the tooth fairy' after forgetting one too many times to put some coins under her son's pillow.

I get a little glow of pride after hearing this as I have somehow managed to keep a 100% successful track record in this department, complete with fairy dust and fairy letters, though it's true I've only actually had to do it three times so far, so I can't be sure it will last.

Danielle from Wicklow mentions that while out at a local restaurant recently she was placed beside a table of three adults and one child who were having dinner together.

The child was handed an iPhone midway through so that he could watch a movie on it while they continued with their meal.

Danielle was not impressed: "It was actually really loud and annoying, I feel that bringing children into restaurants is the perfect arena to teach them good social skills, like the Mediterraneans', not to shove an electronic device in their hands to shut them up!"

"Terrible," I respond. Of course I would never dream of doing such a thing myself. Ahem.

Ashling, however, freely admits to using the iPhone and Baby TV to get few moments of peace, and I certainly don't think she's alone in that.

So, are we damaging our little darlings with our laissez-faire approach?

Not according to Tom Hodgkinson, author of The Idle Parent, who believes that our hands-off approach to parenting is actually teaching them to be more self-reliant and capable, which is a call for celebration for lazy parents everywhere.

Of course, nobody is saying that they should be plonked in front of the telly all day long, but it seems that the less we intervene and structure our children's free time the more imaginative they become in their play.

And the less we try to do everything for them -- such as putting their socks on or making their breakfasts -- the less they rely on us and the more independent they become.

Good news for my lot who have been helping themselves to the Cheerios since they were three years old, while mummy rolled over for another precious 15 minutes in bed.

A recent survey carried out in Australia showed that almost half of the 400 families interviewed were suffering from 'family fatigue' caused by a lack of time, too many extracurricular activities, too much homework and too many hours spent in front of a television or computer screen.

The survey found that in 46% of families the children had no more than one or two hours of free time per day.

One to two hours? Most days mine have at least six.

Now it's true that most of that time is spent either trashing the house or fighting with each other but it seems that kids, in fact, need unstructured play in order to harness their creativity, imagination and sense of self.

So not only are they benefiting from all this free play, the whole family is by cutting down on our 'family fatigue'.

Living life as a lazy parent I never actually knew that I was, inadvertently, aiding my children's development, but now that I do I'll be sure to step it up a bit!

Irish Independent

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