Thursday, 18 September 2014

Busy Doing Nothing

We're a couple of weeks into a new school term and the laisse-faire, unstructured days of summer seem a dim and distant memory. At the school gates there's an almost palpable frisson of anxiety hanging around parents who are remembering just how stressful it is juggling work with school pick up and the multitude of extra-curricular and social activities that somehow sneak their way into our already hectic schedules. As the new term rolls in, we always seem to have to 'be somewhere' at an given point in the day - there's rarely a moment when no demands are placed on us and we can just 'be' instead. How did we get to this point? Why do we feel the need to timetable every second of our children's lives? Who says we have to be quite so busy all the time?


Doing nothing is fun
I've long worried that the modern parenting style of packing our kids' days with extra-curricular activities has a detrimental effect, not least on the average household's finances. There are numerous articles on the web quoting eye-watering figures that parents are apparently willing to shell out to ensure their children have access to a range of hobbies and 'experiences'. I say 'willing' but there is of course a sense amongst many parents that you just to suck it up - everyone else is paying out so their child can play the harp/try street dance/enrol at circus skills, etc, etc - so your child simply won't have a chance of becoming a fully rounded, employable adult if you don't, too.

Somehow this myth has taken root, and of course there are plenty of companies out there happy to take advantage of our middle-class anxieties and push ever-more spurious pursuits in our direction - surely we can find the time to fit in that class on Mandarin for Preschoolers somehow? Our child will be destined for failure if we don't! It's amazing how many rational-thinking parents give into peer pressure when it comes to the perceived 'needs' of their children. But this modus-operandi seems to almost always result in highly stressed parents with rapidly dwindling bank accounts and exhausted children, who - with 6am starts for swimming club before school, followed by tennis class in the evening - are often gaining not much more than a yearning for a 'day off' and a pallid complexion. I nearly came to blows with a mother who was horrified by my opinion that many children just do too much these days. Her response implied that by not taking advantage of every opportunity out there I was doing my children a disservice, and that I was lazy for being reluctant to spend every evening and weekend ferrying my children from one activity to another.

Had said mother's philosophy been driven by a disadvantaged background and a desire to give her own children opportunities that she may not have had, I would have understood her position. But 'helicopter parenting' is a thoroughly middle class obsession, and one which has the unfortunate consequence of further widening the gap between the classes. As middle class parents coach their children to within an inch of their lives and fill their days with expensive educational experiences it becomes patently clear that these kids have got something of an unfair advantage over the child from the poorer background. 

Now, of course hobbies are a good thing. For a child to find an activity they truly love, which perhaps gives them something more than school can offer, and which nurtures their confidence and enjoyment of the wider world, is obviously something parents should encourage. But in between enjoying those hobbies ('enjoying' being the operative word, here) shouldn't we allow our children the time to do absolutely nothing? And is it really indulgent to expect a couple of hours to oneself at the weekend, to sit around drinking coffee and reading the Sunday papers? 

Sadly, as exhausted parents who seem to spend every waking hour dashing from one activity to another, it's all to easy to turn to electronic devices to entertain our children during the few hours that they are actually at home, so desperate are we for a bit of child-free time in between all this hectic activity. What this means, of course, is that our children are becoming increasingly incapable of managing their own free time. Without someone to 'direct' their down time they simply don't know what to do with themselves (unless they have an iPad or mobile to hand...) With school life becoming ever more rigid and restrictive, and the burden of academic expectation on even the youngest school-goers growing each year, it seems that children's concept of 'fun' is becoming muddled - it appears that they don't understand that they can actually make their OWN fun sometimes. 

It's my belief that we should be giving our kids opportunities to rediscover spontaneous, simple activities of their own devising. But to do this, we need to slow down, give them time to just 'be'. Instead of filling their time and supervising their every waking hour, we should step back a bit and give them space to enjoy simple, uncomplicated pleasures. Let them find the things that really, truly interest them rather than foisting activities upon them that we think they should be doing. Not only does this make for a calmer home life, but the health of your bank account will improve, too. 

Forget 'Tiger Parenting', but consider 'Idle Parenting' instead, a philosophy espoused by Tom Hodgkinson in his brilliant book 'The Idle Parent' which I would urge all parents to read. A truly alternative parenting guide, it suggests that a more hands-off style results in happy kids, happy parents, and says we should heed the words of writer DH Lawrence, who wrote in his essay 'Education of the People': 

"How to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning."

You can read an interesting article by Tom Hodgkinson on Idle Parenting here. To buy his book, click here.

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Monday, 8 September 2014

Blogs I Love

The blogosphere is a big place. When I scroll through my own Twitter feed it would seem literally everyone out there is at it, and I can't help but sometimes yearn for the simplicity of the world before the web, when the written word was confined to books, newspapers and magazines. The blogosphere can be a noisy place, too, with countless demands on your attention, coming at you from all angles, thanks to the intrusive nature of social media. As a writer of a blog myself, I'm obviously guilty as charged but I do frequently question the quality of my own blog and try to adhere to a policy that it's better to keep quiet if you don't actually have anything interesting to say. 

But all that said, there are some great blogs out there, which - un-tethered by character counts and business requirements - are free to offer a more personal, honest view of the world at large, whether you're into fashion, food, politics of whatever. Blogs long ago replaced traditional media as my 'go to' place for ideas and inspiration and as an erstwhile magazine junkie they give me a hit of easily digestible inspiration on the things I love without spending a penny. 

So, here are five blogs I like to visit when I want to pick up ideas, look a lovely images and read well thought-out, interesting content...

The Frugality 




Alex Stedman's thoughtful blog bridges the gap between high fashion and the high street. As a fashion stylist who's worked on magazines such as Red, she has an obvious eye for style but keeps things realistic (unlike many fashion magazines) by sharing her budget-friendly interpretations of the latest trends. Her wardrobe is insanely stylish but also accessible and her writing style has a warmth and 'normal-ness' to it that is often lacking with other fashion writers. Alex also covers eating out and travel on her blog. I particularly love her 'postcards from' posts and tips on stylish travel on a budget.

Deliciously Ella




Her star might be about to go stratospheric (her blog has spawned a cookbook, out soon) but this is where it all began. Created following a rare viral illness, this blog is the place to pick up recipes and tips if you're trying to live a healthier, sugar-free diet. When I first tried cutting down on sugar I found a lot of the sugar-free websites full of convoluted recipes that call for hard-to-find ingredients and don't sound that enticing. This was the one blog that really worked for me on my quest to cut out the crap and I now regularly make some the delicious, easy recipes you'll find on its pages.

Lucy Laucht - These Foreign Lands




Lucy may not be the most prolific of bloggers (she's too busy uploading the most incredible photos to Instagram) but if you fancy imagining what life might be like if you were a hip creative in Brooklyn who likes to spend their weekends travelling around the States (and further afield) in a camper van, this is a good place to live out the fantasy. Straddling the worlds of travel and fashion, the look of this blog is just gorgeous, and it's peppered with dreamy, stylish images that make you want to book your next holiday pronto.


Selina Lake




For an instant hit of colour-filled interior design inspiration, I always check out Selina's pretty blog first. As the author of several interior design books, Selina's trademark is the dreamy, vintage-style design that I love so much, and her blog is a great place to pick up ideas whether you're planning a complete room overhaul, are looking for themes for a wedding or want tips for sprucing up your garden. A lovely place to lose yourself in for an hour or so.

An Affair with Italy




Every so often, I need my 'Italy fix' so it's very helpful that an entire blog is dedicated to a love of all things Italian. It also helps that the blog features some stunning images courtesy of a fashion photographer who manages to capture the style and beauty of the country in all its multi-faceted glory. If you're planning a trip to Italy, this is a good place to do some research - there's a whole travel directory featuring places to stay, eat and shop, whatever your budget. And if  you can't get to Italy anytime soon, you can gorge on stunning images, find out about Italian eateries nearer to home or try out recipes from top chefs and recreate la dolce vita in your very own kitchen.

All blog images courtesy of The Frugality, Deliciously Ella, Lucy Laucht, Selina Lake and An Affair With Italy.
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