do nothing parenting

A couple of years ago I took a Permaculture Design Certificate course run by Rhamis Kent, who had studied under the tutelage of Geoff Lawton. Sidi Rhamis introduced us to the ideas, writings and practices of a Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, which are set out in his notes and writings in a collection called ‘The One Straw revolution’. 

When Fukuoka inherited his fathers’ apple orchard, and began to take care of it, he couldn’t quite believe the amount of work that was needed – and continued to be necessary – in the orchard, in order to harvest the fruit: pruning, spraying, grafting, mowing…

Fukuoka couldn’t help feeling that something wasn’t right. Surely nature did not intend all this effort? After all, apples were just a natural product of the trees. There had to be a more simple way, he thought. Do we really need to do all this stuff in order to grow and harvest a crop? Something nature is doing, and has been doing, for centuries without our help? What if nature knows best, and doesn’t need our interference? Where has all this interference we call ‘farming’ got us anyway? Only closer to extinction… thought Fukuoka. 

Recently, when having real serious issues with compliance in terms of my son’s behaviour, I came across Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA), which is an autistic spectrum disorder. The idea is that for such children, the average and everyday demands of life are stressful and anxiety-inducing, and the child will go to extreme lengths to avoid what is being demanded (tidy your room, get dressed, clean your teeth, put your shoes on etc.) For these children, the resistant behaviour is not naughty or defiance, it comes about through anxiety, and thus the usual parenting strategies for managing this lack of compliance do not work, they can make matters worse, because they do not address the cause of the behaviour. I then came across this concept of ‘low-demand’ parenting, which is recommended in cases of PDA. 

The goal of low-demand parenting is to help children stay out of ‘fight or flight’ mode: a state which they are too often and too commonly operating in. Like the ‘do-nothing’ farming developed by Fukuoka, our goal is simply to reduce the demands and stresses on the newly growing offspring. Low-demand parenting focuses on creating a conducive environment for the child, or children, to grow and learn, and reducing the demands placed on them that incite anxiety.

One might argue that children need to have demands placed on them because: this is ‘life,’ and when they grow up there will be many demands. But what if, with the pressures removed, and left to regulate themselves, they are actually more likely to thrive?

Farming as we know it is about control. It is about controlling the environment as much as possible  (mono-cropping, hothousing, pesticides for the pests, herbicides for the weeds…) in order to force the results we want to see (big, perfectly shaped fruits, vegetables, eggs etc. in high quantities). Too much of parenting, as we know it, is also about control, just like interventionist farming.

Fukuoka’s method, now often referred to as ‘natural farming’, developed over years of trial and error, involves as minimal intervention or interference as possible. It involves focusing on growing good soil as the foundation for healthy plants, through sowing seeds that nurture the soil; companion planting; allowing nature to bring water through rain and dew; and capturing the water through adding dense organic matter as mulch. If weeds or unwanted plants occur, sow more seeds of beneficial or desired plants. Prune as little as possible, instead allowing the trees to grow to their own natural shapes.

wild orchard of olive and orange trees with biodiverse undergrowth

In the vein of ‘do-nothing’ farming, ‘do-nothing parenting’ is about creating a rich, fertile, healthy, safe environment for our little seedlings to grow and thrive and take on their own shape, with as little intervention – and demands – as possible. The parent, like the farmer, is steward, or guide. It is our job to create a conducive environment for our children to grow, not control their every move. Focus on the soil, not the struggling plant. Don’t over water: capture the nourishing knowledge that flows. If negative or harmful behaviour or influences crop up, add more positive behaviour and influences. Prune (or control) as little as possible. 

my son playing with a camera in nature

So, this is my plan: lead by example, model the behaviour we want to see, and let them be.  Children are little mimics, they copy. If we are growing well, so will they. A student of the islamic scholar, Ibn Khaldun, famously asked: ‘Hoja, how do we educate our children?’ And Hoja replied: ‘Don’t. Educate yourselves.’