Between the lines: The secret of ultralight parenting

By Nury Vittachi/ The Jakarta Post

Like many people, I perform a continuous series of weird and dangerous experiments on my children, a process known as “parenting”.  But I couldn’t do any feeding experiments on my youngest child. She was an Air Baby. Air Babies don’t eat normal meals. They extract nutrients from thin air, like those hydroponic plants you get on tree branches in Sri Lanka. If we ever tried to get her to eat something, she would holler, aggrieved, “But I ate something last month.”

In contrast, my nephew Sam did sometimes eat, but he would never consume anything green. We told him he would never be big and strong unless he ate vegetables. He didn’t listen to us. He was too busy growing. He grew so fast that you could actually see him expanding, like Dr. John Banner bursting out of his clothes to become the Hulk. Sticking to his vegetable-free diet, Sam quickly became the biggest, strongest, handsomest, healthiest looking person our family had ever produced. After he finished school, this huge young man trained to be an actor.

Thinking of Sam and the Air Baby, I realized that there is something in every kid’s stomach called a tum-o-stat, which tells the child what to put in its mouth. If she’s going through a growth spurt, it demands protein. If she’s in high energy mode, it demands carbs. If she’s doing neither, it sends up a “nothing-thank-you” signal. (Adult tum-o-stats lack the third function, which is why we get fat.)

For this reason, I let my kids skip breakfast and lunch if they want to. I follow a theory called Ultralight Parenting, which is built around a five-word principle (“Dad, go have a nap.”).

For evidence that it works, consider the birth order issue. I have a minute-by-minute video record of everything my eldest child did. Baby’s first poo. Baby’s first vomit. Baby’s first nose bubble. The second child only has short recordings of her birthday parties. The third? There’s no photographic evidence she ever existed.

Logically, the first child would be advantaged by all the attention. But data suggests that eldest children are more highly strung and later children are calmer. That is proof that being actively parented is bad for children. If you want to be a good parent, hand your kids the house keys and go live on a desert island for 18 years.

But I soon discovered that there is nothing very original about this hands-off technique. Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese sage, lived by a principle he called Wu Wei, which means “act by not acting”. My kind of guy.

My reputation as a parent got a huge boost when one of the dads in our social group bought large amounts of tempting but unhealthy junk food for the children and the Air Baby was the only child who turned it away. “How did you get her to do that?” the other parents asked. “Good parenting,” I lied.