In Praise of Downtime (Or Why It’s OK For Dads To Sometimes Just Stick On The Telly)

Dan BenedictusBy Dan Benedictus.
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At some point, most likely more than once, every parent will ask themselves the eternal question: what’s the earliest I can reasonably start drinking today?

It’s easy to feel guilty a lot when you have a child, because you hear all these people saying about how great it is, and how they wouldn’t change a thing. One guy I know said having his son felt like the missing piece of the puzzle in their family. And I’m happy for people like that. But statements like that do make me suspicious because, often, there’s loads of things I’d rather be doing than parenting, and I’m not sure what to make of people who pretend that’s not true.

A lot of the time, I just want to be sat somewhere with nothing important asked of me. I recently went for an eye test, and found sitting in a dimly lit room, being asked simple questions by someone who listened carefully to all my answers almost therapeutic. And not just for my eyes.

Similarly, I booked my car in for a service at the weekend and, knowing that I’d get to sit in their waiting room, staring at my phone for an uninterrupted hour with a coffee from the vending machine, I felt quite excited about the whole thing.

Another time I went to the osteopath and found the 40 minutes of attention and care so touching that I felt that I might cry. It wasn’t because anything particularly bad had happened. It was just that I had this build-up of emotions, good and bad, and the healing touch of someone stirred everything up.

The point is, there are lots of times when you feel like you’re not making the most of the precious moments you spend with your child, that you should always be playing imaginative games with them and not just sticking the telly on for them as soon as they ask, (or even before).

But I also wonder how realistic that is? Do they even want to play constantly? If I spent all my time with my son building forts out of the sofa cushions and letting him ride me like a cowboy on a bull, wouldn’t he just be exhausted? I’ve got plenty of creative hobbies, but it’s not like I spend every free moment doing them. He’s got his favourite things to watch on TV just like I do.

I suppose it’s a bit like when people say you should live every day as if it’s your last. It sounds nice, but actually I think it would just be fucking tiring; all the bungee jumping and gluttony and panic sex.

As humans, we need down time. More than that, we need space in our lives when we’re not just relaxing, but actively murdering the time – doing things that serve no purpose or have any value whatsoever. Without that, we’d be either wound up so tight that we’d eventually have a breakdown, or just turn into the sort of person who, when asked what they’ve been up to, spews out a huge list of achievements. Nobody likes that guy.