I'm a mother who does things by the book. If I can't find a book that says what I want it to, I search out another one. When Penelope Leach told me to keep nightly vigil by my crying infants and to permit ice cream when their spinach had been flung at the ceiling, I switched to Gina Ford who allowed me to pour a beer in front of Poirot, while they cried themselves to sleep, and to scoff their Maltesers when they spurned my liver and cabbage stew.
When Tiger Mother advised us to drill three-year-olds in arpeggios, I embraced The Idle Parent which reckons that after-school activities stifle infant creativity. Appalled by the new philosophy of Attachment Parenting, which required me to devote both waking and sleeping hours to anticipating my kids' unmet needs, I signed up to Slow Parenting which recommended herding offspring into the garden and shutting the door on them
The notion that parents have to devote their attentions to their progeny, and the guilt we all feel when we fail to, is pretty new. In past centuries, poor parents were too busy keeping their families alive to worry about quality time and rich ones were too grand to linger in the nursery. Until the technological liberations of the 1960s, youngsters were stowed in play pens or packed off with sandwiches while mothers got on with the interminable business of of housework.
In the vicarage we embrace neglect. At nine months my daughter would sift for an hour through her basket of treasures while I read Harry Potter on the sofa. At nine she is self-reliant. Naturally, I feel guilty. Every hour that I dawdle over my blog or my herb garden I fear I should spend playing Junior Cranium. Every year that I fail to take my pair to Legoland I fear that they'll grow up stunted.
But now research confirms that my indolence has, all along, been an altruistic service to my children. Teach Your Children Well argues that children should be out from under our feet as much as possible in order to achieve the resilience, courage, flexibility and creativity that top employers require. Over-vigilant parents have bred of generation of neurotics, it reckons, and the cure is 'underparenting'. Or, as a teacher friend once reassuringly termed my neglect: constructive freeplay.
I am inspired by a well-remembered passage from a forgotten someone's autobiography. In it the author remembered the idyll of childhood summers spent playing in woods. His mother, he recalled, was key to their glee, for she would perch on a log reading a novel - a reliable background presence who never interfered in their games. Underparenting in action.
I've researched the subject thoroughly and here's my brief DIY guide to this newly rediscovered art.
Calamity Jane coincides with an episode of Tracy Beaker. What do you do?
The Overparent forsakes Doris Day's finest hour, settles her offspring before the care-home heroine and brings a plate of home-baked biscuits for them to munch while they watch.
The Underparent turfs the kids out of the sitting room with an assortment of loo roll tubes and double-sided sticky tape and leaves them to construct a NASA space station while she drink Peroni before the plasma screen.
Your child comes home with a school project to research on African wildlife.
The Overparent lays out £60 on a family trip to Whipsnade Zoo, spends an hour downloading the life cycles of sub-Saharan predators and takes the child to sketch mandibles at the Natural History Museum.
The Underparent rips out a photograph of a baboon from a Daily Mirror abandoned on a bus seat and goes off to write a blog post while their child gets on with it.
You run out of the chocolate with which you bribe your under tens to eat their greens.
The Overparent sacrifices the last of her Bendicks Bittermints and lets them off the broccoli because there's a worrying yellow bit on one of the florets.
The Underparent gives the kids a quid and tells them to hoof the half mile to the newsagent by the tattoo parlour once they've digested the broccoli stalk that the cat licked.
See? Nothing to it. Admittedly I've already had ten years of experience of underparenting. Novices might need gradual breaking in. Start by ditching half your children's after-school clubs, leave off hovering over their homework, get them to swab the downstairs loo and catch up on Twitter whilst they delve their inner resources in the garden. And the magic of it is that while you're lying with your feet up, you know it's with your children's very best interests at heart!