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Trent Lane: We don't really have any rules at our house.

Jane Lane: Well, there is that one about not starting fires in rooms that don't have fireplaces.

Former hippies and romantics make irresponsible parents. As often as not, the parents may be rarely home: if there are any adult children, they're either similarly absent or in their 20s and insufficiently motivated to leave the house, which is a disaster zone without any discipline or structure to speak of. After all, who needs structure and discipline? It just stunts kids' growth.

With this level of benign neglect, the kids usually somehow turn out all right... or at least self-sufficient, if not a bit cynical. Bonus points if the mother is an artist.

See also Adults Are Useless, Disappeared Dad, Missing Mom, When You Coming Home, Dad?, Free-Range Children, and Parental Abandonment.

Examples of Hands-Off Parenting include:


Anime and Manga

  • Skip Beat -- It's implied that the super-serious Kanae "Moko" Kotonami is the product of such a style of parenting, leaving her as the de facto adult at her home... despite the fact that she has at least two older, married siblings, if only because they are repeating the same hand off style with their respective families.
  • In Penguin Revolution, Yukari's father is like this, just before the full fledged parental abandonment.
  • Naruto: Jiraiya takes this to the point of Parental Abandonment in regards to his godson Naruto where it was all but said that Jiraiya never even met the kid for the first thirteen years of his life.
    • This is Jiraiya, and Naruto is the son of the Yondaime. As bad as his childhood was, he did survive it.
      • Apparently only barely and entirely due to Naruto's indomitable will, considering a major point of the Chunin Exams arc was how he was the opposite of Gaara, and how easily he could have turned out like that. And it's not like the guy couldn't have at least let the kid know he was there and that he cared. Also, WHY THE FUCK WAS HE MADE THE GODFATHER IN THE FIRST PLACE THEN!?
    • A good part of Naruto surviving his childhood was due to Iruka, who somehow managed to be Naruto's actual adoptive parent despite only being about ten years older.
  • While it is a far cry from neglect, Yotsuba&! spends a lot of time unsupervised, considering that she's only five.
  • Yukino's parents in Hohzuki Island seemed to ignore her completely as a teenager, and barely acknowledged her walking around naked and declaring she's going to town however that tiny acknowledgment is enough to show Yukino that her parents do care, and their relationship eventually improves - well, they still talk to each other anyway. Since they're shown in person (and thus not too busy with work) relaxing at home (with coffee, not drugs), it's probable that they're just leaving their daughter alone like they wanted their parents to when they were teens. Yukino's friend has the opposite problem and is eventually jailed for being a neglectful mother.
  • Haruka's parents are divorced and she lives with her mom, who's like this. She isn't spacy or detatched or self-involved, though, she's just really lazy, especially by stereotypical anime mom standards, and sleeps all the time.
  • Nabari no Ou: Miharu's grandmother is surprisingly okay with him running around in the ninja world and missing weeks of school at a time.

 Miharu's Grandmother: He's injured every time he comes back...At first I was even considering whether I ought to have a talk with the police! Ha ha ha!

Yukimi: Ha ha ha...

Comics

  • Spider-Man: During the first years, Spider-Man was a classic example. Peter Parker was a teenager living with his Aunt May, he had super-power, a secret identity, a Spider-Man costume, works in the newspaper taking photos of Spider-Man, stayed out of home at any hour or during any time needed, get back home hurted... and May never suspected anything. Subverted at the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book, where May actually enforced some discipline (up to the point when she knew what was going on and Gwen Stacy, Iceman and the Human Torch moved to live with them; then it became an even greater "Lane house" than the original Spider-Man)
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Carrie Kelly's parents are so hands-off that they're depicted as having trouble remembering she exists at all when she's not there. (Which is convenient for Frank Miller, since it allows him to completely bypass the question of how she's going to explain to them about her new career path.) It may have something to do with the way they're always surrounded by a haze of what is probably not tobacco smoke. There's also a reference to 'needles', suggesting that their presence in this trope may also be down to harder stuff...

Film

  • In Let Me In, Owen's mother is clearly completely detached from his life due her own alcoholism and despondency over her failed marriage. She is completely unaware that Owen is being physically and emotionally tortured by bullies every day at school and is developing psychological quirks at home due to his sheer loneliness. She thinks everything is just fine and dandy with him. Owen's father, meanwhile, hasn't even seen him for an undetermined amount of time and is also oblivious to his plight. It's an ironic point that Abby, a Vampire, shows more genuine concern for Owen's well-being than either of his parents. It makes Owen's decision to leave with Abby at the end of the fim completely understandable.
  • Both the father and stepmother in Juno appear to be this, but they come through when it really matters.
  • Olive Penderghast's parents in Easy A are basically teenagers in adults' bodies but, again, they are extremely supportive when Olive really needs them.
  • The Rage in Placid Lake: Placid's parents.
  • In the live-action Ben 10 movie, Ben's parents were like this to cartoonish extremes.
  • Sonny Koufax of Big Daddy initially believes in this thanks to a Freudian Excuse: his father was strict with him and constantly berated him for being lazy, so Sonny is at first determined that Julian, his adopted son, will not grow up to be angry and bitter like he is. He lets Julian eat packets of ketchup in public, trip rollerbladers by throwing sticks in front of them, wear his underwear on the outside of his clothes, kill pigeons with a slingshot, and avoid bathing. The last one eventually convinces Sonny to change his tune when Julian's kindergarten teacher points out that he's the smelliest kid in the class.
  • Dr. Henry Jones Sr. deliberately adopted this parenting style in reaction against his own strict upbringing and is astonished when Henry Jr. (aka Indiana) makes it clear he did NOT appreciate it.
  • In the 1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, Buffy's parents are rarely home, take little notice of and have even less concern about what's going on in Buffy's life, and don't seem in any way worried when she starts staying out until late at night.

 Buffy's mother: [leaving the house] Bye-bye, Bobby!

Jeffrey, Buffy's boyfriend: She thinks my name is Bobby?

Buffy: It's possible she thinks my name is Bobby.


Literature

  • Narnia: An early example is Eustace Scrubb's parents.
  • Podkayne of Mars.: A plot-centric example is Professor and Dr. Fries in Heinlein's novel.
  • The parents in Swallows and Amazons are also rather like this. They have no problem with the idea of sending their seven-to-twelve-year-old children off in small sailboats to camp on islands for days at a time. This, to an extent, is also Values Dissonance.
  • In The Egypt Game, Toby Alvillar has an artist father like this and a Missing Mom. This is also heavily implied to be the kind of parenting April got from her self-involved actress/singer mother before said mother went so far as to turn herself into a Missing Mom.
  • Twilight seems to imply that Bella's mother is like this, which explains why Bella is so mature.
  • Wolves of Mercy Falls Series has Grace's parents, who have been mostly ignoring her for her teenage years.
  • Averted in the 1632 books, where Grantville's resident (former) hippie Tom Stone is repeatedly presented as having always been an active, engaged, protective parent to his three sons -- who may not, in the biological sense, even be his, but they were born at his commune and he took responsibility for them.

Live Action TV

  • Joy Lass of Dead Like Me survived a mother like this and grew to resent her for not being there.
    • Her burning desire to not be this sort of parent has led to a daughter who resents her and another who is unresponsive and turned inside herself (especially after her sister's death). Joy, for her part, doesn't seem to understand why her daughters don't see that she's so much of a better parent than their grandmother that the only logical response is enduring praise and unending gratefulness. I'm probably not being very nice to Joy in that assessment, but in my defense, the show generally shows her as sympathetic by showing the gradual realization that if she wants to get through to Reggie she's going to have to take things on her daughter's terms instead of the other way around.
    • For example, when Reggie starts wearing all black and hanging around with "witches" her age who want to cast spells and summon the dead, Joy is glad that Reggie is coming out of her shell and making new friends. She even bakes cookies for their little coven. Reggie is mortified.
  • Dharma's parents in Dharma and Greg.
    • Dharma actually has a rather interesting neurosis regarding this. Since her parents never married, she always had the fear that they'd split up and go their separate ways. So when Abby and Larry decide to get married, she is really into it, but when her dad basically backs out to "play the field", Dharma has a meltdown confessing her fear. By episodes end they do get married, but Larry has an (if I really want to, I can still play the field) clause thrown in... even though only Abby will put up with him by this point.
    • In another episode, Dharma finds out that her parents are planning to have another baby, and she begins to wax nostalgic about her own childhood, and such beloved toys as "shoeboat". Then she finds out they plan to raise baby more conventionally than they did Dharma, and she suddenly realizes how many of her beloved memories were probably motivated just as much by the benefit of not having to spend any money on her as they were her parents' "let the butterfly go free" parenting strategy (shoeboat, as the name might suggest, is in fact an ordinary shoe which Dharma was encouraged to think of as a boat at bathtime). Eventually her parents manage to convince her they really did, and still do, love her, just like they're going to love this new child.
  • In Gilmore Girls, Jess's upbringing is a case of this and Parental Abandonment: his mother had him as a teenager and his father ran out on them when he was a baby. Her inability to deal with him as a teenager is a major reason she shipped him off to her brother Luke.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Key'lehr being the closest thing a half-Klingon get to this explains why Alexander, Worf and Key'lehr's son, didn't pick up on Klingon values as a child.
  • In ICarly Carly's father is in the military (so a partial aversion) and so is always away, her mother is never mentioned and adult brother is an Adult Child. Freddie's mom however goes to the opposite extreme.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Were Willow Rosenberg's parents ever home, except when it was convenient for the plot - like the time Willow's mom and the other parents nearly burned Willow and Amy at the stake?

    Her mother basically seems to be far more interested in studying teenagers than actually interacting with her teenage daughter. She doesn't know Willow's best friends' names, views Willow as a demographic rather than an individual, and is surprised to see Willow's change of hairstyle when it's been that way for months. All we know about her father is that his name is Ira and he won't let her watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special (they're Jewish).
  • Nearly all of the parents in The Secret Life of the American Teenager in that they hardly ever give their kids any rules to follow, and enforce them even less.
  • In Arrested Development Lindsay and Tobias are sufficiently oblivious that Maeby got a job as a studio executive and produced several movies without them even noticing. One time when feeling neglected she tried to make them think she was running away, and was frustrated when she couldn't get them to realize. The much more controlling Michael tries to get Lindsay to pay more attention, but she maintains that he's stifling his son (she may have a point) and refuses to get involved unless forced to. At one point she decided she had to punish her for her failing grades, and was disappointed this involved more than telling her she was punished.
  • In The Vampire Diaries Jenna fills this role to Elena and Jeremy. She was supposed to be their cool young aunt, but when their parents died she became their guardian, and is not suited for the role. She doesn't particularly seem to mind if they come home, or if they do come home if they bring someone else with them. Few guardians would react to their teenage niece having her boyfriend over for the night by admonishing them in the morning to keep the noise down.
  • Nana Mary of Roseanne was this to Bev. Bev becomes the opposite, partly out of resentment. Roseanne herself strikes a nice balance, but is briefly upset that she didn't turn out to be as permissive as she always intended to be when she was a teenager.

Video Games

  • Earthbound: Ness' parents are surprisingly cool with their little boy heading out to fight monsters on his own without any form of escort or weaponry. They just like it when Ness calls them every once in a while to say hi.
    • They also are just as cool with giving Ness hundreds and thousands of dollars as allowance.

Webcomics

  • Sabrina Online: Richard's parents, who seem to have been introduced mostly to counterpoint Sabrina's ultra-conservative mother parents.
  • Gene in Templar, Arizona seems content to let his kindergarten-age daughter Zora do as she likes; unfortunately for most other people, her favorite activity seems to be snooping around in other people's things.
  • Bud's parents in Precocious. His dad spends all his time in the basement working on art and hydroponics, while his mom is always in the city managing the apartment complexes she owns. As a result Bud is a much better cook than either of them.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Dunkel of El Goonish Shive aren't exactly irresponsible as parents (though they do tend to be absent most of the time), but they definitely aren't very strict. A Running Gag with them is that they take the most bizarre things in perfect stride, such as when their daughter[1] turns herself into a cat. They don't seem to find this odd at all, and are only interested in whether or not she's able to turn back.
  • Ash's dad in Misfile lets her foreign boyfriend and her boyfriend's brother live at their house (despite the fact that he didn't know the boy existed until he came home to find him on the couch), and lets her go out and race, despite the fact that he knows it's dangerous. The justification is given quite early on: He was a control freak with Ash's mother, which led her to abandon them both when Ash was three, and doesn't want the same thing to happen again.
    • He does lay the law down a few times, one example being when Ash got drunk and even told off a rather vicious associate of the brothers when it seemed he could be dangerous to the teens. He didn't know the guy was an angel, granted, but he could tell the guy was trouble.

Web Original

  • Jade Sinclair's father basically was like this, except when he was home, at which point things were a lot worse. Her father turned out to be busy working for a loanshark and drinking. Right up until he decided to beat his child to death.

Radio

  • In Old Harrys Game Satan finds a household like this when trying to find a perfect home for the baby that got sent to Hell by mistake. There's also another home where everything is regimented, and the children have no freedoms at all. Both won good parenting awards ... sponsored by The Guardian and The Daily Mail respectively.

 Satan: I've met one couple who think adulthood is a disease, and another who think childhood is.

Western Animation

  • Daria: The Lane family are the alternative Trope Namers. The parents are both artists and spend long periods of time away from home; their five kids are each a bit dysfunctional, though Trent and Jane a bit less than the others. Trent once lived in a tent in the backyard for six months; his mother saw it as letting him find his own path, while he was waiting for someone to invite him back in.

 Trent: I'm sorry I broke the rules. We don't really have any rules at our house. Right, Janey?

Jane: Well, there's that one about not building a fire in the rooms that don't have fireplaces.

  • The Simpsons: Ned Flanders had hippie/beatnik parents and was like this before he was given a special treatment that involved being spanked continually for a whole year and was both literally and metaphorically Flanderized.
  • Dexter's Laboratory Likewise, this seems to be the main reason Mandark is evil (though it is also strongly hinted he was just born that way).
    • You named a boy "Susan", what do you think would happen?
  • Goo's parents from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, who wouldn't stop her imagining hundreds of imaginary friends because they didn't want to stunt her creativity, so they just foisted them all off on Fosters. And her name is 'Goo' because they let her name herself.
    • Her full name? "Goo Goo Ga Ga." Yes, they asked her when she was an infant.
  • Kevin Spencer: Percy and Anastasia, the parents of the title character on the Canadian cartoon, are like this, being more concerned with getting more booze, welfare cheques and smokes than Kevin's welfare. Kevin would disappear for months at a time, and they were never particularly worried, simply noting that the boy would eventually come home on his own, which he always did. Of course, Percy and Anastasia often wouldn't be around either, given that they spent so much of their time in prison and rehab.
  • King of the Hill: Hank Hill has to deal with parents like this on occasion, which serves as a good contrast to his own firm-but-loving view on parenting. In one episode, he had to deal with two parents who would put their children in neglectful situations like concerts or giving them alcohol just because it made them "cool," and seemed more interested in having a good time then being good, loving parents. Another had a pair of see-no-evil parents who outright refused to discipline their son in spite of mounting evidence that he was a horrible, insufferable brat. Interestingly, he deals with them by having Bobby act exactly like their son towards them.
  • On Invader Zim, Dib and Gaz's scientist dad Professor Membrane has maybe one day set aside for "quality time" a year, usually appears in the house as a floating screen (half the time with prerecorded messages), and has one of his employees fetch them by asking for his "roommates."

 Dib: You mean... us?

Scientist: You live with the professor, right?

  • The Mighty B: Bessie's ex-hippie mom isn't really neglectful, but her idealistic worldview is rarely a help in solving her kids' problems.


Real Life

  • In the memoir Glass Castles, Jean, Billy, Lorie, and Maureen have parents like this. Ditzy, artistic, neglectful to the point of borderline abuse, and so on. An interesting case, since this is implied to have a somewhat beneficial effect in the long run. The kids are incredibly self sufficient, helping each other survive their childhood, supporting themselves financially, and fleeing one by one to make a life for themselves in New York.

Notes

  1. who is an Opposite Sex Clone of their son and just came into their lives-and into existence-at age 17
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