I took swim and piano lessons and belonged to quite a few clubs at school, but when I think about my childhood, it’s the slowness I remember – infinitely long summer days, conversations with my parents that felt like they’d go on forever, leisurely afternoons of reading, wondering, day-dreaming and playing.
Some of my friends were in gymnastics, soccer, or Girl Scouts. But we all had ample unstructured time in our days. We spent our summers riding bikes all over town, walking to the swimming pool, or wandering in packs from yard to yard until it was time for dinner.
My mom, dad, sister, and I also spent countless hours telling stories, going for walks, hiking, camping, playing board games, and just being together.
And all of those seemingly slow moments added up to something huge – my childhood.
The rise of hyper-parenting
Apparently, in the last 20 years, when I wasn’t paying attention, childhoods like mine went extinct. According to “The Growing Backlash Against Over Parenting”, an article in Time Magazine by Nancy Gibbs, “overprotectiveness and overinvestment of moms and dads” has risen to almost comical proportions.
Gibbs writes that parents started buying knee-pads for their toddlers and hovering over their teenagers; protecting their kids from every bump, scrape, and bad grade; and pressuring their children to achieve more and more at younger and younger ages. She writes that modern parents are raising kids who are “teacups,” liable to shatter with any stress, or “crispies,” already burned out, by the time they get to college.
I can’t say I’ve been monitoring parenting trends over the past few decades. But when I think about it, quite a few of the new parents I know have their infants enrolled in classes – dance, swimming, music, and sign language. And I’ve heard many parents lament that they can’t let their older kids walk to school or play alone in the yard, because “it’s just not the same anymore.” And a college professor I know entertains his friends with nightmarish stories about parents calling to try to get their kids’ grades changed.
According to Gibbs, a backlash is brewing against all this over-parenting. Some parents and advocates are calling for a return to the slower, more laissez-faire parenting of my childhood. They’re calling the movement Slow Parenting, Free-Range Parenting, or Simplicity Parenting.
Carl Honore, author of The Power of Slow: Finding Balance and Fulfillment Beyond the Cult of Speed and Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting has inspired many Slow Parenting devotees (although he doesn’t actually use the term in his books). He defined Slow Parenting in an interview with Lisa Belkin for her NYT Motherlode Blog:
Slow parenting is about bringing balance into the home. Children need to strive and struggle and stretch themselves, but that does not mean childhood should be a race. Slow parents give their children plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms. They keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together. They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy. Slow parenting means allowing our children to work out who they are rather than what we want them to be.
And Carrie Contley and Bernadette Noll, who run the blog, Slow Family Living, and hold classes and workshops, write that Slow Parenting is about:
allowing family life to unfold in a way that is joyfully and consciously connected. This means slowing it down, finding comfort in the home, and creating the space to see and honor the family as an entity, while simultaneously keeping sight of each member as a unique and valuable individual.
Slowing down family life
When my son was born a year and a half ago, I realized that if my husband and I continued on the same track, he would not have the same sort of childhood that I had.
My husband and I both worked full time, and we worked opposite schedules. So we would have almost zero time together as a family. My son would be in daycare. Our mornings would a frenzy. We’d be tired in the evenings. And there would be few of those long afternoons making cookies, doing art projects, or reading books, because I’d have to-do lists and errands piled up from the week. My husband and I spent most of my son’s first year rearranging our lives so that we could have a slower, more-connected family life.
So I’m thrilled to read that other parents are questioning whether kids need so many expensive extracurriculars; are stepping back and giving their kids room to play, think, make mistakes, and be bored; and are prioritizing spending good old-fashioned time together.
Do parents need space too?
I asked my husband, who teaches at a low-income highschool, if he’s seeing an epidemic of “helicopter parenting”, and he laughed. “I wish. It’s more often the opposite – parents who never show up, don’t answer phone calls, and don’t seem to care.”
His comments made me think that maybe kids aren’t the only ones who need room to breathe and make mistakes. Parenting is a tough job, and maybe we could do worse for our kids than being too involved.
So while it may be overkill to buy a toddler knee pads, have trees chopped down to prevent a nut from falling into an allergenic child’s pool, or repeatedly rush down to the school to drop off a forgotten notebook, lunch pail, or necklace, as some of the parents Gibbs writes about in her Time Magazine article did, I hesitate to judge. I know first hand, striking that perfect balance in parenting is no easy feat.
But if slow parenting is about striving to be more connected while giving our kids more room to be themselves, those certainly seem like worthy goals.Childhood isn't a race. Embrace slow parenting.Click To Tweet
If you liked this post, you may enjoy these related posts:
- Learning to Listen Again
- The Riddle of Parenting
- Confessions from the Car-Free Life
- 5 Simple (and Free) Ways to Entertain a Young Child
What do you think of Slow Parenting?