After many requests for more in depth writing on this subject, I am in the throes of writing a book on the Slow Parenting Movement which will further expand upon these principles. Stay tuned for the release of this book and in the interim remember to be Simple, Patient and Mindful!
This basic, simple truth has been at the core of every child’s development since time began. It is through their daily interactions with creative exploration that children learn, not only about their world but also their personal role in it. As mindful parents and caregivers the value of providing a safe, simple and nurturing play environment is our essential responsibility. This does not mean providing a plethora of toys to fill up empty spaces. Children love to explore and create and are quite capable of entertaining themselves if given the proper tools and setting. They thrive in calm, ordered spaces and the quantity of play materials does not outweigh the quality. It has been a long standing observation that given a collection of toys or large boxes, children will most often gravitate to the large boxes. The empty space found within the set boundaries of the box provides free rein for their creativity to blossom.
As outcome focused adults, it is too often the case that we feel the need to orchestrate the type of play our children will engage in. Even though it is with every good intention, we actually rob our children of their all-important developmental need to make it up as they go along. Children learn every conceivable skill through their play. Testing themselves with constant repetition (what might seem mindless to adults) is essential as the concept of cause and effect is being explored. Basic math skills are learned by sorting sizes, shapes and colours. Concentration develops their patience for understanding more complex theories and engages them to think things through on their own. Children actually enjoy problem solving without always needing an adult to dictate the result.
Never underestimate the value of allowing your children to be left to their own devices to be creative. Be an observer. Pay close attention to ensure they are safe, but trust that they are capable of entertaining themselves and whatever the outcome of that moment, it is exactly what it is meant to be.
There are 1460 days from birth until 4 years old. Not much time really in comparison to the remaining 25,915 days, if fortunate to live until 75 years of age.
These early days are considered the most important in the development of this unique individual, your child. Their foundation or blueprint is established during these years. What their personality will be, strengths, weaknesses and character traits; early interests; relationships and how to relate to the larger world; manners; healthy eating and sleeping habits; language skills; becoming comfortable in their body and self esteem; the ability to follow directions from others; a willingness to be open to learning; understanding structure and routine – all the essential building blocks are laid in this relatively short period of time.
My goal with the Slow Parenting Movement, is to encourage and support parents and caregivers to fully understand the value of their input in the lives of these young children. Giving permission to enjoy and not rush through these early days, or treat them as inconsequential, is at the core of this mission.
Your influence upon your child’s early development is one of the greatest undertakings. It requires infinite patience and countless mindful choices and while at times, this might feel endless, never doubt how important your example is.
Children learn from us how to live in this world. When we become distracted by multi-tasking, texting, chatting on the phone, worrying about issues beyond our control, we lose valuable quality time with our little ones and indeed ourselves. Unwittingly, we are teaching our children that this behaviour is the norm. They will mirror our behaviour and respond to our signals.
I do understand the hardships of raising children today. As a single mother for most of my son’s life, I had to juggle many jobs and know only too well, how difficult the struggle can be. What James and I did remember, was for the time when we were together, we would be engaged and present, sharing space together, even in silence. We both knew that the other was there and we were paying attention. A question could be posed. A thought shared. We did not hover or need to orchestrate. Somehow we found a balance that brought us both peace.
Trust your instincts. You are capable. Give yourself credit for the hard work and sacrifices that you are dedicating to your family. Enjoy the quiet time between all the busy-ness of your days.
Treasure these 1460.
c Jean Alice Rowcliffe 2012
One of the first principles of Slow Parenting is suggesting that you turn off technology for at least one hour a day – more if possible.In this world of omnipresent texting, calling, emailing and twittering I know this sounds like a difficult task, if not impossible, but it can be achieved and the rewards are huge. It is up to you to make the choice.
Turning off your phone is not a form of discipline. The action of doing this gives permission for you to disconnect, even just for a few minutes a day and in doing so, you are allowed to sit quietly without noise, be still and engage fully with your child, your friends and your surroundings. We all need time to quiet the mind and this pressured world of being “on” is taking its toll.
There was a time , not so long ago, when we waited for letters in the post to receive our family news and relied on weekend phone calls to connect with others around the world. The thought of contacting someone every day, let alone every hour, or second, seemed as remote as sitting on the moon. Yet, in my lifetime this has become the norm and with the escalation of technologies we shall see an even greater increase in how to communicate quickly and efficiently. One one hand, it is all quite marvelous but we do need to remember that all this does not necessarily improve the quality of our lives.
Every day, I see a plethora of stressed faces on the street with people (many of them parents and caregivers) distracted by their phone, trying to respond immediately and fretting if they are not acknowledged instantly.This pressure is not normal, nor is it healthy and the ones who will suffer the most are the children who are being exposed to this behaviour. Every time, you stop to acknowledge a text or phone call- should you be with your child or family – you send the message to that person that the call is more important. The text is more pressing than conversation or being engaged with those around you. I observe children in strollers or in the park, being totally ignored while the adults are busy pressing buttons on their phones, playing cat and mouse with those who are supposedly more important. The trend is becoming quite frightening and I see an escalation in just the past 2 years. What message does this send your child? Your partner or friend? Those around you?
We all are concerned about a generation of young people who are becoming more detached and self absorbed, with poor manners and social skills. Is it any wonder why this is becoming the trend with young people, when adults are teaching this self absorbed behaviour for them to model? Children learn from observation. You are illustrating to them how to live in this world. Is being distracted and anti social the example you want your child to inherit?
Interpersonal skills are one of the greatest issues facing educators now with a new crop of young people who seem to have no idea how to communicate, look others in the eye, or take responsibility for their actions. Children live more and more in a virtual world that places no demands upon them. The instant gratification that technology gives our youngsters needs to be kept in check.
By turning off the phone or computer for awhile each day, you and your family remain present and engaged. Be thoughtful – It does not need to become a time of being overly structured or “task driven”. Give yourself permission to sit quietly and read or do a simple craft project with your child. Take a walk in the neighbourhood looking in windows, saying hello to those you pass. Maybe you fold the laundry and let your children enjoy a romp in the warm towels as they tumble out of the dryer. Take time to sit in the park or by the water and watch the world go by. These moments are the ones that will keep you sane and remind your children to enjoy the simple, uncomplicated and easy way that days can unfold. Remember, there were generations of children who were raised without any technology, who thrived in being out doors and “making it up as they went along”. We rob ourselves and our children of these simple joys by complicating the landscape with all the self-inflicted pressures of being on, 24/7.
It is wonderful when a parent comes to me and expresses gratitude for creating a place where they can indeed switch off from the world, without guilt, and spend quality time with their children and friends.
The desire to detach from those who are present, and attach to those who are virtual is a trend that is rapidly becoming the norm.
It is up to all of us to accept responsibility for our actions and learn to set self boundaries, so that our children grow and mature with a deep understanding and respect for interpersonal relationships based on intimate, honest, face to face communication.
c Jean Alice Rowcliffe 2012
The need to push the toddler into a group setting or class, when they resist and cling and find it difficult to separate? This is normal behaviour for the 18 month to 2.5 year old and what they need more than anything at this age is as much consistency, love and nurturing as possible.
There is a troubling trend of enrolling young toddlers into programs that are promoted to help the child become more confident, but I have found that these activities often have the reverse affect down the road, of making children more insecure.
I know that many parents feel pressured to enroll their young children in a variety of outcome based programs, for example the pottery class where the 2 year old comes home with a perfectly crafted bowl (not age appropriate at all), by way of proving to the world that they are indeed good parents and actively involved with their child’s development.
After only 24 months on this earth, the 2 year old is just starting to understand the world they inhabit and it is a very big and sometimes scary place. As they master walking they can alight from your arms, but this does not necessarily mean they have the tools to be totally independent. If anything, they actually need you more. You, or the responsible & consistent adult, needs to be there, by their side, offering encouragement, helping to negotiate the terrain (both physically and metaphorically), teaching them manners, giving the words that will become their vocabulary, reminding them to be thoughtful in their social interactions, illustrating how to take turns and also providing the loving arms when the inevitable melt down occurs and everything just becomes too much.
The 2 year old has such a lot to learn on a daily basis. Why add more expectations to their plate? A child learns more in the first 3 years of life, than at any other time. Don’t diminish the value of the daily experiences and social interactions that you take for granted or might seem inconsequential.
When it comes time to consider the preschool experience – again don’t rush into this – take time to explore and choose the daycare or preschool setting carefully. Are the director and teachers nurturing the important aspects of your child’s development or is it just academic? Is all important play at the core of their mission, or are they promoting some sort of entrance to a school down the road? Do they offer understanding and nurturing support when the child collapses with fatigue or being overwhelmed? Is it a calm, clean and safe environment? Are the responsible adults trained in early childhood development and do they enjoy their work? Would you want to stay there for 3 hours a day? These are all mindful observations you must make.
A study was done years ago, that looked a youngsters who had a difficult time separating and clung to the parent or caregiver when unsure, often until 4 or 5, years of age. The findings were actually quite interesting, in that children who had forged such strong and loving relationships and did not like to be apart, actually had much more fulfilling adult relationships and were far more ready and willing to open themselves to others as they matured.
The children who were bounced about between caregivers and plugged into programs were seen as capable and “advanced” in the early years, but they actually had learned how to shut down at a very early age, as a way to protect themselves from inevitable hurt and disappointment. Their adult relationships were not as fulfilling, deeply loving or long standing. Commitment became a big issue for these children who had learned, early on, not to get too close.
These results actually make sense when you look at the big picture.
Since children learn from the very beginning how to forge relationships based on our example it is good to pause before feeling pressured to act, and as difficult as it is, try to resist the nagging doubt that can be so pervasive when talking with other parents. The list of “to do’s” and benchmarks set by parents is quite astounding, and those of us who work and study early childhood, wonder where the momentum is coming from. There seems to be a quiet force and dialogue that floats about and it has somehow become the standard that all are to aspire to.
Slowly step back. Be still. Listen and observe your child. They are really very good at communicating their needs, if you pay attention. Don’t push them too fast or too hard or create a template of expectations. This sets a dangerous precedent of judging from a very early age and your children will not grow in confidence, but rather shrink into insecurity for fear of not measuring up.
Your child is on their own personal journey. You are here to guide, nurture, mentor and love unconditionally.
With these basic blocks as their foundation your children will soar.
c Jean Alice Rowcliffe 2012
It is still difficult for me to acknowledge that it is 3 years since my dear son, James, died. The time seems endless and a split second all wrapped up in one. At the core of all is a disbelief that he has entered the past tense. Not a day goes by that I don’t find myself turning to share a thought, song, news article or passing observation.
Such is the story of mourning.
There has been much learned these past years and I find it incredibly comforting and oddly empowering to talk with other parents in the same situation. Our stories are so profoundly similar and yet intensely personal at the same time.
The greatest observation, is that grief of this magnitude is indeed universal, and you should not comparison shop. No one story is sadder or more terrible, than another. Everyone will, at some point in their life, experience this type of sorrow. It may be a parent, spouse, lover, or perhaps their precious child, but it will be impossible not to feel shaken to the core by the loss. And it does – shake to the core.
You question everything and marvel at how unfair life has become. You doubt your ability to ever allow yourself to be close to another, let alone open your heart enough to love. Touch is at times unbearable as every nerve ending is raw. The swirling fog is everywhere; short term memory evaporates; you retreat into your private world of simple comfort and pray to get through the day. Your existence is reduced to baby steps.
My loss is no greater than anyone else who has loved deeply, and we all share a common thread. How we travel the path of mourning is where compassion is required, as no one approach illustrates the “right” or “wrong”. We will each do it differently, in our own way, and that is valid.
This is not something one “gets over” and that assumption has been perhaps the most difficult for me to deal with. Learning to sit with death is what the work becomes. We don’t do death well in this culture and the need to dance around it, not address its pain or try to dismiss the emotions attached to mourning, have made me become more insular. Needing to explain myself becomes a tiresome exercise and other parents say the same. We end up retreating into our personal safe zone.
I call it my place that asks no questions and demands no answers.
Often I am told by people that “they miss the old Jean”. I miss her too and realize she does not inhabit these bones, as she once did. It is my work to discover who this new person is.
We were warned, when James died, that uncovering the new normal would be the project and how true this has been. I get up, (many days it takes everything just to get out of bed, put on the war paint, do my hair) and somehow muster enough energy to walk out the door. For more months than I would have ever anticipated, that has been the best I could do. If others expected more, they were disappointed
Being asked, even casually, “How are you?” is sometimes incredibly painful and I am at a loss as to how to respond. A poem I wrote this year called “Do you Really want to Know” helped me to answer that difficult question.
Many mourners have written about responding with “fine” to this question, and how dishonest it feels, yet it really is all one can say. It gives a sufficient response without going into all the details of how getting 2 feet on the ground that morning, next to the bed, took every ounce of their being. We don’t go into the honest details, as that would take even more energy- energy that we inevitably don’t have. Authenticity is what I crave most and I long to be totally honest and with others who are in the same place.
Interestingly, something that I had not anticipated is how liberating death and grief are. As heavily painful it can be at times, grief also has given permission to be 100% clear about what I need or want. I have reached the bottom rung of the ladder and realize that I have seen “ the worst that can happen” so the landscape is actually incredibly open.
My personal response to living with grief these past months, is that I need to hibernate. Needing to be on, with a public face for my work, can deplete, and at the end of the day I crave the silence of my nest. Entire weekends can happily be spent in solitude, not saying a word, and I am grateful to have always enjoyed my own company. I am much less social than I used to be and trust that others will understand this.
There is a certain madness to the early days of loss and even now I have moments when I think I am as crazy as Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre. It is okay to acknowledge the madness. That is essential, and if I can leave as my legacy permission to say it is okay and not uncommon to feel so helpless and vulnerable, maybe that is a truth James would like me to share.
I enjoy traveling on my own to different places, perhaps in effort to create new memories. Different terrains become appealing. I begin to quest for new memories. This is common for those experiencing profound loss and grief.
James continues to visit and his energy is a powerful force. Funny little remembrances are left on the front stoop; distinct scents punctuate the air (my sense of smell has become incredibly acute this past year) and the warbling bird song has been replaced by a phantom skateboarder that rolls down Polk Street every morning and evening. Other have heard this as well, so I am reassured that madness has not totally consumed me. He continues to influence his friends and teachers and I am so grateful that they stay in touch.
Being in nature and writing continue to be my refuge and I passionately seek out these moments. Those who are in mourning often speak of their fear in forgetting all the details of their loved one. How they walked, sat, slept, sounded, moved through the world is precious. It can become difficult to recall, over time, since the busy- ness of daily life takes over and a special energy is cultivated for this specific undertaking.
I do have a better sense now that James is and always will be, with me, and with us all. His energy was too big to be confined by his broken body. Being in the physical world I crave his presence and long to hear his music, read his writings, hold his hand once more. It would be a lie to desire anything else. What a great man he could have become. When I am still and quiet and removed from all the frantic energy of the daily world, is when I feel him most with me and perhaps this is why I have cultivated and treasure, this current lifestyle. One day I may be more involved, but for now I feel content and able to move forward with these simple limitations.
Thank you to all who continue to be so supportive and loving. Deepest gratitude to those who have supported Make-A-Wish, Hospice by the Bay and UCSF Palliative Care in James’s memory. Your gifts keep these incredible organizations helping many other families who are walking this path.
I am working on a book “The Last Tear” based on James’s story with his disease, my experiences and what death and grief have taught. It is my hope that it will help others down the road
Our time here is fleeting and we are all indeed, what I like to call, phantoms in waiting. No one will escape the reality of death or the inevitable sadness of profound loss. How we live with those realities is what makes our days rich and fulfilled and we will find our own personal stories revealed while holding on to this truth.
Taking time to be slow and mindful has become my comforting guiding principle and there is so much revealed when one steps away from the need to be on. James’s last poem “How do I want to waste my time?” plays over in mind constantly. The final line has become a mantra of sorts…”for I have found that life is fleeting, must I waste it all succeeding?”
James lives on through his gift of friendship and love.
I send peace to you all.
c Jean Alice Rowcliffe 2012
It takes a village.
This oft-quoted phrase represents a truth that has stood the test of time.
Since our early days, we have gathered with those close to us, to remain safe, share our talents and stories, and grow stronger.
In older societies the youngest members were often left in the hands of others, while parents foraged, farmed, sought new opportunities and strove to provide for their families. There was a time, not long ago, when it was common for children to be raised by “all the mothers on the street” and there was a deep sense of responsibility for all within the community. Parents could expect the same respect and manners from the neighbourhood children as they did from their own.
In many regards, even though the work to provide for family was more difficult, child rearing was easier, as it was a shared experience.
In this busy, overly competitive and technology driven world we find ourselves in, community is even more important than ever, and yet seems to be lacking in the lives of so many families.
Parents and caregivers talk of feeling isolated. Extended families live miles away and the nurturing non-judgmental love and support, that is so important in these early childhood years, is not easily available. Communication is delegated to the laptop or mobile phone.
Parents struggle to find the right childcare that will bring them peace while they go to work. Guilt has become a heavy mantle that far too many parents are carrying and, added to the ever growing daily pressures, things start to swirl leaving them feeling insecure and overwhelmed.
I created The Village Well in San Francisco to provide a place of community for families with young children. Based on lessons learned from my decades of working with families, I knew that there is often a sense of isolation in those early years and since we don’t have the luxury of extended families close at hand and neighbours who share our story , it was important to create a place of gathering that might transcend those feelings of being alone on this journey of child rearing. Beyond the physical space of bringing people together, the sense of community at The Village Well is strong. Many new friendships have been forged through sharing tales while romping with children on the floor. Parents and caregivers swap daily tales and find solace and support knowing they are not alone. Turning off the phone while visiting adds to thier experience.
Since The Village Well is not a preschool, I have been able to incorporate the best of a variety of early childhood education philosophies. My three main influences have been Frederick Froebel (Founder of the Kindergarten), Rudolph Steiner (Developer of the Waldorf School) and Maria Montessori (Montessori Education).
In simplistic terms, each of these educators believed that children have an innate sense of wonder and a desire to understand. Self-directed learning is achieved through open, unstructured play and music in a safe and nurturing environment. Providing as many natural, age appropriate play materials as possible, is an important component. The child thrives, but also the larger community and society will benefit with happily adjusted and confident, loving families.
TVW provides for children the opportunity to explore at their own pace and, because the focus is not based on outcome, they are much more receptive to learning. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to hone their powers of observation (one of the staples in the Norland training) by turning off all outside distractions. They become more fully engaged and mindful and, even if just for a few hours a week, this exercise is so helpful in teaching them how to better care for their children.
There is still a need to follow the rules of community and at TVW we are able to teach our families that manners are important and we all accept responsibility for our space.
Putting our shoes neatly on the mat outside the playroom; serving banana cups with a “please’ and “thank you” and ringing the bells before our daily circletime reminds us that we are responsible for our toys, books and play and this lesson will be carried over into your children’s school and ongoing social interactions.
School teachers continue to be amazed at the number of children who have no sense of responsibility in community. “Clean up time” falls on deaf ears if a child has not been introduced to this concept and encouraged to participate. Children will follow by your example.
Once again, a reminder that homes are the first schools and parents the first teachers.
What does village mean to you? Who is an important part of your personal community? Do you take time to honour and nurture those relationships? Do your children feel a sense of belonging to the larger community? Are polite manners an active component of your daily discourse? Do you engage fully or is the ubiquitous mobile phone your modus operandi?
Every day you are given the opportunity to make choices. Your children are learning from you how to grow and share in this sometimes complex world. Take time to be still. Enjoy the quiet and small moments in the day and remember that simple actions are often the greatest teachers.
c Jean Alice Rowcliffe 2012