Monthly Archives: August 2012

Slow Parenting- Living Mindfully With Technology

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

Slow Parenting, Can Someone Please Explain?

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

Slow Parenting: What Grief Has Taught Me

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

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

Slow Parenting: Life Is Precious

Life is precious.

How often don’t we say this, almost casually, as if the perfect response to what seems beyond our grasp.

When confronted by the heart wrenching images of Japan in ruins, I hear people all around making this statement, but wonder how many truly do grasp fully the potency of those 3 words.

Today countless families will be torn apart. A child, parent, friend, lover – all around this globe this date will become the worst day of someone’s life. Excruciating loss will become someone’s new template, and they will never see life the same again.

It is always fascinating, that it takes these catastrophic events for many to take note of  the basic truth that days, and our time on this earth, are fragile and fleeting.

When confronted by this it is our choice as to how we’ll proceed. We have been given these extra moments to continue living. How will we use our time?

As parents, we have the incredible gift of sharing days with our children, and if confronted by the fact that this might indeed be your last day together, how would you choose to live it?

Starting when my son, James, was in the 4th grade, we would spend our morning drive to school contemplating what we would do today – just in case it was our last. It was not morbid, or maudlin, but rather a fun exercise and fantasy game.

What would we do to make this day the best?

Inevitably, the list would include sharing some good jokes; eating well (perhaps some ripe brie on warm bagette or delicious chocolate); smelling the flowers in the vase; spending time outside (probably by the water), or visiting the climbing tree on the Ft Mason green; plotting a nice hot shower or bubble bath; catching a new CD at Amoeba records; playing catch at the end of the day; or reading the next chapter in our favorite novel before turning out the lights.

When we arrived at the school intersection we would always end by sharing a hug and “I love you”, before opening the car door to head off for the day.

This tradition carried on through secondary school and even when James’ diagnosis worsened, the drive was still full of fantasy and what-ifs, and never did we part without a hug and “Love you”.

These golden moments are the treasures that sustain me now and I feel so blessed that we followed the lead to be simple and mindful, when at all possible.

Every day you have been given the precious gift of time with your child and family.

You get to decide how you will spend it together. What will be your priorities? How do you see it unfolding?

Will you choose to embrace the simple, loving, calm and slow gestures or will you spin your time, pondering the unknowns?  Will you continue to hold that gnawing grudge?  Let it go? Will you be less distracted and more present, when your child asks to read a book or play with their puzzle?

Or, will the never ending worries continue to consume?

What school will be the best for my child’s future? Will they be good at sports? What do I need to wear for the school interview? How will my letter to the Head of school impact their opinion of me? Will my child ever be in the top percentile? When will they be better at math, or science or Spanish? What grade point average do they need for the next school? Will we be invited to that party? How do I get back into my size 8 jeans? We need to get a bigger house to show we are succeeding….

On and on and on it goes.

The list of unknowns is endless, totally draining, and will leave you and your family depleted.

Since none of the answers rest in your hands, why put so much energy into them?

It takes a lot of courage and conviction not to be seduced by all the what-ifs that society throws at you. As stated earlier, the incessant diet of insecurity, that we are force fed in this media driven culture, is tough to dodge. We can’t all live as hermits in our perfectly constructed bubbles, so we have to learn how to negotiate the constant barrage of  ideas & concepts, sounds and images that toy with all our insecurities and make  us feel less worthy.

When confronted by our last breath none of us will wonder if we accomplished all that we should have, attended the right schools, made the right impression or looked sleek in our clothes. Instead we will  hopefully be holding on to the hand of someone who loved us deeply and will be remain loyal and loving after we slip away, granting us the peacefulness of a quiet end.

My wise father used to say “There are no pockets in the shroud,” and how true those words are. So much of what we cling to, and worry about, slip away as vapours when we reach those final minutes.

Why would we therefore  put so much energy into them during our robust days?

Young children have the remarkable gift of not knowing how to edit and so every moment is fresh, fun and playful. They live in the present tense where all is new and simple things bring the greatest pleasure. We have much to learn from them, if we pay attention.

So here we are with another new day. A fresh landscape and new horizon. As corny as it might sound, this is indeed all you have been given. A new morning, and hopefully a full 24 hours to share with those you love.

Choose wisely where you put your energy. Share that extra hug with your child, tell those you love that indeed you love them. Stop to watch the bird and smell the hyacinth, or freshly mowed grass.  Enjoy that ice cream cone that drips down your fingers.

Mindfully and slowly, savour, share and treasure.

For indeed life is precious and fleeting and you and your children have been gifted with time, for today.

c  Jean Alice Rowcliffe   2012

Home Is The First School, Parents Are The First Teachers

March 12, 2011

Home is the first school, and parents are the first teachers.

This mantra was at the core of my Norland training and remains a basic truth to this day. It is also one of the first principles of the Slow Parenting Movement. One important point to remember – a child learns more in the first 3 years of life, than at any other time.

Every moment of every day is a learning experience.

Home represents a place of gathering, with stability, love & comfort that remains constant in this world of uncertainty. It is not defined by what you have, the number of toys or amount of stuff, the size of rooms or location. Simplicity should be at its core.

Home is the setting for an individual’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth. Not unlike a garden, a home must be tended, appreciated, nurtured and respected in order to thrive. Children who are taught to respect home and all that it represents will fare better in the larger community that dwells outside their four walls. Whatever the makeup of the family might be, home is the essence of what you hold to be true.

Home is the first classroom- not only in an academic sense – but also, as microcosm of the larger world that your child will inhabit. How do we treat each other, is perhaps the most important life lesson we learn at home. Are we polite to one another? Do we respect and honour privacy? Emotions? Differences of opinion?

Do we share responsibilities? Take turns? Understand chores are essential? Can we each share our story honestly and without judgment?

Each family’s interpretation of what makes a nurturing home will be individual and there is not one blueprint that works for all, however if respect of space and honest engagement based on unconditional love are at its core, the home can be a strong anchor.

The beginning yearnings for a love of learning will be acquired in a stable, calm home environment.

How things work, cause and effect, simple problem solving, reading and math skills are all learned in the day to day tasks of living with family.

“You can never have too many books” is one of my favorite quotes. With this trend of all consuming lust for technology I fear that many children will not grow up with an understanding or respect of experiencing  written word on paper. The joy of holding a book, turning the pages with anticipation, finding a favorite bookmark to treasure, and reading aloud is one of the most important gifts you can give your child. Find time every day to read together, and encourage your children to spend time with books for at least an hour a day, on their own. Even when children outgrow their naps, quiet time in their rooms with a good stack of books is a perfect way to relax and rejuvenate, while  expanding their vocabulary and stimulating their imagination. This practice also teaches a child how to be silent and peaceful with themselves – another vital component for future happiness.

Mother Goose, Dr Seuss, nonsense poems and early silly rhymes will evolve into the chapter books that captivate as your children mature. It is all too easy to give children a visual entertainment to pass the time, but try to resist the temptation and make books an essential part of every day. The value of this can not be stressed enough and may be one of the greatest gifts you give your family.

If home if the first school than it makes sense that parents, or the adults in charge, are the first teachers. How you communicate with your child, and others, will illustrate to them how they should behave. Manners, respect for others and property, ethics, values, self respect, the responsibilities of living in community – all these are life lessons that your children will learn from YOU. Do not expect the outside world to pick up this baton. If you assume  school will  take charge of this, you have waited too long. The responsibility rests firmly in your hands from the first day of your child’s life.

If you have a curiosity for life’s experiences, your children will inherit this as well. Your relationships and how you communicate will directly influence your child’s interpretation of how to move forward in life. This is where being mindful comes in to play.

The  need for mindful and slow parenting is enormous and can not be taken lightly.  Parenting is not about manipulating outcome or creating the perfect child of your dreams. As much as we might like to think that with focus, determination and hard work one can orchestrate the perfect outcome for all situations, life with its menu of complexities, will most certainly deal you a hand you were not anticipating.

A mindful parent is one who can pause, study the landscape carefully, and makes choices based upon what is best for their child or family, staying true to their belief system and integrity, without worrying about what others might think. It is difficult in a world absorbed with outcome, but we all get to make choices, and being strong in confidence that you know, instinctively, what is best for your child is the best path to follow.

Slowly learning to trust your instincts and release the doubt that swirls about, is one of the first steps in becoming a mindful parent.

c   Jean Alice Rowcliffe    2012

Is Slow Parenting Possible?

It is all about choices.

A mother returns birthday cards to her children because they don’t match her expectations of what she deserves. Another pours hot sauce down the throat of her child for misbehaving and is quite willing to solicit her 15 minutes of fame, from this unnecessary, cruel act.  A father, spending a Saturday morning with his child in the park, has his nose constantly in his Blackberry and shows frustration that her play time ”isn’t finished yet”. Parents clamour for space in pre-preschool programs, for fear their young children won’t achieve their full potential, by just playing at home.

What is sorely lacking with this new generation of parents is a common sense, based on gratitude and awe.

Instead, sadly, many appear to gorge on a diet of insecurity that is incessantly spoon fed through non- stop chatter that is all too easily accessible in this technology driven world. Constant reminders that they will never be good enough have seeped into the homes of American families and unwittingly, parents carry the unexpected burden of never succeeding in their important work of parenting.

These fears make it very easy to snap under the pressure of this quest for unattainable perfection.

Our children are sadly in the front lines of this insufferable insecurity. They become the pawns for parents who need to prove their worth by over scheduling, structuring, pushing and grinding to make sure their children conform to what their expectations for success might be. This new generation of parents (unquestionably the most educated of any other generation) is sadly the one that is making repeated and troubling mistakes. This should not be the reality, given this supposedly enlightened crowd.

Young children and up are constantly bombarded with images of loud, crashing images that define their world. The 30-second Sesame Street mentality has taught children, from the very earliest days, that answers come quickly. Within a minute you will receive what you need. Instant gratification is indeed, instant, and we have robbed our children of the ability to negotiate disappointment, struggle and outcomes that may not suit us and indeed might even make us sad. Not every child will get the trophy.

Parents frantic that their children succeed, orchestrate endless classes and programs, all adult driven and outcome based, and feel guilt for not participating at a warp speed with scheduling and multi-tasking, while those parents who choose not to embrace this insanity, and sadly are in the minority, need constant encouragement that they have made the right choice. Too many fear they are being judged as “bad parents” if their children are not excelling in every endeavor.

As a Founder of the Slow Parenting Movement, I am determined to shift this unsettling trend and work to remind parents of the value of quiet unstructured play, simple moments of learning and time in nature for their children to freely explore.

The role of The Village Well is provide an example environment  where children are allowed to explore in a safe and nurturing setting and parents/caregivers are  given permission to share in this play, while developing a sense of community. Turning off their mobile phone devices, gives the adults at least a couple of hours a day of uninterrupted time with their child, or friends.  We all need to be reminded that there was a time when messages did not need an instant response and somehow the world kept turning.

Imagine, we even waited for letters in the post to give us updates from those we loved.

Every time we slow down, pause and even stop for a few moments of peace, our families reap the benefit.

It is time to let go of this crazy desire for perfect outcome, that is just not possible.

I have observed, over my 30 years of working with families both in the UK and America, that the hunger to speed up the quest for success, has definitely become more prominent and the stress, judgment and panic on the faces of parents with young children especially, is palpable.

It is interesting that my philosophy, based on my Norland training and decades of working with families, is now seen as innovative and desperately sought after. It is based on old fashioned common sense – children came to live in this world- we did not go to live in theirs; children need strong parents who are committed to creating a loving family (and family can be many interpretations); children need plenty of unstructured time to explore freely and safely and must be given the parameters that will work for both the family and community at large.

Early childhood, and what should be the simplest and happiest days of a family’s life, (learning to become a cohesive unit), are rattled with crazy making expectations, unnecessary scheduling and multi-tasking that erode the very structure of what makes a family strong. All this undermines what is essential for early childhood development and strong families.

Children who can play on their own (without being guided by adults); are encouraged to create without any sense of outcome; and can form loving, strong relationships with close and familiar persons in their lives, are far more prepared for life and “success”, than those who are juggled about with various caregivers, excessive scheduling, structured classes and rushed about with fearful parents who can’t understand the value of quiet.

It all comes down to choices. Parents are given every day a fresh landscape to choose how to spend time with their children.

On Mother’s Day 2009, I lost my only child, James, to the vile scourge of cancer. He was an optimistic, loving young man of 17, on the cusp of adulthood, with nothing but infinite possibilities in front of him. As I held him and felt his last breathe escape, I did not think of all that he had accomplished or what pride I had in him. It was a moment of  horrible awe when I realized he was not coming home again and our lives had intersected so fleetingly. The loss is acute and will remain so for the rest of my life.

When asked what I would do, if James returned for one more hour I say, with all honesty, that we would choose to sit by the water, share tales of our day over the chessboard and sip lemonade. We would not discuss what colleges he got into,  his grade point average, the speed of his last race, or what career he might have chosen. We would just sit and BE – totally, faithfully and lovingly immersed in that moment.

Every parent, is given each day, the opportunity to choose between being mindful and slow, patient and observant or frantic, driven by outcome and focused on what they and their child need to be accomplishing next on the never ending “to do” list.

It is my hope and desire that they will choose to be slow, for even one hour each day, and let their sense of awe and gratitude fill all those empty spaces, that will never be filled by endless “doing”.

c    Jean Alice Rowcliffe   2012