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

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