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

The Ten Principles Of The Slow Parenting Movement

10 Principles for Slow Parenting

As I continue to explore the notion of Slow Parenting and how to achieve it in our  everyday lives,  it is important to look at these 10 guiding principles.

There are no quick fixes to becoming slow and mindful. It requires patience and thoughtful choices. At the core of your decision making must be trust, in your instincts, and letting go of the insecurity that is so pervasive in this overly competitive culture we now live in.

I will be expanding on each of these principles in my further writings.

1. Turn off technology for at least one hour each day (more is preferable).

2. BE the parent – stop trying to be your child’s friend.

3. Cultivate the ability to observe your child, and other children, and be mindful of those observations. Notice the developmental differences at various ages.

4. Homes are the first schools, Parents are the first teachers. Understand and value the importance of your role.

5. A child’s work is to play.

6. You give life, but are NOT your child’s life.

7. It’s okay to say no. Set Boundaries and stop the incessant spinning.

8. Less is more – creativity is often born out of boredom.

9. Understand, respect and honour community – both inside and outside the home

10. Learn to cultivate the quiet  spaces during the day and make time to empty the mind – opening yourself to gratitude and awe.

c    jean Alice Rowcliffe     2012