I tried 'slow parenting' for a year and I'm never going back
Busy is overrated
There was a time when – pre-pandemic – we almost wore our business as a status symbol.
As in, the more things we had on, the more balls in the air, the more rushing from one thing to the next, the more successful we were at life, somehow.
More popular, more in demand... More important?
But then the pandemic came along and suddenly, all our business went out the window. And we were forced to – some of us kicking and screaming – to live slow.
"It almost made me stressed not to feel stressed"
I admit it, going from days and afternoons filled with homework, playdates, football, ballet, hockey, basketball, taekwondo and gymnastics to days and weeks – and months – stretching out in front of you with literally nothing written onto the calendar, it was daunting at first. It almost made me stressed not to feel stressed – so hardwired are we these days to think of stress as a normal part of life.
Maybe it's not a conscious choice, but it sort of sneaks up on you; all the activities, the feeling of the more your kids are taking part in, the better it is for them. The fear that they might be missing out if you don't keep up with the Joneses and their busy lives.
Our downtime in the afternoons had all but disappeared in a flurry of busy. And while there is no denying that for the most part, my children enjoyed their sports and activities, they were also very tired when the week came to an end – and then we were facing into a weekend where even more activities were penciled into our already manic schedule.
There was precious little time left for being bored. And being creative. For inventing games, and building pillow forts and playing board games and scooting around the park.
Somehow, structured activities and even planned play had taken over – but having lived through a lockdown and having had nothing but time on our hands, I realised eventually that actually, I don't want to go back to busy.
I don't want all the scheduling and the clock watching and the plans. I would rather have time for slow. Time to be together and time to play and invent and be – and not just constantly 'do.'
Now I don't want to give up slow
Don't get me wrong – I am so happy this school year has now almost come and gone without any lockdowns or disruptions or drama – finally. And that children can finally do sports and activities again – I will never not want my children to have sports and activities – I am just saying they don't need so much of it.
I don't want to go back to busy. Not now. Maybe never.
Having had a taste of a slower way of parenting, with lots of time for spontaneous trips to the park and the playground, family hikes, movie nights and board games, I have seen what it did to my children and my family – and I don't want to give it up.
And it seems I might be onto something.
"Children are designed, by natural selection, to play," wrote Peter Gray, Ph.D., a research professor at Boston College, in the American Journal of Play. "
Wherever children are free to play, they do."
However, the last half-century has seen a decline in kids' opportunities to play – which has led to lasting negative consequences.
In fact, according to Gray, the lack of play affects emotional development, leading to the rise of anxiety, depression, and problems with attention and self-control, and he argues that without play, young people fail to acquire the social and emotional skills necessary for healthy psychological development.
The culture of busy – this notion that the busier we are, the more successful we must be, have we let that seep into how we raise our children? Why do we think that the busier we keep our kids, the more classes and lessons and activities we schedule for them, the better a job at parenting we are doing? But are we?
Be more, do less
I decided before my children went back to school last autumn that we weren't going to be busy anymore – we were going to live slower. More in the moment. More on purpose.
We kept some activities – I am not anti those, and I am a firm believer in being active and doing sports.
But what we didn't do, was sign up to every sport. Every activity, every day.
We kept lots of time for slow.
For weekend mornings spent lazing around in pyjamas for ages. For roaming around the park or the farmer's market on Saturdays. For pillow forts and movie nights and Lego towers and tie-dye kits and learning how to knit (badly) and baking our way through an entire cookbook.
Yep, we have baked a lot. And cooked. We have visited friends and hosted them at our house for impromptu afternoon pizza evenings. We have built a dam in the stream in the park and played a million games and watched movies in our pyjamas and just, well, felt like we had more time to breathe.
And I want this to continue.
What I dream of, is a sweet spot of activities and free time. Some sort of balance. I have lived that life now, and I want to hang onto it. The kids are calmer and happier, and I have stopped feeling that constant sense of if we are not doing something, we must be missing out or I am not being a good enough parent.
The thing is – right now, I feel content knowing that I am being happy and present with my kids, and that I am – hopefully – teaching them the joy of simple things. And that being busy doesn't actually mean that you are doing something important.
And – most importantly – that life is to be enjoyed and savoured – not just raced through.