Slow Parenting

Slow parenting. Apparently it's a thing. And for once, I am on the cutting edge of a new trend. Have been for the last 21 years in fact. I am the mother who lies on the couch with a good book or mooches around the garden while the children do - whatever it is that they do. I am the mother who reluctantly drives her children around to a small selection of sports and activities and heaves a quiet sigh of relief when they decide to quit and spend their afternoons teaching the dog to knit instead.

Posy teaches the dog to knit. The dog loves learning to knit.

All this time I thought I was being a somewhat inadequate mother. Turns out I could be poster girl for the Slow Parenting movement. There is a person who calls himself a Slow Coach who got himself on Aussie TV last week, trying to calm down some rather uptight, over-scheduled families. Here are these families before their intervention. In the end, two out of those three families weren't at all convinced that having a slow life was something that they valued. The third, however, found that play was better than competition and that killing the screens meant happy family time and better sleep.

To be honest, I have often felt bad about all the things my kids aren't doing. They really aren't terribly Type-A or competitive, for which I am very grateful, because, well, how exhausting would that be? But am I failing them by not encouraging them to be their most amazing selves? But on the other hand, I really like them as they are, hilarious and sweet, and often under-foot, and already effortlessly amazing in so many unexpected ways.

Some of the outstanding quotes from Slow Coach Carl Honore as I frequently paused the show to note:

Raising a child is not product development. It is not project management.

Healthy parenting is about letting your children live their own lives, and not about living your lives through them.

Last term Posy was miserable, stressed and falling into sad puddles of tears at the drop of a hat. I suggested she drop her three extra-curricular activities for a term. Note - these were activities she chose herself, with excellent and lovely teachers and coaches. But on quitting she calmed right down, and banning screens after dinner has helped her sleep like a baby again (well, much better than when she was a baby, actually..). Last year Rosy decided that six hours a week was too much of a commitment to devote to senior ballet, and quit. Now she is doing one, fun hip-hop dance class with no exams or competitions. Instead they come home from school, and bake, or read, or sit in the sun with the dog. They have time to do their homework and have friends over, and dream.

Now clearly, not everyone is as slug-like as our family, and also it is clear that our family will produce no professional athletes or virtuoso musicians. But you know, I do question our society's passion for perfection. Not long ago I was listening to a radio interview with the women's track and field competitor in the 1936 Olympics (yes, there was just one Australian woman that year). All the competitors were amateurs, in that they all held down other jobs, they trained twice a week and competed on Saturdays. "It was such fun," this lovely lady said. Now when was the last time you heard any Olympic athletes mention how much fun they were having?

I do question whether it is better to have your kids in the soccer league, or at the nearest park after school playing soccer with twenty of their best friends. Is it better for a child to be practising desperately for her Grade 6 piano exam, or playing with friends and neighbours and starting a band? The difficulty sometimes is though, that there are no other kids available to play with ours in the park, because they are all busy playing a competitive sport.. We are so preoccupied with certificates and trophies and levels and making the team, and winning, but is that what we want our community to be like? Really?

Here is another cracker of a sound bite from Carl:

Every society ends up with a childhood that reflects the strengths, the weaknesses and the neuroses of that society. 

In our society we are excellent at winning. But is that what we really want for each other, and for our most vulnerable wee souls? I think it is definitely worth having that conversation..


Anonymous said…
I vote for the slow. I remember being able to disconnect. And read. And dream. My sister did Saturday competition netball. It was horrible with horrid mothers. Oh to sit in front of a fire and read and dream. I see so many stressed kids. Fast! Do! Win! Organised activities. Too much.

I would love to be slower. Friends, acquaintances, colleagues say I'd be bored being slow. Do they know me so poorly? No I wouldn't. I can read. Believe it or not, I used to garden. Two years ago I took three weeks off with two weeks school holidays in the middle, so 5 weeks, to help my son get his drivers licence and through his HSC. I walked and exercised every day. And read. And helped with the study and cooked dinner. I was so happy not to work and not to be rushed.

Time seems to be moving faster. Let childhood be slow. And fun. I vote for fun. And love.
Jo said…
Lucinda, in my childhood in the 70s neither my brother or I ever had weekend activities. Ever. Imagine that, my mother never had to shiver on the sidelines of hockey or soccer field, or drive anyone to ballet and sew on sequins. I am a tiny bit jealous. Of course, what I didn't mention in the post, is that slow parenting is all about the parents. We need a break!! Our children's lives are way too busy for us to keep up with..

btw kudos to you for taking time off when your son needed it. Now that is a real gift xx
Anonymous said…
There is a slow parent movement?.....hurrah, finally commonsense is returning.
I'm not a fan of organized activities for kids, especially sports.

I did sign my sons up for bowling once, at their request. That lasted about a month, I was quite happy to get my Saturday mornings back.

I really hope this is the start of kids reclaiming their lives
Great post Jo


Jo said…
Marieann, I think there is a whole cohort of parents out there who think just as you and I do.. but we are a bit quiet about it, because it is not really very PC to encourage your kids to do very little in the way of organised sports.

Confession: my kids are serial swimming lesson refusers. I used to panic about this a bit, but now I think: well, they can all swim quite competently, and none of them will drown, although neither will any of them ever win a swimming race. But not drowning, right? That is the fact we will concentrate on..
Minerva said…
Beautifully written Jo, I heartily approve.
I have particular biases here. Part of the over-scheduling thing is the bizarre notion that kids have to do team sport in order to be successful "team players" as adults. Load of rubbish. All team sport gave me is a lifelong aversion to organised sport for kids. I was forced to play school hockey on bleak Hobart winter mornings when I would far rather have been home reading, thinking, walking, cycling...anything but hockey!
Needless to say, my own parenting was on the slow side, and we have all done very well out of it.
Jo said…
I am so glad to hear this, Minerva:) One of my daughters is currently forced to play hockey on bleak Launceston Friday nights (not forced by me, I might add - school policy dictates one winter and one summer sport). Well, she mostly quite enjoys it, which is more than I can say for myself.. as for teaching them to be team players? Well, I guess it teaches you to always pass the ball to the star player so the star player can win the team yet another goal. I do hate to think what that talent translates to in real life..

I remember a moment of existential awakening on the court during my very brief career as a netball player in primary school. It suddenly occurred to me that I was surrounded by a bunch of people, girls, parents, coaches, who all cared very much about how we were... throwing a ball to each other. It was at that moment that my own serious and purposeful lifelong desire never to play sport again had its genesis..
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Lovely, just lovely! What a strange society that we live in nowadays? As an interesting side note, the quest for perfection is often the by product of a low self esteem. Why else would anyone want to out excel their peers - and also, it is worth remembering that it is very hard to be across a broad range of areas, if you focus too narrowly on a single skill, to the detriment of all else. Your children are in excellent care. Respect and may they use their time to develop excellent social skills to guide them through life with self assurance which is based on a solid platform rather than the pointless quest for social status.


Treaders said…
Oh I agree with you 100%. My kids already had such long school days because of my working that I couldn't see how we could fit any more in (or even want to). My youngest played rugby for a few years and we have very happy memories of that time, but the desire came from him. Still, I am probably not a very good example as I have such a hard time just sitting down and taking some "me" time. It's so sad to live in such a rush-rush society isn't it - although I do thank the heavens above that I love to read. Such a wonderful gift. Anna
We're very slow around these parts. Older son Jack swims and does debate, younger son Will plays one sport a season, and that's it. If either of them wanted music lessons or tai kwon practice or whatever, I'd sign them up, but they don't, so I won't.

It's all about fear. We're afraid our children won't be able to compete. If I thought the point of life was competition, then that would be one thing. But I don't, so they won't.

All I did for the first eighteen years of my life was read books. Worked for me.

gretchenjoanna said…
I am very encouraged to hear about your children's freedom to enjoy life at a slower speed than the youth rat race. My own childhood was awfully slow - like Frances, I read books all summer and after school every day during the school year - and they weren't school books. I played with the dog and wandered around in the countryside a little, too.

Homeschooling provided the time for my own children to live at a comfortable pace. When children are attending school for hours every day they need a good amount of down time to recover and do everyday sorts of things, and have quietness enough (and books enough?) to nurture an inner life.

I'm proud of you for being a brave pioneer Slow Mother!
Anonymous said…
Hi Jo,

I love Carl Honore and have read all of his books, and Tom Hodgkinson's Idle Parent and How to be Idle, not that I need any encouragement as I am a lazy cow:-) When my daughter was in Grade 1 she wanted ballet lessons and fortunately the ballet school was next door to her primary school. Bonus!! The other school mums told me there was a 'much better' ballet school a few suburbs' away, where they drove their kids, but why would we go there when we could WALK 50 METRES? How much 'better' could the teaching have been to make up for that? And anyway, she spent the year staring at herself in the big mirrors and picking her costume out of her bum.

Now, 9 years' later, we live in a sports-mad small town (man, some of those netball mums are scary!) I love that my son can do drum lessons at school, and I car-pool his twice weekly Martial Arts class with another mum. My daughter only does singing lessons once a week. No team sports for us, thank goodness. I always say that I never played on a team, and I turned out fine (good at sharing, collaborative, OK lazy, but I can live with that). Much more time for reading, craft and gardening.

(Took a 3 months blog reading break and the only 2 blogs I missed were yours, and Mavis at OneHundredDollarsaMonth)
Jo said…
Chris, yes, I think you certainly have a point about low self-esteem. Often it has been mine when I compare myself to 'other mothers'! But again, swimming against the tide is hard, but builds strength, right?

Anna, reading, a priceless gift:) And something precious to pass on - that sitting and reading is a perfectly rational and sensible way to spend long, dreaming hours..

Gretchen Joanna, thank you:) Yes, I do remember lovely slow home schooling days, when a scheduled activity like a sport or music was attended by a calm and rested child - but I am afraid that by the time my schooled Posy gets to afternoon activities she is already tuckered out. Hence our activity hiatus, long my it last. It is a valid point that often our poor wee poppets are absolutely exhausted by the week end, which often begins the next round of commitments.

Loretta, I have missed you too, so glad you are back - if you ever decide to go screen-free again, send me your addy, and we'll write lovely snail-mail letters to each other (well, in a perfect world I would, anyway, don't ask my relatives about my record with posting things..). I haven't read Carl's books, but they are on my list - I have 'How to be Free' and it is one of my absolute all-time favourites. First time I read it I thought he was a bit mad, but every time since it has grown on me, and now seems eminently sane and sensible. And no, I don't need any encouragement to lie on the couch either, but hey, someone has to do it. It's like a community service, makes everyone else feel productive and busy..
Jo said…
Frances, the fear, of course. So much of a motivation in life. And I won't say that the fear that my children won't be able to compete hasn't bothered me in the wee small hours. I am nothing if not frequently confounded by and doubtful of my own convictions..
Kristen Johns said…
Hi Jo - I totally agree with you on this one. I too have felt sheepish about not having my kids in activities after school, but it has never suited my kids (or me!). They have so many projects they want to dive into at home that going to an after school activity with more instruction and competition is not fun for them. I think teaching the dog to knit is a perfectly logical thing to do! Too bad our kids can't meet up at the park:)

Popular Posts