Why Slow Parenting Is Right for My Family
Some families define success by the résumé-building activities their kids participate in. But one mom explains why giving her kids space to be bored with less scheduling is best.
It's Saturday morning and the only thing on my family's schedule for today is a marathon game of Monopoly. No, it's not raining outside nor is it too cold or too hot—it's just a typical Saturday that my two daughters (ages 12 and 9), my husband, and I will choose to spend sitting at a table enjoying each other's company. In our family, we practice slow parenting, a parenting style where parents consciously choose to take the pressure off their children and let them explore their world on their own terms. It allows for everyone to be present and focus on family time without a calendar full of scheduled activities.
Slow is exactly how I would describe my childhood, although it wasn't necessarily a lifestyle choice my parents made. It was just a different time and many of us lived on the fringes of our parents' lives. And because of that, we had the opportunity of boredom and the latitude to figure life out on our own terms. Moms and dads didn't seem spurred into action to fix, placate, coddle, cajole, or otherwise entertain us.
Before the burgeoning of the internet, boredom was something where the cause and effect was nobody's problem but your own. We found ways to handle it without too much of a fuss—and experts say this is actually a good thing.
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"When parents allow children the space for trial and error, children become adept at solving problems independently. These children rely on their internal resources to creatively find solutions. They do not expect or anticipate an adult 'swooping in' to rescue them," says Dana Dorfman, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and parenting specialist based in New York. "Independent problem-solving builds confidence, resourcefulness, and a sense of mastery. "
But parenting styles have changed over the years, especially as societal pressures for perfection have increased. The pressure causes people to do more and more, making sure every minute is accounted for, and forgetting to enjoy any of it.
Many parents choose their parenting style based on their definition of success. For some, success comes in the form of a healthy resume for their kids. And the equation usually boils down to the more activities their kids participate in the greater their chances are for success. In some respects, overscheduling our kids seems like the modern-day version of Keeping Up with the Joneses. Parents purposely look to outside activities and team sports to teach their kids important life lessons, which are often some combination of friendship, resilience, and teamwork.
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But other families, mine included, choose slow parenting, a term first coined by Carl Honore, in his book In Praise Of Slowness: Challenging The Cult Of Speed. Our style loosely translates to fewer activities, fewer sports, and fewer hard time hacks. It also means spending more time together as a family.
We choose to let our kids learn important skills within the family dynamic. Allowing our daughters to argue with each other teaches them more about conflict resolution than any soccer game or team ever will. Fighting with a sibling is a safe way to test boundaries because there's often no place to escape; you live under the same roof so your sibling can't just cut you off. (Well, they can for a little while, but someone eventually caves.) Slow parenting gives our kids the space to learn how to navigate their own emotions. Loyalty, love, and forgiveness are powerful life lessons, too.
My family is a military family so we move approximately every three years. Our travels have taken us to Alaska, California, and Alabama, but that fact is the day always comes when we have to leave. Each time we drive off to a new destination, my daughters always have each other in the backseat of the car. And every time we leave to start over, it's just the four of us.
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As my girls head into the tween and teen years, I embrace the changes to come and I'm not worried. When they were young I got to choose the activities they participated in and the ones they skipped and I got to help them prioritize our family, but today I have a front-row seat to watch the products of my slow parenting. My girls now have a choice regarding how they spend their time, but they still always choose to be with us. They choose to be present and not just tune out on their devices—Monopoly was their idea.
Life isn't stressful for them yet. A lifetime of responsibilities will afford them plenty of opportunities for that later. In the meantime, my job is to dial it down because this is the place where they are supposed to live life unburdened. I don't need to create perfection for my children. I just need to give them enough space and enough love as they figure out their place in the world.