Your Kid’s Doing Nothing
When after a winter 2006 of wrestling and basketball my wife and I decided to restrict our kids to one individual sport at a time, we figured we were merely returning a little sanity to our schedule and reducing the number of nights he would be up until 10:30 p.m. doing homework after practice. I didn’ t know we were on the vanguard of a movement called Slow Parenting. Then again, my wife and I aren’t the kind of self-absorbed twits who ascribe a special name to things we do in daily life.
Slow Parenting apparently is not done by sloths. It is the equal and opposite, and pretentious, reaction to another movement, helicopter parenting, which was an epithet, not a proscribed way of life. Basically, Slow Parenting is about limiting your child’s activities with the idea of giving the family time together and taking pressure off your child to be the next Albert Pujols, Albert Einstein or Albert Brooks (who also is Albert Einstein). So more playing outside, less organized sports. More lazing around on PJs on your birthday, less birthday parties with pony rides and cakes the size of the John Hancock Center. SFGate.com’s Mommy Files does a good job of rounding up all the various articles done in recent weeks on Slow Parenting.
I don’t have an argument with the idea behind Slow Parenting. I’ve got four kids, and my wife and I both work. Our kids are hardly short of activities (my 11-year-old son is in basketball camp, merging into a roller-coaster building class; my 9-year-old daughter is in her last week of softball and merging into hip-hop dance class; my 6-year-old son goes from T-ball to father-and-son bowling), but out of practical consideration for not being to be at more than one place at a time, we try not to overschedule them. It’s easy to do, because the mere fact of two parents who work, four children in the house, and my wife’s Irish side of her family all within a short distance means we’ve got plenty to do.
However, and I say this with my wife and I holders of college degrees, it never ceases to amaze me how overeducated parents have to assign a name to the way many of them probably spent their childhood.
Here’s more from the Mommy Files:
There’s even a Slow Family Living blog, started last year by two Austin moms, Carrie Contey and Bernadette Noll. Here, you can download your Slow Family Living Handbook [editor’s note: for 10 bucks] with tips, tools, ideas and practical ways for how to slow down your family life. This summer the two moms are touring the country offering Slow Family workshops.
Carl Honoré is recognized as the father of the slow parenting movement. He’s the author of the best-selling book In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, published in 2004, but it’s his more recent Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting that has become the bible for slow parenting.
Honoré got the idea for Under Pressure at an evening event at his 7-year-old son’s school. A teacher told him his son was a gifted artist. That night he trawled Google, hunting down art courses and tutors to nurture his son’s gift. Visions of raising the next Picasso swam through Honoré’s head–until he approached his son the next morning.
“‘Daddy, I don’t want a tutor, I just want to draw,’ my son announced on the way to school,” says Honoré, who lives in London with his wife and two children. “‘Why do grown-ups always have to take over everything?’ his son asked. The question stung like a belt on the backside. You know, I thought, he’s right. I am trying to take over. I’m turning into one of those pushy parents you read about in the newspapers. So I started thinking about how easy it is to get carried away as a parent, and to end up hijacking your children’s lives.”
Now the dad is a spokesperson for the movement, traveling the world to speak on panels at universities and appear on TV shows. “Slow parenting is about bringing balance into the home,” he often tells people. “Children need to strive and struggle and stretch themselves but that does not mean childhood should be a race. Slow parents give their children plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms. They keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together. They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy.”
So let me get this straight: the likes of Carl Honore and the Slow Family Living blog are traveling the globe telling parents how to slow down, spend more time with their families and let their kids grow up with parents who aren’t busy busy busy? Am I missing something here? After my wife and I decided no more two sports in one season, should I have called for a booking on Oprah?
Before he branched into Slow Parenting, Carl Honore traveled with his Wendy’s headset to spread the word about the Slow Movement. Meanwhile, my wife wishes I didn’t take so long in the bathroom.
The whole idea of Slow Parenting will fail for the same reason as helicopter parenting: each puts way too much emphasis on proscribed paths for Doing What’s Best for Your Kids.
Sometimes being busy in an organized activity they love is best, sometimes down time is best. Sometimes you need to push your kids to do certain things to teach them what they might love or hate, and sometimes you need to back off when it’s clear they’ve found out. When your kids are young, they are going to flit about to different activities because they don’t know what they want yet. When they get older, there will be less flitting. There’s no science or catch phrase for this. You try to read your kid as best you can.
I can understand why Carl Honore’s kid asked him to dial it back. But what if someone’s kid IS interested in art or baseball? What do you say? “Shut up, kid, I’m Slow Parenting here!”