slow, idle, brave

Today, while zooming through a profile piece on an artist and mother in the New York Times, I came across a new parental catch phrase that seems to ring true with my husband’s notion of “idle parenting,” as he defined it in Wednesday’s post.

That notion was artist Karen Kimmel’s reference to “slow parenting.” She described it as “the idea of making time to be a parent. We so undervalue our time, say yes to too many things and have been programmed to think it’s never enough. Profound things happen when you slow down.”

The interview veers off in the direction of her new venture — Kimmel Kids — an educational line of “tools and toys aimed at getting children and their parents involved in making art.” But what stuck with me in that article was her brief mention of slow parenting. I googled it.

I found this and several other links describing what is called the “Slow Movement,” (taking its name from Carl Honoré’s first book In Praise of Slowness). In the interview I read with Honoré, he speaks to our culture’s perfect swirly storm of opportunity and competition. Our society’s reaction to those two things? We give our children the best of everything, every opportunity, while we long to achieve the perfect family that raises the perfect children.

I know the children who are rising out of this cultural mess. I worked among them in posh suburban Philadelphia. These high school students were gifted immensely and forced by their well meaning parents (whom they did not question) to spend all their free time developing, sharpening, and succeeding in their individual “goals.” Those kids were broken, aimless, and often unable to articulate how they could have so much and feel so lost.

Listen to Honoré’s idea of reprogramming our families toward slowness:

“To me, Slow parenting is about bringing balance into the home. 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…Slow parents understand that childrearing should not be a cross between a competitive sport and product-development. It is not a project; it’s a journey.”

Maybe my experiences with high school kids have forever tainted me toward the idea of the intense development of our children. (A mom at the park casually mentioned the other day that her “hobby” is researching preschools for her near two-year-old son. I’ve been asked often enough if I have August in any language immersion courses. Mandarin, anyone? And since when was a toddler’s “consistent schedule” the most important physiological determiner of his success? I’m sorry…I’m ranting.)

Perhaps I long for slowness for my son for more reasons than the hurting teenagers I’ve known and loved. I own the memory of my childhood: living in my swimsuit all summer, reading whatever books I most loved, running around the neighborhood with my brothers all afternoon. Eating popsicles on the couch.

Perhaps parenting slow is the bravest choice we can make in our success warped shiny society. Perhaps I should thank you, Mom and Dad, for being brave. Thank you that you did not force me into summer learning courses, but you encouraged me to sign up for the public library reading contest. Thank you that you did not ship me off to softball camp in hopes that I would impress your friends with my super important scholarship to Amazingly Fancy College. Instead you played wiffleball with us on late summer evenings in the front yard.

It’s because of you that I did not get that scholarship. I did not get into that college. Instead I learned what I loved. Jesus and words. And I learned that slowly: At home. With my family and with books.


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18 Responses to slow, idle, brave

  1. curiousbelle

    another blog i have read from time to time, that seems to resonate with this idea, is free range kids — .

    i work in higher education, and i can tell you that the rich and middle class kids arrive at college, so convinced of their messiah-like capabilities, and so entitled, that the first setback sends them reeling into a mess of hysteria, while the poor kids arrive so under prepared, under encouraged, and underfunded.

  2. Count me on-board the unscheduled parenting bandwagon. We’ve deliberately chosen to limit our kids’ activities, from sports to (gasp) church. It’s because we prefer our family time to occur on the trampoline or the floor of our living room…and not in the car between lessons and practices. And, yes, it DOES feel countercultural at times, even in Amarillo.

  3. Great thoughts on this. Thanks so much for sharing. I pray that my husband and I will aim towards slow parenting when it’s our turn.

    I see what the normal lifestyle looks like when I work with middle schoolers everyday, and I want something greater - something refreshingly simple.

  4. Melody Hanson

    Thank you for the reminder. I find myself telling my friends that my kids are having an “old fashioned summer” and it is for all the reasons you mentioned, as well as sometimes financial (all those “opportunities” are expensive.)

    Glad to have found your blog!

  5. Good stuff. Saw tweet by @ahc Fun to read your husband’s post yesterday as well. Amen to books and Wiffle ball. (Do you know The Read Aloud Handbook?-it suggests books (parents would enjoy) to read to your kids-at least that is how I use the book!)

    I am doing doctorate at Duke in theology and hope my kids want to go to some small no name college when they grow up. But to be fair to the more programmed parents, our kids are still young (5, 2, 2 months) and I am sure our kids will eventually be involved with lots of activities. But so far it has been a joy to keep their lives pretty simple (Bible, bikes, balls and books).

  6. Tala

    I appreciate these thoughts, since much of my childhood was slow and it was a huge gift. In high school, I was home schooled for a few years and attended public school for a few years. I ended up choosing a small Christian college afterward, even though I thought at first I wanted to go to a big secular university. There is also the possibility that going to a well-known college is part of the challenge to engage culture with this message of truth, that Jesus and words matter. If Christians remain obscure, they are not blessing the world. We can’t think about just what will be the most enjoyable experiences for children, but also how they will learn to know and love and serve their neighbors… as politicians or lawyers or teachers or mothers or writers or carpenters… the list continues, but the path may be quick-paced and demanding sometimes.

  7. thank you. this is a great reminder for me… i *want* to be a slow parent, i am a hyper-competitive person and it takes all the effort i can muster to gear down, relax, and let my kids be who they are. thanks for the encouragement!

  8. Lauren

    love this post! i loved my slow-but-structured childhood. summers especially were full of pick-up games with the neighbors, homespun entrepreneurial schemes, and - of course - the library summer reading program. my parents did require us to participate in one-and-only-one sport per season (tweaked when one of my sisters actually proved to be athletic). and we were encouraged to take one non-sport thing per semester too. this was as older elementary kids and above; prior to that it was pretty much just swim lessons. and despite (because of!) my non-helicopter parents and underscheduled life, i am a professional woman, succeeding in a high-stress field.

    now that my eldest boy is entering first grade (!) we’ll be seeking balance more and more. he has so many interests! a good challenge to have.

  9. Catherine

    Awesome, Micha!
    One big challenge is that it gets harder to find activities that kids can be part of that don’t demand enormous amounts of time. It’s especially hard to find ways for kids to play sports that are consistent with this model, as so many kids’ sports organizations are aimed at the super-high-achieving approach. So you end up having to say no to more than might have been necessary when we were kids …. It’s also very challenging to have two working parents dedicated to this, particularly because a lot of the after school options for kids keep them really busy, so you have to find a way for the kids to come home after school instead of going to afterschool programs. We are blessed with flexible schedules and grandparents nearby!

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  11. Sam

    I absolutely long for this. I think it’s extremely important. Maybe it’s because I am still recovering after many years of busy-ness - when I had my son (who will turn three this week!) I deliberately had to slow down. It was either that or lose my sweet mind, you know? I had to work, but everything outside of that got cut, for the first six months. Today, we still have a relatively unbusy life, and I like it that way. I recently wrote about it in this post:

    Sometimes I think we just got lucky with a kid who is good to play by himself. We don’t cart him from the zoo to the library to the playground to keep him entertained. I do make special efforts to do things outside of the house (since we can so easily stay home); but it’s more of a once-a-week thing.

  12. Lex

    I think you’re onto something really good with this.

  13. John

    I am not completely satisfied with your viewpoint here. There is a fine line here, and neglect is the “name of the game” just on the other side. I live in a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago where the signs of neglect, not “slow and idle” are everywhere.

    However, the most recent issue of New York magazine carries an intriguing, if not downright unsettling, article. “All joy and no fun: why parents hate parenting”.

    Maybe if you stick with this issue long enough, you can become the “Wendell Berry” for parenting.

  14. John

    This article by David Brooks may also be relevant to this conversation - “The Medium is the Medium”. Brooks argues for the importance of books. The internet is a good source for information, but books are the source for depth.

    “But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import.”

    I think it is safe to say that there are threads that link all these pieces on books, depth, patience, and breast feeding. Enough for now to acknowledge this. Maybe more understanding of these threads, the web of links in life, will emerge here.

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  16. John

    MSNBC has a news segment today “Love my kids, hate my life”.

    More fodder for “slow, idle, brave”.

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