If you stop trying to keep up, you’ll be able to

  • Janice D’Arcy The Washington Post
  • Friday, September 21, 2012 6:44pm
  • Life

Every parent I know is crazy busy right now, saddled with a to-do list that seems to grow faster than a kid.

The only way to keep up is to juggle faster. Or not.

What if the only way to keep up was too slow down?

“Take small steps. Walk around the neighborhood after dinner and talk and observe,” advises Susan Sachs Lipman, who is making a case for the “slow parenting movement.”

The author of “Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World” and the blog Slow Family, Lipman suggests that we parents — not schools, kids, our work, our partner or the myriad other villains — are creating our own stress.

“When children are asked what they want most from their parents, the answer is often more of their attentive and unpressured time. If parents could realize that that’s what kids want, they might create more opportunities for family bonding,” she said.

Easier said then done. I used to have a personal rule of opting out of weekend birthday parties because there are so many and each one ate into our family weekends — time I looked forward to when our family could move at our pace. I say “used to” because this rule eroded when my older daughter turned 5 and decided she loves birthday parties.

This Saturday we attended two back-to-back parties, then added a playdate after for good measure. My girls were deliriously happy. But also delirious.

I asked Lipman how to practice slow parenting in the face of a child’s boundless energy and enthusiasm.

“Slow parenting doesn’t look the same for every family and can even change from time to time within a family, based on family needs. It isn’t as much about doing nothing as it is about doing things consciously and at the right pace for the family.

“I think it’s important to take cues from your child. If the activities are child-driven and the child seems to thrive … then I might lean toward doing them. If the activities are causing stress, then I might choose or help a child choose which ones to let go,” she said in an email.

This approach might work on the weekends, but slow parenting seems at odds with our school days, when academics and enrichment activities fill up the hours. I asked her for some guidance for the stressed parents who have a packed schedule because they want to expand their child’s universe by exposing them to dance and art and language and science.

“Slow parenting doesn’t inhibit learning. It enhances it,” she said. “While organized extracurricular activities can be terrific, they aren’t the only way to expand a child’s universe. In many cases, they may be inhibiting children’s learning, experimentation, discovery and family bonding time. There is a growing body of research that shows that play time and family time, especially in early childhood, are the greatest determinants of academic and other success.

“Children learn through play. For that reason, in addition to a whole host of other physical and psychological benefits, we should place more value on family time and play than we typically do.

“Childhood lasts about 18 years, and there are usually plenty of opportunities to try different things. Problems can occur when, in our rush toward achievement, we try to do too many too soon or all at once.”

What about for parents of older children, whose grades and activities “count” when it comes to college applications?

Lipman cited studies that found “the very character traits that lead to academic and other success — resilience, optimism, confidence, empathy and better performance in school — flourish not from extracurriculars, but from family time and parental support and love.

“My hope is that this information will help parents relax a little and enjoy family time on its own merits,” she said.

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