The concept of “slow parenting” may seem like an oxymoron in this hurry-up era, but author Susan Sachs Lipman believes every family can make small changes to create a slower pace and a better quality of life. She offers resources and a rationale for a less-hectic lifestyle in “Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World” (Sourcebooks, $14.99), including simple (and non-electronic) games, crafts and outdoor activities for families.
“Many of us feel that we are running around and doing more together than ever, yet somehow enjoying our family time less,” she writes.
Lipman is the social media director for the Children and Nature Network and founder of slowfamilyonline.com. She and her husband, Michael, live in Mill Valley, Calif., with their 17-year-old daughter, Anna, who wrote in the foreword to her mom’s book: “I learned that being slow can be good for the environment and that you enjoy life more when you look around. I learned that gardening and cooking can take time, love and patience, but make you happy.”
In a phone interview, Lipman talked about the benefits of slowing the pace — even with a teenager in the house.
Q In your book, you note that your family life significantly changed once Anna entered elementary school. Explain the epiphany moment you had regarding the “drop-off curb.”
A There was actually a sign in front of the school that read “Drop: Don’t Stop” for parents in the drop-off area and that message just felt out of balance to me. Here she was in the back seat, just in first grade, and expected to hurry up and get out of the car. Our mornings were as rushed as everybody’s, but I realized that we could make room for a 10-minute change in our routine. So, we started parking the car just a few blocks away and we’d walk up to school. We would hold hands and talk about the day — it was a much better transition. This really became profound because it started me thinking about other small changes we could make that would add richness to our lives.
Q What are some of your favorite simple activities that can improve family life?
A When you just pay attention to the rhythm of the day, it can be grounding for kids and make life feel fuller. Easy things like a calm bath time, maybe with a few books, and cuddling or reading time right before bed. You could go out early in the morning and see the town waking up — go to the grocery store and see the food being delivered and put on the shelves. Make the transition times easy — sing while you are putting toys away. Have your children help prepare meals because the older they get, the more valuable this skill will be.
Q Do you have advice you’d like to give parents who think they are too “far gone” or too immersed in a hectic pace to slow down their family life?
A Start by making small changes because it’s easy to be overwhelmed. For example, decide that everyone will take a 15-minute walk together after dinner just a few nights per week — don’t rush to the dishes or the computer. Sometimes, slowing the pace means one less activity per child. It’s easy to think that you have to have your kids do everything at once, but maybe there is a time in the future when a traveling sports team makes more sense than it does now.
Q Talk about how you think today’s technology has affected family life. What are some ways parents can take charge of the technology use in their families?
A Technology is here to stay and there are wonderful benefits, but the downside happens when we never turn off the machines. It has made all of us think that we have to be accessible 24/7 to our co-workers and friends — it’s not the best example for our kids. There have been so many times I’ve been in natural places like the John Muir Woods, which isn’t far from where we live, when I see people just staring at their phones.
Establish a screen-free night — play board games, charades or read together. I’ve heard from people that some of their best family memories have actually come during power outages! Don’t wait for a power outage — create one yourself.
Q How has your slow parenting lifestyle changed now that Anna is a teenager?
A My daughter definitely got busier once she entered high school. We became the kind of family I would write about. I think the difference for us was that she chose the activities and we didn’t feel like we were dragging her all around.
We try to have as many family meals as possible — dinners or breakfasts. We occasionally have Friday night or Sunday afternoon game time and sometimes she invites her friends over, too. As kids get older, try to find opportunities for that low-key bonding time when you can.
Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.
Why Become a Slow Parent?
• Improves physical and psychological health. Slowing down, even for as brief a period as six minutes, can reduce stress for people of all ages. Spending time in nature can help foster a child’s development intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically.
• Allows time for beneficial unstructured play, which lets us get in touch with our imaginations and our inner worlds in a way we can’t during competitive sports or more passive leisure activities.
• Helps create and pass on beloved family traditions — many arrive from a combination of intention and awareness, two qualities that slow parenting fosters.
Source: “Fed Up With Frenzy,” by Susan Sachs Lipman