Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
Our parenting culture is fraught with anxiety about our children’s future prospects; we worry about technologies and jobs that have not yet been imagined, and we strive to prepare our children for success in spite of a thousand incompatible contingencies. Again and I again I hear about parents who spend most of their time as chauffeurs and who watch family time dwindle in pursuit of their offspring’s athletics, social events, and endless homework. Parenting often seems about helping children “get ahead,” accruing social capital in childhood to translate to adult financial and social status. Of course, few parents would necessarily state it so boldly, but amidst the travel teams and test prep courses is an undercurrent of concern that the families who opt out of the rat race do their children a disservice.
Enter Bernadette Noll, author of Slow Family Living, whose text advertises “75 simple ways to slow down, connect, and create more joy.” Noll asks her readers to begin with the premise “Is this working for us?” and illustrates the ways that she and her family have chosen to sidestep the cultural current that more is better. Instead of emphasizing athletic or academic achievement, she focuses on fun, fitness, and curiosity. Instead of setting up each child as an individual focused only on his/her own success (and the parents who drive them there), she encourages families to connect, helping and supporting each other, and, yes, making individual sacrifices for the good of the family unit.
Noll’s “slow” style serves as a deep, cleansing breath of fresh air (see chapter 3 on breathing), an alternative to the do more/buy more mentality so pervasive in our culture. Noll wants us to enjoy our families, to develop strong, loving relationships in childhood (between parents and siblings alike) that can serve as foundations and joys for our entire lives. It’s parenting with a long view — that we (hope to) enjoy our relationships with our children once they are grown for decades after they leave the nest. So let’s lay that groundwork while we’re all together and not fritter away those precious years driving from one activity to another.
While Noll’s is not a specifically Christian message, her guiding principles resonate with me in so many ways. I grew up in an achievement-oriented household, and went on to run at the Division 1 level and earn a PhD. I know what it means to invest considerable time in what the world calls success. I value my education, and the way it informs my thinking, but out of all my years of competitive running and pressure-filled schooling, the lasting treasures come from the relationships I formed during those years.
I ran times I will never run again, but I found some of my best friends (including my husband). I survived the soul-crushing years of graduate school, and some of my peers there now serve as my children’s godparents. Some of those relationships are perhaps closer, more intimate, because of the stressful environments in which they were formed. That is not to diminish the relationships or their worth to me in any way, but to caution that achievement without connection is empty.
Noll’s book nourished me and reminded me to remain true to my prayers for my children: that they would always be surrounded by love, that they would feel and respond to God’s calls for their lives, that they would long to serve and obey God’s will. The frenzied pace of parenting and the rush to achieve can too easily crowd out the still small voice of God. I am becoming more and more the woman God wants me to be, but I wasted a lot of time and worry competing for accolades instead of obeying God’s call. I hope to offer my children a slower path, filled with fewer heartaches and more joy.