slow, idle, brave

slow, idle, brave July 8, 2010

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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