The Joy of Slowing Down
Posted: January 11, 2017
How many times do parents talk about all of the activities their children are involved in, almost as a badge of honor? They juggle three kids and six outside structured activities on a daily basis and can rattle off all of the places they need to be within the next 45 minutes. They talk about how exhausted they are, how crazy their schedule is, and that they’re doing it all to enrich the lives of their children.
Rarely does anyone say, “We’re staying home and doing nothing tonight.” In the competitive sport called parenting, it almost seems like a failure to utter those words. Parents might want to keep in mind that there is no right or wrong level of activity for children or families, there are just different involvement levels. The important point is that the level of activity should match the temperaments and traits of the family.
There are some steps parents can take to help them look at their pace of life, to help them decide if it really is working for them and for their children. Making active, informed decisions about the number and type of activities for their children can help to take away that nagging guilt parents might feel—as if they are not “keeping up” with other parents around them.
As with almost everything else in parenting it’s the adults who make the decisions. For a week the parent can take note of how many times they say, “I have to (fill in the blank).” Then they can see how often they can replace that statement with, “I’ve decided to (fill in the blank).” Once they realize that their “have to” is actually “decided to,” parents begin to regain control over their schedule and that of their children, actively and wisely making decisions instead of just letting them happen.
Know your family
Each family is different and on a whole they tend to bond together and develop a family culture that meets the needs of that family unit as well as the needs of the individuals. Some family members truly do enjoy a pace of life that would seem like a frenzied mess to others. Children may have different tolerances for the amount of activities they can handle. Parents can step back and objectively evaluate how the pace of life meets the needs of individual family members, and do what works for each.
Set an example
Parents who are stretched too thin, find it shows up in what is left for the family emotionally, in their mood, and in their ability to do anything well. As with everything else in parenting, parents model the behaviors they value and that includes taking control of their time, and sometimes saying no. Set the example of leaving enough energy for home and family.
Take a hint
If a great deal of energy is needed to coax a child to participate in an activity, the child may be trying to tell the parents something—so parents need to listen. While many parents wish now that they had “stuck it out” with piano lessons or another of their own childhood activity, the reality is that they probably refused to go or to practice at some point and their own parents listened. Not everything is a choice, and children can be taught to follow through with commitments they have made. But sometimes the choice can be, and should be, made by the child. When parents help them through this decision process, children learn a life lesson in setting priorities.
Look at how they really spend their time
How much time does the youngest child spend sitting on the sidelines of their siblings’ sports practices and games? How much time is spent in the car? Are there hours of waiting for something to happen at each event? Do parent and child have to leave one activity early to get to the next? The family might just be “busy being busy” instead of participating in activities that actually count and that create a sense of satisfaction.
Let the child fill his/her time
“I’m bored.” These dreaded words send parents scrambling for something to entertain their child, from using a video to scheduling every free minute of the day. Instead, the next time a child says she is bored, let her figure it out. Children who have overly structured lives sometimes don’t know how to play. Play should be a priority especially with younger children. Parents can provide the basics—toys, creative materials, or some dirt, water, and a shovel outside—and stand back to allow the child to create an interesting afternoon. Parents can make sure to schedule some open time on a regular basis that is up to the child to fill—without electronic screens! The more they get used to filling their own time, the better they’ll become at it.
Use the house
Families put a great deal of their financial resources into their house—and yet it seems some are never home to enjoy it! Work to make the home a place where children, family, and friends enjoy spending time together. Special areas in the home, such as a media room, a recreation room to play in, or an outdoor kitchen, aren’t needed. All that is needed is a welcoming spirit and the willingness to slow life down for everyone.
Be proud of down time
A family may be reluctant to admit to the outside world that they actually enjoy a lot of home time, perhaps in the form of leisurely Saturday mornings. But if this is a conscious decision, and is time the family enjoys relaxing away from the stress of life, it is something good to provide for the children. When they hear about it, perhaps other parents may notice the value of slowing down their own pace of life.