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This Parenting Philosophy Is Saving My Kids' Childhood

Photograph by Twenty20

"Can we stay home this morning? I'm tired and I just want to relax," my son said last Sunday.

I'd been looking forward to going to the UU church our family had recently started attending. Then again, the idea of having a leisurely morning at home was tempting.

When my son started kindergarten a year and a half ago, I was surprised at how big an adjustment it was. He only got 25 minutes outside each day, a wild change from the play-based preschool he'd attended where they spent as much time outside as the weather allowed. Besides the lack of time outdoors, his days were now spent moving from one structured learning activity to the next instead of the leisurely exploring he'd done at preschool. Though it was thrilling to see him learning to read and write, it was sad, too—especially when I compared his kindergarten to my own, where we did little besides fingerpaint and munch on graham crackers.

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Around this time, I noticed how busy some of his classmates seemed. Many families rushed from aftercare to dance class to soccer. Meanwhile, my son was still acclimating to his new school environment. For the first few months of kindergarten, he'd fall asleep on the couch by 6:30 most nights, his body and brain exhausted from the change. The thought of adding anything else to his day seemed crazy.

Slow parenting means allowing our children to work out who they are rather than what we want them to be.

But I did wonder if we should be doing more. Should we be signing him up for guitar lessons? He's always loved music and dancing. As much as I love the idea of nurturing my kids' interests though, I also want them to have downtime.

So when I heard about the idea of slow parenting, it struck a chord.

Slow parenting is a child-rearing philosophy coined by author Carl Honoré. The basis is that parenting has gotten out of hand in our culture, with many of us feeling enormous pressure to groom our children to be highly successful. This can create competitive, stressed out, over-scheduled children who don't have enough time to be kids—to play outside, to get bored, to just be.

In Honoré's words, "Slow Parenting is about bringing balance into the home. 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."

Taking cues from our son and considering our own needs for downtime, my husband and I made the deliberate choice to keep our schedule manageable. We try to keep at least one weekend day free of plans, so we can spend a good chunk of the day just hanging out together.

Besides enjoying a more restful pace, there are other benefits to slower parenting. We spend less money, because we have time to cook at home and aren't rushing constantly. We're more caught up on chores like gardening, since we can rake and weed while the kids play nearby. It keeps me mindful of my own schedule and make sure my personal calendar isn't overbooked.

Slow parenting means that we limit activities—at 4, our daughter has yet to do any classes or extracurricular activities. Our son now takes Tae Kwon Do twice a week, which is plenty for our schedule. We check in regularly with him to make sure he's truly enjoying it.

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Honoré says, "Slow parenting means allowing our children to work out who they are rather than what we want them to be. 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. Slow parenting is about giving kids lots of love and attention with no conditions attached."

Childhood is short enough, and when it's over, it's gone forever. My kids already live in a more chaotic and competitive world than the one I grew up in. Keeping the reins on the pace of our family life is the least I can do to give them a taste of how childhood used to be.

Oh, and last Sunday? We stayed home from church. My husband read some "Harry Potter" to the kids and me while we colored. It was lovely.

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