I have a mom friend who was wondering why she feels like she is always hurrying her children, even when they are “supposed to be enjoying life“. She writes about it in her blog post called “Why is it so hard for me to let my kids enjoy life at their own pace”.
She asked for advice on “how to slow down and let her kids just be kids”.
To answer her, I shared the story of my own struggles of doing too much and learning to slow down. Here’s my story:
I am the type of person who likes to be “productive”. I like to set goals or plan the “big picture” of how things are going to go (whether an event like a birthday party, play group time or even every day life). And as a former television producer, I am used to coming up with an idea and then making it happen. So naturally, all of these traits slid right into the way I parent. I thought I knew what was best for my children and I went to great lengths to create fun/educational/sensory stimulating times for my kids. (I created and lead a weekly playgroup starting when my oldest son was 5 months old. We did music play days, art play days, movement/dance days. We also went on group excursions involving nature and/or animals.)
I often went for the “wow factor” trying to do things that would make our kids either say or think, “wow!”
I thought all these “personality traits” were a plus to being a “good parent”. And all the parents thought all these activities we great. But I started to sense something just wasn’t right, kind of like when you see (or feel really) a red flag in a romantic relationship and although you are not conscious of it all the time, it nags at you in the background of your daily life.
People always said, “wow, you do so much”, and I took it as a compliment. But at the same time, my children did not seem peaceful and happy.
And although I knew this was partly circumstance from trauma after the birth of my second son, I deep down knew that I was doing something wrong. I scoured articles on Waldorf-inspired parenting and kept reading similar advice to slow down, but I did not know what that really meant. It wasn’t in my personality or temperamental make up to do that. Honestly, I just didn’t know how. I tried by starting to do less. It helped a little, but I still sensed that there was another component to this that I was missing. I finally clicked when I read the book Simplicity Parenting. We were already on board with the most of the author’s advice of no electronic or plastic toys and I had already pared down their toy collection to three shelves. I also had already de-cluttered my house (based on his suggestion). We were already a TV-free house and limited their exposure to the adult world. So what really made the difference was this: the author basically said that we often are trying to “do something” to give our children a memorable childhood, but what makes the best memories are the rituals and traditions that we create in their daily lives and (even more importantly) the moments where we are doing “nothing”– that is when the magic happens (and my interpretations is that that is where they have the space to really feel our love, which is what they most crave).
In those “nothing” spaces, there is time for silliness, creative brainstorming together for projects, random storytelling, and sometimes even my four year old will feel like it is a good time to talk about what he is feeling deep inside.
Today (at the time of writing this) he said with a giant smile on his face “I am so happy. I am just so happy!” That tells me that I am doing something right and these changes I’ve made are working.
So how did I slow down? I did not only plan less in a day, but I stopped focusing on the things that we “had to do”. And I allowed myself to mentally and energetically meander through these spaces in the day where we didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything in particular. After I stopped leading a “Waldorf-style” playgroup and personal chefing, my husband said, “you don’t really need to do anything.” He helped me to break it down to just the essentials and see that everything else is an extra, by choice. I realized that we don’t really have to do anything except for eat, sleep, stay clean and do household chores, but I do keep with a daily rhythm and rituals. When I stopped focusing on “doing”, it was easier to just “be”. And this affects children so strongly because they are energetically so sensitive.
My kids (like all kids) can tell when my focus is somewhere else (like the computer or on a future project/event). If you can just be present with a child in this way, this is like spiritual food for their soul. This is more nourishing and longer lasting than any “wow” you can try to create.
Doing this also meant that I had to drop my “productive”, “professional working woman mode” and in a sense, my ego. To my surprise and also some relief, this was not about me and “what kind of a mother I am”. I think sometimes we, especially successful working women, tend to take on mothering as we do our profession. We see ourselves and our job as a mother in a certain way and we do what it takes to fulfill that vision. And fulfilling that vision in our minds equals success. And me being the “big picture” thinker, I saw myself and my family in this certain picture and I tried to “produce” this “project” just as I would produce a television show. That drove me to do those “wow” things that I thought my kids would like and what I thought would be good for them with this certain vision in mind.
Now I see that I was not making room for who they are. I was not making space for their soul to blossom and unfold. I was trying to entertain them and to educate them, but now they entertain themselves and learn through just plain old living. Now with the time to meander, be silly and just be, it allows their true self to unfold freely (almost gives them permission). And now I really pay attention to the signs to see if what we are doing is “feeding their soul” or not.
I now see that sometimes we hurry our children to do or see what we think is the “best part of life”, sometimes based on what we may have wanted as children. That is why we try to entertain them filling their life with those “wow” moments to things that we think are cool– rushing them out of the house to “have fun” at community festivals or classes to enhance their education or development, etc… when all they want to do is stay home and pretend play with the empty cardboard box.
And as my friend Jennifer reflected on, when her child opened a birthday present, Jennifer tried to direct her daughter’s attention to the beautifully hand painted wooden blocks when all the girl wanted was to play with the pretty ribbons. We adults want our kids to focus on what we think is important, but many times our children get caught up in something they are interested in (which can be a discovery/learning opportunity.) And who are we to say that those pretty ribbons are not as cool as those wooden blocks. The little girl loved them so much that she brought them to bed that night.
I am still wary of falling back into my old ways of parenting. It seems ironic, but it is harder just to “be” than it is to “do”. It is so easy to slip into our activity-filled, entertaiment-filled, information-filled society and hard to “protect” our kids from too much of it. Funny, I have to give myself permission to “do nothing.” But there is proof in my son bubbling over with so much happiness, that I am doing exactly what he needs. I hope this will help keep me on track.
And I hope in today’s world of the endless amounts of “wow” things out there to do, you can learn from my experience and just “be” with your children. Ask yourself with every activity, “is this going to light up their heart and nourish their soul? Or “am I just trying to entertain them?”
Allow space for them to meander through life. Every kid should be able to have that “happy-go-lucky” existence… and they can, if we would just allow it.
Giving Myself Permission To Just “Be”,
Your Sensible Girlfriend