I can’t say I subscribe to any one philosophy or approach when it comes to parenting, in part because I have nervously avoided reading books on the topic, and wouldn’t even know how to classify my thinking on the topic. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate the intention behind parenting books, or respect those who read prolifically on the topic. In general, I gravitate towards studying and applying precision of thought to whatever I am doing, and I will be the first to admit that I am a novitiate in many areas, including parenthood. So it’s not that I’m overly confident in my approach, either. It’s that I know myself well enough to predict that books on the topic will only clutter my mind, stress me out, and leave me paralyzed and remorseful — and trust me, I already have enough mom guilt.
Instead, I have leaned on a hybrid of intuition and the model of my parents and those parents I have observed in awe at various points in my life. The crossline between all of those successful parents, in my analysis, seems to be listening, which I believe myself to be good at, with the exception of one recent instance in which mini came down with a case of hand-foot-mouth and I had written it off as teething for a couple of days. By listening, I mean more than just opening my ears — I mean attending, carefully, to whatever mini is saying or doing and reacting to those cues rather than starting from a place of assumptions, which I will admit I find highly tempting to internalize, i.e., “she should be sleeping x hours y times a day by now” or “she should be crawling…what’s wrong?” As a result, I have never been a huge adherent to a schedule (patterns, yes; schedules, no), and not overly concerned with milestones. If mini seemed tired, I put her down. If she was clawing at my shirt, I fed her. If she was crawling while every other baby was walking, I remained (generally) unflustered. That said, mini did not consistently sleep through the night until around a year, and I have many mom friends with babies that did so at three months, so I’m certainly not saying that my approach is better than or more effective than anyone else’s. It’s simply that my approach vibes with me, feels organic and natural, makes me feel (fairly) successful and (reasonably) stress-free — though always always always with a healthy heaping of mom guilt. (How did I not notice the little blister inside her mouth?! As it turns out, hand-foot-mouth is relatively common and relatively mild as viruses go — and there are no treatments except Tylenol, seclusion, water, and a lot of snuggly viewings of Winnie the Pooh — so it was more of a cautionary lesson, a reminder to dial back in, with a relatively diminutive punishment, in that there is nothing I could or would have done differently had I known it was a virus rather than run-of-the-mill teething.)
That’s why I was surprised when I reacted so strongly this short essay on slow parenting from A Cup of Jo. It’s stirring. It reminds me of the quote I’ve seen all over Instagram in cheesy meme form: “Just remember you have only 18 summers with your baby. Cherish each one.”
Only eighteen! That’s a scoch above a dozen, and a dozen is a hair above ten, and ten is NOTHING! After reading Jo’s essay, I plopped down on the floor and read mini the same two books ten times in a row, until I thought I might pull my hair out, but the thoughtful look on her face — as if something was dawning on her — as we turned the pages, her urgent “nyuh nyuh nyuh” when she wanted me to re-read it, the way she absently played with the strap on my dress, standing, wavering at my shoulder, fully engrossed — it was too precious. What was she processing? The colors, the rhythms? The feel of the pages turning in front of her? Will she always remember the sound of my voice reading to her with the overdramatic rhythms and pauses and dynamics a mom comes to perform, pandering to the laughter or stretches of distraction she anticipates too well in her child? Jo’s article made me realize I have practiced elements of slow parenting without knowing it, in that, at least once a day, maybe twice, I turn to Mr. Magpie: “Look at how she’s holding the doll,” or “I love the way she turns out her feet,” or “Where did she learn that?”, and we will together abandon the screens in front of us or put a finger as a placeholder in our books or magazines or step back from the chopping of parsley or carrots at the kitchen counter and admire her for a minute. And then there is the nightly sleep-stalk, where we creep into her room just before turning in ourselves to fawn over her impossibly adorable shapes of repose: on her stomach, with her butt in the air; curled into a c around her favorite doll; tangled up in her beloved pink blanket; or, when she’s totally exhausted, flat out on her back, not having moved since I’ve placed her, tenderly, in her crib hours ago.
But all, of course, within reason: there are vast stretches of time I spend shuttling around my tiny apartment, tidying behind her or childproofing ahead of her, hastily attempting to fold laundry or prep dinner or order groceries during the handful of minutes in which she’s temporarily affixed her attention on a book or her Duplos or her dollbaby. In these moments, how is there any alternative to fast parenting, parenting on the fly, survival parenting? I’m of course bastardizing the actual meaning of “slow parenting” here, but maybe you get my drift — there’s a limit to how much lollygagging and admiring in which I can partake in any given day; much of the remainder is GSD time. (Getting s&%! done — pardon my French, mom.)
But one string of thoughts I did take away from the article that I will forever hold dear read as follows:
“I encourage parents to take some time to just watch their children, whether they are playing, doing homework, or eating a snack,” [John Duffy, a clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent] says. “Take a moment to drink them in. Remember and remind yourself how remarkable your children are. That pause alone, even if momentary, can drive a shift in the pace”…
“We don’t overschedule ourselves. My husband and I spend lots of time at home. My kids dig in the dirt and ride bikes, we blow bubbles and go to the beach,” says [Lindsay Miller, a mother of three boys, ages 2, 4, and 7]…
This. As good a reminder as the reader who wrote in to tell me that (paraphrasing here): “some days, the grocery store is the adventure.” There is a push among moms of my generation to overschedule their children, to aim towards exposure, to optimize, and — possibly — to impress their other mom friends with the array of dazzling activities in which their children partake. I’m not immune to it, either. I want mini to have every advantage and every opportunity I can afford her, and I’m not embarrassed to say that I often learn and borrow activity ideas from the moms around me. “So and so is in a such and such class — vite vite vite, must sign her up!” But this article, and the comment from one of my magpies paraphrased above, resonates deeply with me: I want to raise a kid who digs in the dirt, who plays by herself building twig villages, who learns to preoccupy herself with her own imagination. A heavy schedule of classes and an active imagination are not mutually exclusive, of course, but there is something appealing to me about shaping a childhood with ample space for quiet time, for playing on the carpet of our living room with no agenda, for blowing bubbles, for taking walks through Central Park just because.
What are your thoughts? Have you tried slow parenting?
Post-Script: My Latest Mini Discoveries.
My oh my — these summer sales are killing me. I stocked up on BellaBliss’s summer sale, including a couple of pieces for next summer, like this darling perfect-for-the-fourth swimsuit. (My top tip when shopping for a mini is stocking up at the end of season sales. It’s kind of painful to know you’ll need to wait a year until she fits into them but WHAT A TREAT when she does!) I also bought this romper and a couple of dresses!
Despite my determination above, I do try to take mini on one or two adventures each week, whether that’s a music class, a trip to the zoo or Natural History Museum, or a playdate. I absolutely love a program called Ella’s Playdate, which is a precursor to ballet, and I finally splurged on one of these tutus for the occasion. I’m absolutely dying over these ballet slippers from Anniel, but…relax, Jen, she’s only 16 months old. (YIKES.)
Mini wears her Native shoes all over the place — they’re perfect for long days in the park, when she might jump into a sprinkler at one of the many playgrounds. I’ve also been eyeing these, which are a major throwback to my childhood. I like their styling and also that they have a nice sturdy sole for my wobbly walker.
For days she will not be getting wet, I snagged a pair of Chus. How darling! I love the bow detail, which velcros in place (genius). After ordering, I discovered an Etsy shop that MONOGRAMS them! If mini likes her first pair, I’ll certainly be placing my next order there!
Finally, I also snagged mini a pair of Elephantito Mary Janes in silver. (Can you tell she just outgrew all her shoes? Ha!) Also, some sizes and colors are on serious sale here. I loved the pair she wore before she was walking; they’re truly beautifully made.
For play, this little train set is in my basket. Mini is currently very into Winnie the Pooh — she sways when she hears the music, she’s never far from a little set of Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore stuffed animals, I’ve read her this book a trajillion and ten times, and on the occasions we permit her some TV, she will sit, absorbed, in the 1977 version of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in complete bliss. (I love that I watched the same thing as a child.) Hence, this is also in my basket.
I was eyeing one of these for her after my obsession with the SZ Blockprints brand took hold, but then a reader pointed me in the direction of Emerson Fry, and I love this caftan (coordinates with this for me!)
For sleepovers when she gets a little older…too precious!
Love this nautical sweatshirt for a girl or boy.
Also — I’ll be traveling without mini this weekend, my first time away since she was born! I’m full of mixed emotions but mainly very very excited about sleeping a full night on my own schedule.
Also also also — don’t you grow up in a hurry.