Danielle Aubin, LCSW
How Slow Parenting Might Be The Fastest Way To Happiness
It is hard not to fall into the over-parenting trap of rushing around schlepping our kids to ballet, soccer, volleyball, gymnastics, tutoring, flute lessons, and playdates. Parenting is seen as a means to an end, the end being a fully optimized human that is well-rounded and uber-successful. Everyone wants an "edge" on getting this end result and this results in signing our children up for a seemingly endless amount of classes and extracurricular activities. If you don't do this, you may find yourself feeling guilty that you are depriving your child. You may begin to feel like you are a subpar parent and you are letting your child down. No parent wants to feel like that.
But is all that stress and rushing worth it? Many parents have taken the time to think deeply about this trend and have decided to opt-out. We sometimes call this opting-out approach "Slow parenting" which is in contrast to the "fast" rushing around type of parenting we see all around us. Many of us noticed that signing our kids up for tons of activities actually caused more stress than contentment. Most of the time, our kids weren't even asking for the activities that they were being signed up for or they only agreed to go because they thought it would please us. If our children's hearts aren't in it, most likely the activity won't give them the "edge" that parents so desperately want them to have anyway. Even if they do get a competitive "edge", what exactly are we hoping this "edge" does? Help them "beat" the competition? Competition for what, exactly? Usually, the prize is some generic version of what success means and it is not correlated with any measures of happiness or contentment.
What constitutes success should be something that your child decides for themselves. Pushing our children into different activities in the hopes that it brings them some version of monetary success in the future is shortsighted. Monetary success is just one version of success and most people would agree that money doesn't increase your contentment or long-term life satisfaction. So what does increase contentment over the long term? Per the longest study on happiness ever (Source) completed by Harvard University, engaging in activities you enjoy and being connected with positive family, friends, and social circles showed the strongest association with long-term happiness. Notice that monetary success and getting into a good college (and career) were not mentioned. To make this easier to understand, based on this study, we can boil the ingredients for happiness down to enjoyment and connection.
Slow parenting, slow living, and/or simple parenting all prioritize giving children the space and rest to explore their interests (e.g. discover what they enjoy) and to stay connected with family, friends, and community. As the video about explains, boredom can be a gift because it allows our children to fully dive into an activity or discover something new about themselves and their world. Adult-led activities are usually pre-digested for children and do not allow for the space and time children need to discover things on their own. It takes time to discover and fast parenting cuts free time down to a bare minimum, our society does not value downtime and "free" play. Creativity is usually born out of boredom and/or significant amounts of free time that lead to new discoveries and creations.
In a hypercompetitive world, slow living and slow parenting may seem almost neglectful. Our competitive world does not want us to pause and reflect on what the actual point of all of this rushing around is. We push ourselves and our children (who many of us take as a reflection of ourselves) to become "somebody" and beat the competition but what is the prize that they win if they become successful? More stress, more competition, and striving that they will eventually pass on to their kids too. It will never end and it will never lead to true lasting contentment. Only slowing down will bring the space and time needed to truly discover what brings contentment and joy. Life is about discovery, experience, and connection. The best gift we can give to our children is the time and space to truly experience and discover their world and themselves.