Slow Parenting a Prize

This is the most excited I have been about parenting trends in a long time. Lisa Belkin reported in the New York Times Magazine that a new wave is emerging that is modeled on slow cooking – “slow parenting.” It sure beats snowplow parenting, the 21st century iteration of helicopter parenting (you know, plowing all “obstacles” from the road).

But let’s stay with the food metaphor for a moment: slow food, a movement designed to counteract the fast food and the fast life, is a perfect illustration of the conundrum of what has become known as over-parenting, an inclination to raise children with a business plan. The tendency toward hyper-worry and hyper-connection which has flourished in the past decade was fueled in part by the “trophy kid syndrome” and in part by visceral post-9/11 fear.

Both understandable. But probably, experts tell us, not the best approach for bringing up resilient, courageous, and independent children.

I like Lenore Skenazy’s description of the new emerging attitude that might actually let kids be kids and enjoy their childhoods without the overarching, fear-mongering filters of adult worries: “free-range parenting” she tags it. A lot better method than “hothouse parenting,” another moniker attached to parents of the Homeland Generation (born in 2001 and later), because it brings to mind the notion of engineered fruits and vegetables. (Think hothouse tomato.)

Somewhere between the two extremes on the continuum of parenting lies the loving and firm approach, which leaves room both for acts of unconditional love as well as tough love, best characterized as giving kids opportunities to learn how to bounce back from adversity.
Maybe we could have “roasted parenting,” where the goal is to “retain as much flavor as possible while at the same time providing texture and color.” Okay, you get it. But can you do it?!

It requires a leap of faith, to be sure, in today’s environment; but just imagine the possibilities – if we keep this metaphor in the kitchen, children and parents both would no longer be fried to a crisp (Psychologist and author Wendy Mogel refers to college students as “Crispies”)!

Here’s where camp comes into focus, if I might digress – a perfect bridge because children are in the hands of trained, caring counselors who provide physical and emotional safety nets while still having opportunities to connect with nature, with others, and with themselves by making their own choices and solving their own problems – yet out of view from parents whose predilection is to create cages of protection. Karen Reivich, author of “The Resilience Factor,” explains that “resiliency lies in the space between a parent and a child.” Doesn’t that conjure up a positive image of “free-range parenting?”

I can’t resist this segue: “The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County” by Janice M. Harrington, is a delightful story about a little girl who loves to chase chickens and who learns to change her ways after numerous missteps. The first person narrative describes the child’s discoveries and subsequent change in perspective when she realizes that Miss Hen, a new mama, is cuddling “fuzzy chicks tight beneath her wing.” Indeed, this free-ranging chicken ultimately teaches the little girl a life lesson that otherwise would not be nearly as impactful had she been sheltered from the actual encounter. As an extra treat, the illustrations are gorgeous and the language is “delicious,” according to one reviewer.

Lisa Belkin expressed it well – presumed “parenting truths are really only parenting trends.” I see that as really good news. Think about it for just a moment – this could be the start of something big, a movement that frees the parent as well as the child! Baby steps.

And if you need a visual, consider the chicken’s two pre-ordained options: locked in a cage where he cannot get into difficulty but also cannot learn about the world, or roaming free on land that has boundaries nevertheless where he can explore his surroundings and develop his decision-making skills.

Tuck-in Tips

  • Talk about a mistake you have made. What did you learn from it?
  • Talk about a time where you really succeeded at something and surprised yourself!
  • What does Big Mama mean when she says, “You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it?”