I think they meant it as a compliment. Those irrepressible moppets: when they display a talent for soccer and a passion for classical violin and an altruistic insistence on helping out at the soup kitchen once a week and an irresistible urge to sign up to be puppy playtime volunteer at the animal shelter, what’re you gonna do?
But our household actually isn’t like that, and for years, I felt a little bit remiss. My children just didn’t seem to want to do the same whirlwind of activities that their peers did. They have their interests, of course. Tim is occupied with games or practices almost every afternoon during baseball season, and Holly usually does cross-country running in the fall and an art class during the winter, but for the most part, they don’t pursue a huge range of activities.
Part of me has always been secretly grateful. Kids’ activities are expensive, and I was happy that they didn’t ask to do things that would stretch our budget. A couple of activities per kid per season we can certainly manage; more than that might have felt like a reach. But another part of me wondered if I was ever-so-subtly turning them away from possibilities they might have enjoyed, just because I didn’t want all the work of driving them to and from activities or, worse, devoting all my time to helping manage those activities. (My sister told me recently that the only all-nighter she’s pulled since college was the time she volunteered to be registrar for her children’s soccer league. It took her literally all night to check each child’s written birth date against a passport or birth certificate before the first practice.)
The truth is that my kids spent their free time in ways not that different from how I did at their age, despite the wide variety of available options. They come home and do their homework. They go out for ice cream or hot chocolate with friends. They hang out at the library. Holly does art projects or writes short stories; Tim plays computer games. Sometimes if I’m not at work, we do errands together or go for a bike ride.
Only recently did I discover there’s a name for this approach: it’s called slow parenting, and the Boston Globe ran an article about it last weekend. But the families in the article weren’t quite like us. They were going to a lot of effort to schedule free time, which in itself is something of an oxymoron. They had to make a concerted effort to do what seems to come naturally to my household: hang out without much of an agenda.
It’s good to know that what we’ve done all along is now a coveted goal for some families. Whereas I thought we lingered over the dinner table after we were done eating because no one felt like washing the dishes, other people see this as hard-won quality time.
It’s always a good feeling when you find out that what you’ve been doing naturally is deemed worth doing. Maybe my newfound awareness of slow parenting will reassure me that there’s no reason for the kids to sign up for more classes and activities in the new school year. If they want to hang out, that’s fine. Because it turns out we’re not lazy after all. We’re just….slow. As in slow-parenting. And apparently that’s a fine way to be.