In the chaos and complexity of family life, sometimes we need to say ‘no’ to busy and ‘yes’ to slow.
Modern life is fast and furious. We are overcommitted, over-scheduled and over-connected. It’s no wonder we often feel overwhelmed. Parents, especially, are tired, stressed and busy. ‘It’s relentless’ is a common refrain. But is there an alternative?
Parenting author and educator Maggie Dent believes that parents are under more pressure than ever before. And it comes at a cost. “Parents are more stressed, and we have higher expectations placed on us. We then expect more of our children, so they’re highly stressed too.”
I have four kids under the age of ten. Life is noisy, busy and full, and in many ways, it is more chaotic now than when they were little. Our weekdays involve a plethora of moving parts, like a complex game of chess. With school, homework and extracurricular activities, there is little time for play or the beautiful and restorative practice of being still.
The busyness of our days interferes with opportunities for connection and bonding. It’s hard to listen intently to the friendship issues your daughter might be experiencing when you’re racing her to gymnastics class and your mind is mentally rehearsing that night’s dinner.
In many ways, this is the curse of modern parenting. We are always in separate moments at once. Mums are highly skilled at multi-tasking, which is the antithesis of mindfulness, but a necessary skill for surviving in the modern parenting world. But it doesn’t have to be this way; we can create space. And it begins with a conscious shift and a willingness to say ‘no’ to busy and ‘yes’ to slow.
Canadian sociologist Carl Honoré, the author of Under Pressure, wants to shield our children from a culture of hyper-parenting. He coined the term Slow Parenting and he’s all about putting the child back into childhood and guiding families towards a slower life. He espouses the value of living life, rather than racing through it.
In his book, Honoré says: “Slow Parenting is about bringing balance into the home. It does not mean doing everything at a snail’s pace. It means doing everything at the right speed. Because when you take time to be slow, you are able to cope better when things speed up.”
Maggie agrees. “When we hurry, we are not really being present and the voice of our higher self is much harder to hear,” she explains. “Slowing down allows us to better attune to our intuition and be present. So when things do get busy, we can stay with what’s happening right now, rather than worrying about what happened before or what might happen next.”
After reading Honoré’s book a few years ago, I became more conscious of the harried pace of my own life. I implemented Slow Sunday – a glorious family ritual and the antidote to overwhelm. It may only be one day a week, but the benefits are far-reaching. As a family, we exhale, connect and reflect. We simply slow down, and it is sublime.
My girls understand these days are special, and they immerse themselves in child’s play. We might create something, or bake, or spend time together in nature. Most of all we simply enjoy a reprieve from a chaotic week. With no fixed plans and no clock-watching, it is the perfect formula for family bonding.
Carving out some unhurried time is one of the best things you can do for your family, says Maggie. “Culturally, we are now so resistant to rest – and we need rest, for our minds, bodies and immune systems. When we are calmer, we are also kinder to ourselves and our loved ones – it’s immeasurably beneficial.”
Our version of Slow Sunday also involves not thinking about the coming week. I feel infinitely calmer in this carefree space, and when I emerge from it, I am lighter and ready to face the frenzy again.
Slow Sunday tips
1 Wake up slowly – The best way to start is to wake up slowly. A relaxed morning with children can enable so many special moments, conversations and creativity, if we allow it. Linger over cuddles in bed, sip on a cup of tea, and greet the day like a child: with curiosity and positivity.
2 Tech-free – Unplug and go tech-free for the day. By saying ‘no’ to technology and social media, you create space to say ‘yes’ to intentional connection. It also helps to ignite imaginations and foster creativity – and not just for the kids.
3 Slow cooking – Cooking or baking in a rush can be a stressful and messy experience. But slow cooking on the other hand, can be both calming and comforting. Set aside the afternoon to roll out pastry and slowly bake a tart. There is a lovely intimacy and connection in coming together over food. Savour these morsels together, slowly (or not!)
4 Create a slow ritual – Explore a bushwalk, nature trail or parkland you haven’t been to before. Awaken your senses and inhale the therapeutic benefits of being outdoors. Spend time together tending to the garden. Get the kids to harvest herbs and vegetables and then use them in your cooking.
5 Slow, unstructured play – Not just for the kids, but for adults, too. This may be journalling, curling up with a book, sewing or a jigsaw puzzle. It can be any mindful activity that brings you back to the present.
Words by Michaela Fox