Ed Ward (captward) Mon 1 Oct 12 09:53
The Well is happy to welcome our own Susan Sachs Lipman, known to us as <sooz>, to discuss her new book on "slow parenting," Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World. Interviewing her is Jessica Mann Gutteridge, also a Well member, <jessica> Now tell us a bit about yourselves, and get talking!
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 2 Oct 12 15:49
Susan Sachs Lipman (Suz) is the author of Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World. Her book outlines the factors that create frenzied families; the benefits of slowing down, free time and play; and the many ways families can reconnect through fun and affordable activities, games, crafts and more. Suz blogs at the award-winning Slow Family Online. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times Motherlode blog and the Christian Science Monitors Modern Parenthood blog. Suz is the Social Media Director for the Children & Nature Network, an international movement to connect all children and their families to nature, and a 20-year member of The WELL.
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Tue 2 Oct 12 18:10
I am very delighted to get to interview our own <sooz> about her wonderful book and looking forward to a lively discussion. A bit about me -- I'm the mother of three boys (ages 10, 6, and 21 months) and work full-time as a lawyer for a large cable company in New York. I'm also the past president and active board executive committee member of a community organization in my town which combines a community center and theater presenting live entertainment. In my previous life I worked in the theater as a dramaturg and occasional director, which is how I met my husband, Corin, formerly of Vancouver, formerly a theater tech guy, and now a creative director for experiential and event marketing. We live on the north shore of Long Island, rather a hotbed of overachievement, helicopter parenting, and frenzy. So I'll kick us off, and I hope others will chime in with their thoughts and questions. Suz, you start the book (following your daughter's lovely foreword) with some background about how you came to identify that a slowness and gentleness and connectedness that seemed very natural when your daughter was small was getting lost somewhere in the frenzy as she grew older. For those who may not yet be familiar with how this all got started, can you talk a little here about how you came to notice this in your own family, and then began to identify an issue in the wider world you wanted to address?
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Tue 2 Oct 12 20:21
Hello, Jessica, Ed and everyone! I'm thrilled to be here, chatting about my book and about the Slow Parenting movement. Thank you for the nice note about my daughter's Foreword. My daughter, Anna, is 16. Her Foreword is very sweet and reflects a closeness and a frankness that we've always had. It also reflects her unique spirit and her appreciation of nature, which was lovely to see. Another fun note about the book is that my husband, Michael (who goes by the name Lippy) did the book's illustrations. So, in addition to containing much of our family lore and traditions, the creation of the book was a family affair as well.
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Tue 2 Oct 12 20:27
When you make a family scrapbook, you don't mess around!
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Tue 2 Oct 12 20:58
Ha, you're right! (And you slipped in while I was composing my answer.) A family scrapbook is a really nice metaphor. Now, on to your answer! In the book's intro I outline the joy that our family experienced during Anna's preschool years -- time spent making jam and visiting farms and creating art and celebrating seasonal and other changes with the preschool and neighborhood community. Then she entered elementary school and much of that activity seemed to stop. People suddenly seemed a bit frantic and overscheduled. Children were dropped off at activities, rather than the whole family playing and doing things together. The apex of this experience was summed up for me in the school drop-off zone. Do you all have those? This is the curb-side lane for cars that makes school drop-off (and pick-up) easy for working parents but seemed a bit abrupt to me, with parents honking and cutting in, and signs that read, "Drop, don't stop." It occurred to me that I could take 10 minutes out of each morning, park a few blocks from school, and walk Anna in. Those mornings during which we removed ourselves from the chaos proved delightful. We talked as I walked her into school. We both made friends along the way (that we still have to this day.) The act of sidestepping frenzy in one small way was extremely powerful and rewarding. The more I talked to other parents, while we volunteered at school or watched team sports, the more it occurred to me that many other people shared a sense of frenzy, as well as a yearning for simple things like family dinners and even down time. While there seemed to be a general agreement that something was out of balance, that childhood and family life could be more rewarding, connected and fun, no one knew quite what to do about it. At about this time, I also began serving as a Girl Scout leader (something I ended up doing for 7 years). I saw that a lot of kids didn't normally have much opportunity for free play and outdoor play, for running around, for walking in their own neighborhoods, for making classic crafts or for playing a lot of the games I had so much fun playing when I was a kid. I thought I might encourage families to slow down and enjoy one another (unearthing research about the benefits of free play and family time in the process) and I thought I might share some of the resources and activitiesI had learned as a scout leader and remembered from my own childhood. Of course I took a cue from the Slow Food movement, which had begun years before in Italy, in response to quickly prepared and consumed fast food. Slow Parenting seemed like a nice way to identify an alternative lifestyle to the one typically seen among the set of parents who are very achievement-oriented and see down time as wasted time, instead of something to be treasured and enjoyed.
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Wed 3 Oct 12 04:47
To me, a Slow approach is a no-brainer -- my instinct since my first child was born was to resist toys that seemed to play with him instead of the other way around and to build in time for just being and playing. But there is definitely a strong cultural thread pressing in the other direction. What do you say to a parent worried that if her or his family goes Slow the children will be missing out on important academics and activities?
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Wed 3 Oct 12 16:38
First off, I applaud your instincts about what child-development experts refer to (and champion) as open-ended toys and play - and "toys that play with him instead of the other way around" is a terrific description. Likewise, your thoughts about family and down time, which those same experts (and I can cite specifics if people would like) tell us is crucial for all aspects of child development and family bonding. But there may be no statistic in the world that is powerful enough to counter some very deep cultural notions that time is finite and should be used for "productive" and "useful" activities (play not being one of those) and that children who don't partake in an array of extracurricular and academic activities will be left behind. The good news is that that simply isn't true. A growing body of research shows that play time and family time, especially in early childhood, are actually the greatest determinants of academic and other success. Children learn through play. For that reason, in addition to many physical and psychological benefits (which I can also go into), we should place more value on family time and play than we typically do. While organized extracurricular activities can be terrific, they aren't the only way to expand a child's universe. In many cases, they can inhibit children's learning, experimentation, discovery and family bonding time.
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Wed 3 Oct 12 16:46
<scribbled by sooz Wed 3 Oct 12 17:06>
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Wed 3 Oct 12 16:58
<scribbled by sooz Wed 3 Oct 12 17:06>
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Wed 3 Oct 12 17:12
The third time will be the charm. This might help people think about the idea of "learning through play". It comes from Alison Gopnik, psychology professor and author of The Philosophical Baby: What Childrens Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. Gopnik refers to guided discovery, the notion that small children learn best through exploration and interaction, wonder and play. Schools teach mastery, which is wonderful, writes Gopnick, but mastery should follow discovery. She uses an example from baseball: "Routinized learning is not an end in itself. A good coach may well make his players throw the ball to first base 50 times or swing again and again in the batting cage. That will help, but by itself it won't make a strong player. The game itself -- reacting to different pitches, strategizing about base running -- requires thought, flexibility and inventiveness." It is largely through play, especially for young children, that those qualities are fostered. We tend to want to rush right through to mastery (or something that appears like it).
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Thu 4 Oct 12 07:17
I am nothing like a sports person, but that example of drilling specific skills vs. playing the entire game really resonates for me. Clearly, debates over parenting approaches are as old as parenting itself, but it does seem like we are living in a moment that has a lot of activity on various sides of these issues. Your book has a remarkably useful appendix loaded with resources and references to writers talking about Slow Parenting, Mindful Parenting, Free-Range Parenting, Simplicity Parenting, and so on, and we've also seen a lot of attention paid to Tiger Moms and similar approaches arguing that kids need more structure, more academic drilling, more competition. Do you think these "camps" (for lack of a better term) have anything they can learn from each other? And how can parents take all this in and find their way through to an approach they can assimilate into their lives?
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Thu 4 Oct 12 11:44
I can't keep up with all this.
Ruth Bernstein (ruthb) Thu 4 Oct 12 11:47
That is a great question and I am very curious about the answer! I live in Newton, Mass., where I pass at least 3 institutions that aim to drill kids in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects in various afterschool programs on my way from my kids' school back to our house. My kids and I are "straddlers," I think, neither pursuing a slow style nor pushing ourselves to achieve--I think I encourage my kids to achieve, but we also spend a fair amount of time hanging around the house and reading, playing catch (a real comedy of errors, since none of us is at all athletic), making music, and walking around the various parks and cityscapes we have her (I did not grow up in Boston and I think I appreciate it as only an outsider can. I do sometimes worry that my kids are not benefiting as they should from Russian Math/extreme tennis/drama for geniuses, or that I have neglected to nurse some eccentricity or other.
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Thu 4 Oct 12 11:52
I love love love that notion of being a tourist in your own town. When I was on my most recent maternity leave, which took me through March 2011, I spent the last couple of weeks as the weather improved taking long, long walks around town with my husband and the baby while the big kids were in school, with coffee or lunch overlooking the bay as the destination/treat. It's amazing what you can see at street level that you never notice when you're driving by. My kids (especially the middle one) sometimes complain about being "forced" to go on walks, but by the time we're out there they always find something new and interesting to look at -- the ruins of an old pier, a piece of sculpture in a park we never noticed, a plaque with a bit of history on it.
Dick (argh) Thu 4 Oct 12 12:05
Even 20+ years ago my wife and I strove to keep the level of extra-curricular activities and extras to a low/manageable level. Unfortunately, at that time there wasn't any organized theory in support of this approach to parenting so we simply had to plead that we were lazy sods and hated our children -- something the other parents (not to mention the children) never seemed to have trouble believing. Seriously, though I think slowing down is a concept that moves in the right direction, particularly given how utterly disruptive and intrusive into the home the rest of the world has become in the last couple of decades. If I'd had to deal with my kids tweeting during dinner I'd probably still be in prison for child abuse.
Katie (katelich) Thu 4 Oct 12 12:48
I'm definitely a slow parent type in philosophy, but I see how it's relatively easy when the kids are young and might get harder as they get older and more of their own interests, rhythms, friendships, etc. come into play. My kids are currently 8 and 5; they get downtime/freerange time after school, but between 4 and 6 PM we have something scheduled 4 out of 5 days a week. And that's just with one activity/sport each, which doesn't seem extreme to me. So I'm curious to hear strategies for keeping the family pace as mellow as possible as kids get older.
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Thu 4 Oct 12 16:08
Its wonderful to see you all here! You all bring up terrific and heartfelt points. One of the things Id like to convey about Slow Parenting is that the term may be a bit of a misnomer. I dont think Slow Parenting is so much about moving at a snail's pace, but rather about doing things at a pace that is right for the family -- and that pace may change on any given day. Intentional Parenting is probably a closer term to what Im describing. Slow helps place it in peoples minds with other similar movements, and it does serve as an antidote to the feeling many have that the world is moving a little quickly and at times heedlessly. Dick mentioned technology. I talk a bit about technology in my book. Of course, it has its uses (witness our discussion), but technology can also be extremely disruptive to parent-child bonds and to enjoying other activities, including physical and free play. There are figures out from the Kaiser Family Foundation that children now spend an average of 53 hours a week on some form of electronic media. Thats pretty astounding. And Sherry Turkle, Director of MIT's Initiative on Technology and Self, has done research on the disruptive use of media by parents. She interviewed kids who wanted more parental attention than they were getting because the parents seemed distracted by media. So there is an intentional piece about deciding where the familys technology threshold is, and then acting on it, whether that means calling a full-blown media vacation, or just taking an afternoon or an evening off and filling that time with low-key games, crafts, down time or quiet time. The Slow way is also still far from being the cultural norm (at least in much of the first world.) Many parents are anxious and achievement-oriented. There is a remarkably narrow range of what is considered successful (think eventual Ivy League). Because of this, it seemed important to me to put a stake in the ground, and stand with the Simplicity Parenting and other folks who are putting out similar messages about letting kids have a childhood. Since I havent read the Tiger Mom book, Im not sure what I might glean from it, except that we all probably love our kids and want what we think is best for them.
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Thu 4 Oct 12 16:15
As for Ruths concern that she is failing to expose her kids to something or to nurse an eccentricity, I think weve all had that feeling with our kids. My daughter tried all kinds of things, including theater, sewing, sports, ballet, piano, scouting, and extracurricular language lessons. Like Katie does, we tended to have her do one extra activity at a time and choose things that werent terribly disruptive to family life. For instance, there are sports teams in our town that meet multiple days a week and travel to games when the kids are young, and that just seemed like too much a commitment for someone like my daughter who wanted to dabble and try things. Luckily our community offered a lot of Park and Rec. and other programs for dabblers. Its a loss, frankly, that that isnt often the case. If kids dont try lots of different things when theyre young, when will they? Ruth, your family life sounds very lovely and happy, and the things you do sound fun and bonding. It seems that the eccentricity your children might display would arise precisely from their free and down time, and then once it does, you can always act on it and find a way to enhance their participation in the activity. It is that kind of organic interest, expressed by a child, that so often proves the most fruitful anyway. When the parents are programming everything and all the time is filled, children can miss out on the chance to discover their unique passions and gifts. To Katies question, my daughter Anna got really busy in high school. She decided she wanted to go out for sports, having never really done any of note and now she does one sport at a time (water polo, mountain biking and lacrosse hows that for jumping in?) Shes also on an ultra-competitive Mock Trial team. She chose all these things and she convinced us she wanted to try them and she could handle the load. Shes a senior and shes really happy. We no longer eat every dinner together (though we still share as many meals as possible), but I firmly believe that all the family time we spent when she was younger -- reading stories nightly, putting on puppet shows and doing crafts, going on long hikes and floating origami boats in the local creek while many of her peers were at soccer practice completely bonded us. We see each other less now, but we are all very close and have a lot of fun when we do. I feel that her current activity level is age-appropriate and chosen by her. Its also a joy to Anna and to the family, rather than a cause of stress. That, is seems, should be the primary question when adding or dropping any activity or exploring the pace of the family. And, Jessica, do you know I have a short section in my book that advocates being a Tourist in Your Town? Thats a great way to experience gratitude and the simple, local and daily pleasures of ones place and routine.
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Thu 4 Oct 12 16:44
I do! I was trying to find the page number while at the office and couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew it was in there. We live close to New York City, so we also get lots of joy in exploring NYC that way. Rafe got interested in Old New York, so we found a free walking tour around lower Manhattan (in the freezing cold in February) that showed us things we'd never seen. Sometimes we go to an old favorite, like the Museum of Natural History, and go out of our way to find something we've never noticed before. One thing I found really striking about your book is how focused it is on getting away from materialism. I don't think of us as a family that buys the kids every little thing they want, and yet I always feel I'm tripping over toys and gear. Your craft and activity ideas, for the most part, require little or nothing in terms of supplies, and the necessary items are typically things you'd have around the house. It put me in mind of cooking from a well-stocked pantry, only here the pantry includes crayons, old paper towel tubes, and so on. It allows for so much spontaneity -- you don't have to take a trip to the store before you do a project. So with that in mind, I find myself facing the annual Gift Giving Season of Death -- kid birthdays on Dec. 27 and Jan 4, and Hanukkah, Christmas, and Yule are all celebrated in our home. How do you handle holidays and gifts, and how do you explain what you're trying to do to friends and grandparents?
Paula Span (pspan) Thu 4 Oct 12 17:07
Oy, don't remind me. Sooz, congrats on the book and its success! I wanted to ask if you really think this approach qualifies as a movement yet. Do you see evidence around the country of people talking about slow parenting, trying to adopt it, perhaps even lobbying schools for less structured activity and more play? Or is it still sort of inchoate -- we know something is wrong but we're not clear how to fix it? By the way, one thing I did when my now 30-year-old was little was, we vacationed every summer in the same lovely town (Wellfleet, Massachusetts), mostly because it was so restful for overworked parents to go someplace known and cherished, rather than map out some new plan each August and go traipsing. I always wondered if we should have been "exposing" her to other places! and new cultures! and foreign climes! But we just didn't. And it's still, 25 years later, a place we reconnect each summer and love deeply, and she can go traipsing on her own. It was our own slow parenting experience.
David Albert (aslan) Fri 5 Oct 12 05:11
Sooz, thanks for the book! I have given a copy to my sister, who has a two-year-old and was very glad to have so many suggested activities to look through. They are very much trying to slow things down when possible. I'm just wondering, though: my family (and my sister's family) are already fully onboard with the idea of slowing down where possible; not over-programming (although everyone's idea of "over" is different, I suppose). Are you finding that your book actually makes a difference to families that were NOT already in that mindset? Or is that not the purpose of the book?
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Fri 5 Oct 12 11:33
Great questions! While we anticipate sooz's responses, I do encourage you all to chime in with your thoughts and experiences. As parents, how do you approach these questions? Any Slow traditions from your own childhoods you're bringing into your kids' lives? Do you think childhood has changed in this regard from when you were a kid?
Some Things Are Explained (obizuth) Fri 5 Oct 12 15:33
i was so determined not to be one of those overscheduling parents. but josie, almost 11, has hebrew school 2x/week, a flute lesson and a flute group session 1/x week each, debate team 1/x week, and soon she will have play rehearsal 1/week getting up to 3x/week in the spring. maxie, almost 8, has hebrew school 2x/week and cello 1x/week. we are frequently stretched thin and cranky. josie is mak9ing noises about quitting flute again, and i'm inclined to agree, but my husband will be SO BUMMED and distressed. it's hard for me to lay down the law on this when a) i'm ambivalent myself and b) i'm not willing to compromise on hebrew school. any thoughts when parents aren't on the same page, suz? and how do we weork thru our own ambivalence about cutting something a kid sorta likes, in the interest of making family life more serene overall and helping the kid focus on and enjoy more the activities she has left?
David Albert (aslan) Fri 5 Oct 12 18:31
We tried to listen to our daughter's needs and we tried to be sensible. When she first started kindergarten, we signed her up for just one regular after-school activity (a ceramics class). But she had a lot of interests, and while she was great at doing crafts and such at home, there was a limit to how much music or gymnastics or acting she could do alone at home. So each year she seemed to be doing more and more until she was busy nearly every day. With the start of middle school, though, she has cut way back on her own accord -- until she can gauge the amount of time she'll have after getting all her homework done -- so for the fall she's down to two activities, and has many unscheduled afternoons each week, along with most weekends free. And indeed she has a lot more homework with which to fill that time.
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Fri 5 Oct 12 20:13
David, your solution sounds so sensible! I think much of its beauty is that it is truly child-centered and based on the changing needs of your daughter, which happily seem to dovetail with your familys. As with Anna, there have been times during which she thrived with a lot of activity and other times when cutting back was best for everyone. I think its an especially big challenge if a child truly enjoys an activity that just pushes the family over the edge. (Ive seen this happen, and Ive seen families continue to be stretched to the point where everyone is miserable except the busy child.) With music lessons, we honestly kept Anna going past the point at which she was enjoying them. The issue then wasn't overscheduling, but both of us parents really valuing a background in music and not wanting her to give up too soon. It was really hard but we did ultimately face the fact that music just wasn't working for her and that we had given her the benefit of lessons we werent depriving her! Marjorie, your situation is especially tough. It does sound like theres an obvious activity to drop (flute), as its giving your daughter the least pleasure of all the activities, while possibly pushing the family over the edge. I think family harmony may have to win out. Shell still have a very art- and culture-rich life (she sounds very verbal :) ) even without flute. It was disappointing for us to stop Annas music lessons (granted, that had more to do with our own projections and desires -- she really had stopped enjoying them. But it was still hard.) She since got involved in drama, mock trial, and other things that music probably wouldnt have allowed. They cant do everything and they cant do it all at once! Music does present a somewhat unique challenge, in that the skills build, so that it is harder to pick up again than some other interests. The individual and group lessons do present a double load (and then there is practicing), so its a particularly time-intense commitment. That said, it may be hard to play flute less, unless theres another opportunity with only one class a week. This is a tough one. I sympathize! Especially because you and your husband dont agree on it. Must she add the other things? There might have to be a real family heart-to-heart, with the idea that something has to give, and an end goal of dropping one thing, at least for now. I hope youll keep us posted on your progress. Do others have ideas about this? Paula, your description of your vacation tradition is especially lovely. I think a lot of us wonder if we should be repeating favorite activities at the expense of exploring new ones. (It occurs to me that this can be a luxury and that many of us who have overscheduling and similar issues come from a place of abundance and choice.) While my family has our share of new experiences, it is often the repeated ones that form exceedingly strong and warm memories and bonds. We sometimes visit the same spot in Hawaii where my parents used to vacation, and weve gotten to know some of the people there the way my parents did. I also feel like my daughter will return on her own, as yours does Wellfleet. Its wonderful to have these experiences as a family and again, one choice (the familiar) naturally precludes another (the new.) As lovely as the tried-and-true experiences are, my husband and daughter want to repeat them more than I do so I give in sometimes and push the new sometimes, usually to fine results either way. Annas now looking at colleges and, while theres no Hawaii in the picture, the places shes thinking of going are all places we visited as a family more than once over the years. So she clearly finds those destinations and memories very cherished as well. Ill be back with some thoughts about holidays and consumerism, which Jessica asked about. A big topic, to be sure!
Members: Enter the conference to participate