This photo aptly illustrates my approach to life and to parenting. In our family, we spend a lot of time just chilling out and soaking in. I could say that this is because I understood from the beginning that “doing too much can be debilitating for kids whose brains are still developing,” as I recently read.
The truth, though, is that slow and steady is the pace that feels comfortable to me. And I’m the one running this show, gang. I find packed schedules and rushing around very uncomfortable. For me to have any patience with my kids, any emotional energy to face life’s challenges, or any ability to think deeply, I need to live at a calm pace. Some might even call our gait leisurely. I want to be available to my kids, to my friends, and to my community. That takes time and flexibility.
To maintain what feels to us like a sane pace, Rick and I have had to make dozens of difficult, even painful, choices. Some small and some large. We have had to be willing to say no to many good things. One writer has called this “the disciplined pursuit of less.” Here are a few examples of choices we’ve made to keep our life simple:
- We only have one car even though we don’t live in a large city with lots of public transportation. In order to be able to make life work with only one car, we had to make a bunch of prior choices. We chose our town, neighborhood, and school all with an eye towards how well they would work for a one car family. Having a single car has helped us build a life that is not predicated on driving all over all the time.
- Our kids generally participate in only one activity at a time, at most two. Spring and fall are for soccer. One winter we did ballet. This one we did swimming. Summers have been focused on VBS and a single sport like softball. Although this list of activities may sound plentiful and diverse, there are tons of no’s hidden behind it. This spring alone, we had to pass up Girls on the Run, Science Olympiad, a drawing class, and French club. As much as I would have loved to have my daughter dive a little deeper into science, running, art and French, I knew that doing so would be very costly to both her and us. We believe in making our schedule serve us, not the other way around.
- I do not have a smart phone. I am the only person I know without one (besides my dad, but the last piece of technology he successfully adopted was the microwave in 1986, so he doesn’t really count). I committed to myself that I would not get a smart phone until my twins were in school full-time. I did not want to be tempted to ignore them and I knew that carrying the internet around in my pocket would do just that. Interestingly, they started full-day school eight months ago and I still haven’t gotten around to upgrading my phone. Some day I will, but in the meantime I am enjoying being free from the temptation to squander my attention.
- We have dinner together every night. Before anyone gives me any parenting awards, let me mention that both Rick and I and grew up in families that ate together every night. It’s all we know how to do. Unlike other helpful routines (e.g. a weekly cleaning day), this one comes easily to us. The polite conversation, the staying seated and the eating of vegetables, not so much.
- We do not travel much. We have found that all the packing, unpacking, extra planning and poor quality sleep take tolls on us that are not always worth it. We take several road trips a year to see our parents, an occasional short trip to see friends in nearby states, and one trip by air each winter to see my parents in Arizona. That is about it. Again, there are painful no’s embedded in this self-imposed limit. We have treasured friends all over the country that we would dearly love to spend time with. Yet, despite the fact that we now supposedly live in a global village, we have found that there are real costs to travel. Costs beyond financial ones. We think through very carefully what the wear and tear on our kids and ourselves will be before we decide to take any trip.
Most of the time, maintaining our slower pace feels like we are swimming hard against the cultural tide. I am not sure if our natural pace is simply slower than most Americans’. Or whether I am just more in touch with my needs and those of my family. Maybe both. As crazy as my kids free play makes me, I am committed to giving them time for it. And as unproductive as I may look, I am committed to having time myself for reading books, spending time with friends, and enjoying the sunshine.
© Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2015.