(NOTE TO TEXT: I am very tired. So some if this is a bit garbled, some is terrible English and there is no doubt that there will be more mistakes than usual.)
Well, my already slow blogging activities have been curtailed a a little more recently as three months ago my wife and I had our first baby. I am getting on a bit as a first time dad (at the grand old age of 39, which I reckon makes me a Slow Parent already!), but have somehow avoided any experience with babies up until now. So all this is a new and unique experience. I like that. I like the fact that I have no idea what is going to happen next, that every day is unique and interesting. I am not sitting around waiting or expecting the next leap or next milestone or projecting forward to what he is going to be like in a few months time. It grounds me in the present moment and helps me to be more mindful about the whole process. Which is important, as the old cliche seems to be very true, they do grow up fast! Even in these three months he has changed so much and I know I have missed loads of things or not paid attention to enough.
So, as with everything I do, I try and do it through the lens of the Slow Philosophy. A quick internet search revealed that there is growing community of people who have applied the Slow Philosophy to parenting and there have been two excellent books that I have found so far specifically about it: “Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children From the Culture of Hyper-parenting” by Carl Honoré and “The Idle Parent” by Tom Hodgkinson.
Here are a few early thoughts on what being a parent has taught me about being slow and what the Slow philosophy has taught me about parenthood. I hope those of you who are parents or soon to become parents find it interesting and useful. If you do, please let me know over at my Facebook page and I will write more as I go along.
The Big Picture – Purpose not Principle
When I first came across the Slow Philosophy in 2007 it was like coming home. I had been seduced by the cult of speed for a number of years and hadn’t even noticed (the cult of speed is insidious like that). Since then I have gone on to embrace and advocate that approach to life, culminating (so far) in the metaphor of a Flaneur of Life to attempt to define, in a metaphorical and practical way, how I understand and apply the Slow Philosophy (and the great thing about the Slow Philosophy is it has no leaders or hierarchy and everyone does something different with it). All of which means I have sometimes done things (or not done things) on principle rather than for a purpose.
This has lead to me to do some very unuseful things or make some dubious decisions in the name of Slow, which has really been me just being lazy or finding an excuse to procrastinate. Now I have a baby, I have a purpose to be Slow, let me explain…
In Richard Curtis’s amazing film About Time (about someone who finds they can travel back in time) Bill Nighy’s character discovers that he has terminal cancer that his time travelling ability cannot cure. Whilst telling his son Tim, he explains that Tim shouldn’t be sad as,
“The only people who give up work at 50 are time travellers with cancer who want to play more table tennis with their sons.”
Now, I can’t time travel, so I don’t want to wait until it is too late to realise all I wanted was to spend more time playing table tennis with my children. So I am going to act as if I have already gone back in time to this moment and I am making my choices all over again. Or to quote Tim from that movie,
“…just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”
Andrew Clover – Patron Saint of Slow Parenting
Andrew Clover is a criminally under-known comedian and author who used to write a column called “Dad Rules” in the Sunday Times. I loved that column and it was one of the many reasons I wanted children in the first place.
His subsequent book “Dad Rules” based on the column is required reading for any Slow Parent (but Slow Dads in particular), it is my Bible for how I want to raise children. It’s not a “how to” book but a journal of his experiences, concerns and attitudes about how to raise children. It is chock full of little bronze droplets of wisdom if you look closely enough.
I proclaim him the Patron Saint of Slow Parenting.
How The Slow Philosophy Has Helped Me So Far
Before I go on I must say that I am a dad, so I can only really write with authority from a dad’s perspective. However what I have put below are things that have benefited both my wife and I in the first few months.
To be perfectly honest, at this stage your newborn baby isn’t the most active of things. It tends to cry, sleep or feed. Ours is only just starting to interact and he is getting on for nearly three months (this, apparently, is perfectly “normal” – see below). Right now your priority is adjusting to this entirely new life that you have, and surviving through this massive upheaval.
1. There Is No Rush
Your baby will do what it wants to do when it wants to do it. It may sleep through the night at four weeks it might not for four years. It may be walking by three months it may not. It may be reading James Joyce’s Ulysses by the age of three, it may take a little longer.
There is no rush for your child to achieve certain developmental milestones. We live in a world of “pushy parents” who want and demand that their child achieve, and achieve as soon and as successfully as possibly. They thrust tennis rackets in their hand from birth and play them Mozart (not that there is anything wrong with Mozart, but don’t play it at your child in the mistaken belief it will improve their development). What has happened to the innocence of childhood, of letting your baby work things out on it’s own, at their own pace?
There really is no rush. This is the core tenant of Slow Parenting. Lose the desire for your child to develop at a hare’s pace. If you keep thinking of the next milestone that they must achieve you will miss what they are doing now. Anyone with grown up children will tell you they grow up too fast as it is, why accelerate that process? Take the time to fully appreciate where you all are now. What will happen next will happen, in it’s own good time.
2. There Really Is No Rush
Just in case you forget or get caught up in comparing, re-read point 1 above. Which takes me neatly to my next point.
3. Don’t Compare, Or Judge
Even if you weren’t before, as soon as you have a child you will become competitive. The whole system is built around comparing your baby to something else, to someone else. Whether that is the idealised “percentiles” of growth or the developmental stages you will read in all the baby books (see below). You will be told things by other parents about how their little bundle of joy was sleeping through the night at three days or walking at four months or reading Proust by the age of five, that they have enrolled it in baby genius classes to teach it advanced calculus.
It brings out the dark side in you, the you that wants to exaggerate all your babies achievements or fret and stress when someone else’s baby is doing things your’s hasn’t remotely shown any interest or ability in doing. The you that want’s to force your child’s development, to get them walking and reading and sleeping through the night.
It is at these times that John Kabit-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness becomes your new commandment:
“Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”
You are going to want to judge, you are going want to compare, you are going to be almost forced to. But if you pay attention, remain present and mindful of what your baby is doing and appreciate every little gurgle or explosive nappy change, other people’s experiences and babies become inconsequential, you stop judging and comparing. Until the next baby clinic at least…
4. Ignore Gina Ford and Similar Books
These books will promise you the earth by easily implementing a simple routine. Except your baby doesn’t know who Gina Ford is, nor do they care.
These books will tell you at what stage your baby’s developments should be at at any given moment and give you a long, long, long list (like you don’t have enough to do already) of exercises and activities to encourage their development. Except your baby doesn’t care that you spent £70 on the top of the range baby gym, it will scream the minute you put it in and only be happy when you are holding them and showing them re-runs of Breaking Bad.
Your baby will do what it wants, when it wants. Trying to force them to do anything else is fools errand. Just go with with the flow. Routines can come later.
If it all gets too much. And it will. Return to your breath. Nothing lasts forever, not even them screaming themselves horse at 2 o’clock in the morning, even if it seems like it.
Just return to the breath.
It sounds patronisingly simply, but trust me, it really does work.
So, in those moments when it all seems too much, stop. Take a deep breath in, to the count of seven, feeling it fill your entire body from the bottom of your belly to the top of your lungs, allow your shoulders to relax and ground yourself, “sit” into your hips, bend your knees, and slowly breath out to the count of eleven, whilst consciously relaxing, smiling and thinking of all the good times that have gone and will come. Then go back to the crying. Repeat as necessary. It does work, I promise.
6. Get Up. At The Same Time. Every Day.
Even if you only went to sleep an hour before and end up going back a few hours later. I may suggest going with the flow, but I have found it is also important to have some consistency within the chaos. Get up, have a wash, get something to eat. You will feel better.
7. Do Something To Get Some Exercise
Of course make it fitness and ability appropriate. Now is not the time to start training for that fantasy of running ultra-marathons (although you may really feel that you want to run away at times), it is about maintaining energy levels and avoiding injury. You need to do something to prepare yourself for lugging around that rapidly growing baby and the vast number of accoutrements your baby needs. Those car seats weigh a tonne and are hardly designed to be the easiest to carry without dislocating your own hip or grazing your thigh…
A little gentle stretching and few star jumps will do you the world of good. Try Tai Chi, it is great, it takes 5 minutes. Very gentle Yoga is also great. It loosens up those tense muscles and that has a knock on effect of loosening up your brain and reducing stress and increasing energy levels.
OBVIOUSLY – Get your healthcare professional’s advice before doing any exercise. Don’t be daft about it.
8. Leave The House!
Even if it as much as walking around the block to stretch the legs, get out of the house and get some fresh air (take your baby with you, it is good for them too).
9. Everything WILL Go To Hell In A Handcart At Some Point During The Day
Accept it with good grace. And breathe (see note 5).
10. Just Do What The Picture Tells You To Do
See the picture at the top of this post? it was on a label for our Baby Bjorn bouncing chair. It sums parenting in a nutshell. You really don’t need to know any more than this.
11. Remember, There Is No Rush
Because there really isn’t.
More Slow Parenting updates as events progress…