As with Gardening, Parents Generally Reap What They Sow
Good parents want what’s best for their children—and, by extension, for themselves. After two decades of the “too much is still not good enough” philosophy that mandated endless play dates, sports practice, and every conceivable extracurricular activity, the current child-rearing wisdom has come full circle and now embraces the same unfussy, local mindsets of the environmental, organic, and Slow Food movements.
Instead of shaming parents into spending all their money on expensive technology and exclusive summer camps, a method I’ll call Slow Parenting encourages caretakers to capitalize on their greatest resource in the name of raising healthy children: time. Happy, responsible, well-adjusted kids have always been the goal, but the books profiled here advise a more sustainable path to success. While not all of these five titles were written by professional authors, each is a valuable resource that’s innovative, heartening, and a pleasure to read.
According to beekeeper Anna M. Campbell, author of Honeycomb Kids: Big Picture Parenting for a Changing World … and to Change the World (Cape Able, 978-0-9807475-0-8), teaching children to grow an organic garden goes a long way toward establishing the resilience and timeless values that make kids feel connected rather than competitive. “Getting Dirty,” as she puts it, stresses a commitment to experimentation and learning, rather than perfection, all the while communicating the idea of “putting down roots.” Campbell’s discussion of cooperation and collaboration, modeled after worker bees, proposes that satisfaction and achievement come from more than “being the victor, creating a loser.” Richard Heinberg, author of the best-selling End of Growth, says of Honeycomb Kids, “Parents will find both honesty and inspiration.”
In The Truly Alive Child: For Those Who Seek a Grander Vision for Our Children (Fox Walking Publishing, 978-09834836-2-5), educator Simon Paul Harrison argues against a school system and life experience based on fear and instead promotes living close to and learning from nature as the means to a fulfilling youth. Animals frequently figure into his instruction methods, as when one of the “Truly Alive Tips” scattered throughout features a lesson on walking like a fox by using the balls of the feet instead of the heels to first make contact with the earth. In another example, he explains that “Coyote Teaching … seeks to foster passion in the learner and is remarkably effective at providing experiences for children that encourage them to become independent, creative beings.” Harrison’s various rock climbing scenarios recommend a one-to-one teacher-pupil ratio for enhancing a child’s ability to wed lessons to experience and beautifully capture the joy of taking risks. Other topics include the importance of making mistakes and “doing nothing,” as well as the shortsightedness inherent in giving quick answers to the questions children ask.
Professing her intention as nothing short of “healing our global family,” Dr. Marcy Axness, a member of Mothering magazine’s online expert panel, has identified seven overarching principles and seven steps to help children develop such fundamental capacities as self-regulation, trust, imagination, and empathy. In Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers (Sentient Publishing, 978-1-59181-176-3), Axness relies on neuroscience to demonstrate the enduring importance of early parenting decisions; and while “Attuned Conception,” “Radiant Pregnancy,” and “Empowered Birth” are presented as ideals, Axness also discusses neuroplasticity: “the capacity of our social brains to change, adapt, and revise when presented with more optimal conditions.” In other words, it’s never too late. She explains the history of attachment research, provides anecdotal examples of various parenting models, and offers a list of solid resources. Stressing compassion over blame, her final “principle” places her squarely in the Slow Parenting camp: “Simplicity is a portal to joy, and joy lies at the very foundation of health, well-being, and peace.”
Wondrous Child: The Joys and Challenges of Grandparenting (North Atlantic Books, 978-1-58394-362-5), edited by Lindy Hough, does not shy away from the last part of its subtitle: The pressure felt by grandparents not to interfere with their own offspring’s child-rearing choices is a constant refrain in this wonderful anthology of thirty essays. Ultimately, though, it is the honor of a unique intergenerational bond that is the book’s focus. As one contributor says, “Detached from the daily survival needs, we are in the privileged position of seeing a bigger picture … We recognize that being part of expanding a child’s life with our presence of mind, lack of critical judgment, clear and insistent lessons, and generosity of spirit is a worthy challenge … we trust that the result can be majestic in its simplicity, not just for this relationship, but also as a paradigm for society.” Without losing its focus, this diverse collection favors real-world complexity—grandparents raising their children’s children, for instance. Whether each story takes place within a traditional or less conventional family structure—like the Sufi meditation instructor conversing via Skype with her two-year-old granddaughter, who’s bathing in a tub of seaweed wraps—the sense of pride and joy on the part of every author is abundantly clear.
Using nature as the ripest setting for unique celebrations, Anni Daulter’s Naturally Fun Parties for Kids: Creating Handmade, Earth-Friendly Celebrations for All Seasons and Occasions (Sellers Publishing, 978-1-4162-0656-9) is inspiring in both its appearance and tone. This beautifully photographed how-to manual is broken down by season: The Forest Fairy Dress-up Party welcomes spring while the Strawberry-Picking and Jam-Making Party makes the most of the summer; a Wild Girls Tepee Party occurs in autumn, and the Community Cooking Party is designed to warm up winter. The book’s highly organized format highlights projects and materials and provides a timeline for each event to ensure it comes off smoothly. Most importantly, the children participate fully in throwing their own parties. From creating invitations to borrowing props for decorating to step-by-step instructions for games (such as treasure hunts) and a collection of excellent recipes (whole wheat sour cream pancakes and herbal tea spice cakes among them), there’s a perfect job for kids of all ages. You can’t buy this kind of fun.
All of these books argue for better, more equitable and well-rounded families, citizens, and communities. And, finally, each stresses the importance of modeling the behaviors we hope to see in ourselves and our children.