If there's one thing I am guilty of it's over-booking. I'm not sure why I do it (unrealistic perception of what can be achieved in a day? Can't say no? A secret love for chaos? All of the above?), it just happens. It is not unheard of for my Friday schedule to include a dog walk. pancakes, beach, cinema (taking some extra children with us), groceries, haircuts - oh, and just popping into wherever to drop off whatever - all before lunchtime. Action-packed. Exciting. Fun-filled. I love it. The kids love it. Or so I thought.
When suddenly house-bound by a knee operation earlier this year, just getting myself, my book and a flask of tea to the garden table was a struggle. So, once there, I nestled in for the long haul. And a miraculous thing happened. We stayed in our pyjamas until way past lunchtime (if I'm honest, it was closer to dinner time) - the kids were playing with their friends and I was reading my book. We'd stop and do some colouring, or play a game of Uno. The kids would go into the kitchen and bring out supplies of fruit and biscuits. And we did nothing. Nothing at all. We didn't leave the house for the entire weekend - not once - and it was one of the best weekends we've ever had. It was a revelation.
Journalist and author Carl Honoré (carlhonore.com) is recognised as a heavyweight in the world of The Slow Movement and in his first book Under Pressure, he applied the ethos to parenting, coining in the term ‘slow parenting'. He says, "Slow in this context does not mean doing everything at a snail's pace. It implies quality over quantity; real and meaningful human connections; being present and in the moment. To me, slow parenting is about bringing balance into the home. Slow parents keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together. They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy."
It's so obvious and natural. You can't help but wonder why you aren't doing it already. I'm sure my grandparents were slow parents and I know for a fact that my parents were. So why don't we do it? Where did this manic style of parenting, where we try and cram all of life's experiences into a single childhood, actually come from? According to Honoré, it comes from society. "We start from the noble instinct to do the best for our children, but end up going too far," he says. "Social and cultural pressure drives a lot of this. As parents we feel immense pressure to give our children the best of everything - to give them a ‘perfect' childhood."
I hadn't realised that what I was aiming for was perfection - I thought I was just making it fun. But talking with other mothers, it seems perhaps it does come from a desire to give our children a ‘perfect' childhood with exposure to as many activities as possible. The theory being that it will help us discover any lurking natural talents, or ignite an early passion. Didn't all gymnasts and concert pianists start at the age of three?
Another reason parenting has gone into hyper mode could be that there is simply so much to do. Farmers' markets with petting zoos, animatronic dinosaur displays, waterparks, snowparks, new kids' films and theatre shows, yoga for kids, acting for kids, discos for kids... It's hard not to get caught up in the fabulousness of it all and just book yourself - and your children - silly.
But no. Remember the garden table. Think of Simon and Garfunkel - "Slow down, you move too fast... you gotta make the moment last." It takes effort. Conscious effort. You have to plan to not plan. I hereby declare that this weekend we will do nothing. Sorry folks, we can't join you for the picnic/birthday party/play area/ice skating because we will be busy doing nothing. I wonder what my children will think when I tell them the only thing we are doing before lunch is breakfast.
I call my three-year-old, wish him a happy Thursday and ask him what he'd like to do this weekend. He says, "Go to the beach, play with my friend next door... and relax on the sofa." Relax on the sofa? Not Magic Planet? Not Mini Monsters? I am agog. Slowing down is obviously not going to be difficult for him then. And actually, his wish-list itinerary sounds pretty great. Some outdoor time. Some socialising. Some chilling with the family. It sounds stress-free, relaxing - perhaps even perfect.
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