Movement teaches parents to deal with anxiety from raising children

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The main concept behind the Slow Family Living philosophy comes from the belief that if parents take the time to listen to their children and watch their nonverbal cues they can ease the stresses of parenting.

Parenthood exerts financial, physical and emotional stress on every parent. But the stresses that come with parenting can be reduced if parents are willing to slow down and listen to their children and their intuition, according to the philosophy of Slow Family Living, an Austin-based familial organization.

The success of other slow movements such as Slow Food and Slow Sex prompted Austin co-author of “Make Stuff Together,” Bernadette Noll and Carrie Contey, a parenting coach with a doctorate in prenatal and prenatal psychology, to create Slow Family Living — a parenting philosophy based on the basic tenants of the other slow movements. The organization, which started in 2008, offers classes and workshops on familial topics such as prenatal parenting and sibling relationships, as well as one-on-one coaching with parents.

“We were working with new moms and we started to notice that there was a lot of anxiety,” Contey said. “They were already worried, and these were babies, that they were going to screw up or miss something.”

The heart of the Slow Family Living philosophy is the belief that children are capable of expressing, not necessarily verbally, what works for them and if parents tune in to their children, then they can alleviate the external stresses related to parenting, Contey said.

Like other slow movements, Slow Family Living does not require participants to literally slow down the pace of whatever they’re doing. Instead, the philosophy asks parents to focus on what works for them and their families — slow is not the same speed for everyone. Where some families can handle shuffling between school, gymnastics, piano lessons and tutoring, others may find the whole ordeal exhausting and resent it.

“Slow Family Living is about taking the necessary pauses before reacting. It’s about asking yourself as a parent, ‘Is this what we want?’” Noll said. “It’s not about doing nothing, it’s about being thoughtful about what you are doing.”

While Contey has no children, she said she feels her experience as a child and her education qualify her to give advice on parenting. And Noll, a mother of four, said since starting the group, she has implemented the philosophy she teaches in her own parenting.

While most University of Texas students, such as Contey, are not parents, everyone was once a child and therefore has opinions on parenting. The phenomenon that Slow Family Living attempts to counterbalance is called “over-parenting,” where parents attempt to foster a child’s talents through regimented leisure activities.

Since 76 percent of UT’s admits of the 2010 freshman class were in the top 10 percent of their high school, according to the Office of Admissions student profiles, a few UT students might be familiar with over-parenting as well.

However, as negative as it sounds, over-parenting may not be a bad thing.

In her book “Unequal Childhoods,” sociologist Annette Lareau, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, follows 88 families with third graders from different social classes and finds that concerted cultivation, or over-parenting, can develop in children skills that are necessary for adulthood. Those children who were raised participating in organized activities with strict schedules learn to cope better with the time management necessary in college and the workforce, according to the results of Lareau’s research. Additionally, the constant interaction with adults provides children with the ability to ask questions and negotiate, which cultivates their ability to communicate better as adults.

Both Noll and Contey made points in stressing that the philosophy is not a prescription, but rather an evolving formula for raising children. Although the philosophy may leave parents the option of pushing their children and organizing their life, the cornerstone of the philosophy certainly discourages the regiment necessary for concerted cultivation.

Since the group has only been around since 2008, no one has seen the final result — adulthood — for children raised under this module.

The conflicting parenting styles are a part of modern society’s view on reality and there is probably no correct method, said Catherine McNamee, a graduate student and assistant instructor in the department of sociology and specialist in family demography. She said because of the complexity of our culture, we encourage multiple options and discourage the notion that there is only one right way to do something.

“It’s more of a way of seeing things and a way of being in the world,” Contey said. “It’s simple, just slow down, connect, enjoy.” 

Printed on 07/21/2011 as: Slow Family Living urges careful thought in parenting choices