The Virtues of Down-Time
There is a noticeable trend among today's parents to keep their children of all ages busy with structured activities at all times.Read More
After all, we immigrated to a completely new world, with very limited language skills, and had to start from square one - no, well behind square one - to establish ourselves in a new and foreign life. Our children, eight and two at the time, became secondary to that goal. They were both fed, clothed, and placed in good schools. But no one could spare an extra minute for them, neither me nor my husband.
Over my years at RSM I’ve met many young parents who’ve planned their life well, stabilized their careers and bought a home before starting a family. But even they seem to be burdened by the weight of parenting stress. And I simply can’t figure out why. I’ve seen this referred to as “hyper parenting,” and according to Pamela Druckman in the New York Times, it’s a global phenomenon:
Hyper-parenting is also driven by science. The latest toddler brain studies reach parents in Bogotá and Berlin too. And people around the world are breeding later in life, when they’re richer and more grateful, so the whole parenting experience becomes hallowed. Scandinavians complain of “curling parents,” a reference to the sport in which you frantically scrub the ice to let a stone glide across it. (In Norway, “we do not, for example, count goals in soccer for children under 12, because they should all feel like winners,” the producer said.)
Why is parenting so globally “hallowed?” It’s the oldest function of society; all living creatures do it. Why surround it with such an aura and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by it? That very stress then falls on the shoulders of our children.
In Newton, Mass, for example, there seems to be a communal guilt over how much pressure and competition our children are exposed to. Parents blame teachers, teachers blame parents, and all together we blame society. But it stems from parenting, from this desire to offer our children every opportunity, to prepare them to be well-rounded, well -spoken individuals. To tailor them for success. They attend honors classes with hours and hours of busy work, sports with hours and hours of training, play instruments that require hours and hours of practice. And in the meantime, parents run around trying to prepare and maintain their children’s schedules.
Everyone is running these days. And we are running by choice, not by necessity. We do not understand the harm of being in a rush, we do not realize that our children need time to think, to reflect, to observe. That a child’s speed is much slower than ours, and that they need that slow pace at times.
By attempting to provide our children with every possibility to succeed in the future, we are depriving them of the most important things: a calm sense of direction, and clear family requirements and priorities.
Written by Inessa Rifkin, Founder of the Russian School of Mathematics