The time has come for me to close up Tortoise on the Loose. The irony is that I simply don’t have the time. Or, more correctly, I need to use my energy and time on paid writing, creative writing and my studies. This doesn’t mean that I am abandoning the philosophy of slowing down; I just won’t be blogging about it. When I reflect back on the nearly two years of this blog, certain themes stand out. In conclusion, here are my [unedited] rules.
Tortoise on the Loose Rules for Slow Parenting and Living Simply
1. Cook and bake at home as much as possible. If you don’t know how, learn. Cooking saves money. It forces you to better appreciate where your food comes from and therefore appreciate the farmers, producers, and the environment. It teaches children a valuable life skill. Cooking is also a project that is accessible to everyone in the house – even the two-year-old can punch down the bread dough and add ingredients to the mixer. Cooking is a key component to developing as a group – if you cook, you are more likely to want to share what you cook with people. Preparing a meal together and eating together can be transformative.
2. Embrace the outdoors. Go for a walk. Explore your national parks. Camp. Plant a garden. Be sure to kick the kids outside for at least 30 minutes a day no matter what the weather. Experts will tell you that there has been a collective loss of basic knowledge about nature. Children and adults alike need to understand their environment if we want them to care about it. Children and adults both need to be challenged by nature, the challenge will build appreciation of the world and contribute to the knowledge that we cannot control it. Being challenged by nature also builds character – toughness, endurance, resilience and humility.
3. Embrace your community. Aim to live, work, shop and play in your community. We all make connections with people in various groups outside our neighbourhoods. But the strongest connections are those that overlap. When we play community league hockey with our neighbour, connections overlap and are enhanced. When we walk our children to school with their friends and their parents, we are building community. When we shop at local stores, we build community. Seek out opportunities to have connections overlap and community will be strengthened.
4. Let your kids go. Stop mollycoddling your children. Let them be free to play and do activities that challenge them. Kids need to come home with more broken bones and bruises. Let them make mistakes. Children need to be able to walk to school by themselves and play at the park without adult supervision. Older children need to be able to take public transit by themselves, go off to university without their parents looking over their shoulder and travel far from home with their parent’s blessing. Let them learn life skills on their own. They will be empowered and have the confidence they need to get on with their lives.
5. Stop being fearful. Remember that crime rates are at their lowest. Your children are more likely to be injured in a motor vehicle accident than be abducted. If you are reading this, you likely live in one of the safest countries in the world. Stop injecting your fears into your children. If you want your children to be social, globally minded, empathetic members of society, you need to let them learn about the world. This means exposing them to the world as an enjoyable place ripe with new ideas and experiences. If fear rules your head and your parenting strategy, your children will learn to be afraid of new experiences, people, places, foods, cultures, ways of thinking, etc.
6. Don’t make your children your life. Be sure to have other roles than just ‘parent’. Being a parent is a very important role but it is unhealthy if it is the only role you occupy. The academic literature is pretty clear – multiple roles make a person more psychologically healthy and less depressed. Success in one role will smooth over disappointment in another role. Take time for yourself. Invest in your identity beyond mom/dad.
7. Believe that free play is more important than structured activities. Your child can learn piano later in life. And despite conventional wisdom, learning a language isn’t necessarily easier when you are young. Stop obsessing about all the skills and interests you need to develop in your child. Instead, give them time every day to do NOTHING. Boredom precipitates creativity. On that note, stop feeling the need to entertain your kids. Tell them to go play by themselves. They’ll figure it out.
8. Stop trying to keep up with Jones. We all know that perfection is unattainable, so why do we keep trying? Don’t worry if your kids’ clothes are second-hand. So what if you still haven’t painted over the ugly wall colour from when you bought the house five years ago? Stop wanting that big, better, newer car/house/vacation. Spend your energy on people, not trying to keep up with false promises of happiness.
9. Create traditions. Children LOVE the predictability of a family tradition. Isn’t that why we all love Christmas so much and we are disturbed when someone asks us to alter what we’ve ‘always done’? Work at making family traditions that are unique to your family – the spot in the garden where the children always plant their veggies, the annual Easter egg hunt with cousins, the anticipation of new PJs on the winter solstice, Friday night pizza and a movie, Sunday dinner with the grandparents, etc.
10. Embrace messiness. Children make a mess. Nobody ever said playdough was tidy. And a four-year-old doesn’t really understand why he can’t take sand out of the sandbox and put it on the lawn. Learn to be okay with messy happiness. An obsession on tidiness is restrictive and unhealthy.
11. Let your kids be sick. Stop sanitizing everything. Throw away the cover that keeps your toddler from touching the shopping cart. Exposure to germs will build their immunity. More importantly, if you stop obsessing over germs, you will teach your children to interact with the world in a normal way rather than see the world as a scary place full of disease and threats.
12. Allow your children to be children. Don’t push the adult stuff until later. Five-year-olds do not need makeup. Elementary children do not need to be taught how to ‘ask a girl to dance’. Three-month-old babies do not need skinny jeans. Children are not mini adults. They think differently, their logic is different, they respond to and remember things differently. Respect this. Celebrate the wonder that is childhood!
13. Less toys is better. Your child really doesn’t need all that plastic crap from China. You know it in your heart, so why do you keep buying it? And why do you encourage others to give it to your children at birthdays and Christmas? Let your children have a few good quality toys that provide the opportunity for open-ended play.
14. Avoid the consumer culture and be thrifty. I never understand people who say ‘shopping’ is a hobby. Turn off the TV so you don’t watch advertisements. Don’t spend every weekend in the mall with your kids. Be cautious about how you associate spending money with emotions – don’t let your children learn that buying something new will make them feel good. Being thrifty teaches your children to build their self-worth (and yours!) in better ways.
15. Minimize your life. Less stuff means less to manage, clean, organize. The bigger your home, the more stuff you will own and the more time/money you will need to take care of it. Is this really how you want to spend your life – buying and maintaining large quantities of stuff? Even if you are a millionaire, wouldn’t you rather your money and time go to better causes? Learn to borrow before buying. To this day I never understand why people don’t use their public library – it’s a source of virtually free and unending resources, folks!
16. Give simply. Give meaningful gifts. Give useful gifts. Give experiences. Give consumable gifts. Give books. Give generously of your time and energy – this is a better gift than stuff.
17. Take time to reflect. When things are busy, we act without really thinking. We rely on our autopilot or fall back on old ways. If we set aside time to reflect, we can live more meaningfully and thoughtfully. Learn to pause.
18. Be confident in your choices. It can be hard to be different from the crowd – to have people judge you for letting your child walk the dog around the block by herself, to have people doubt your parenting ability when your child climbs to the top of the tree and nearly falls, to have people laugh behind your back at your attempts to keep Barbie products out of your house. But remember that your choices are not a judgment on others. You have to live your life and give your children a life that you believe in. Be strong. Be reflective. Be resilient.
Thanks to all the readers who stuck with me these past couple of years. Your comments have been valuable!
Laura Manuel (aka Mama Tortoise)