I felt like I stepped back in time yesterday afternoon.
After chatting with a friend the night before, we decided to meet for a walk with our children. She called me to say she was on her way. My daughters and I grabbed our jackets, cycled to the meeting point and met for a wander in town.
It was simple.
It didn’t require 25 texts to negotiate the time and place. And we didn’t cancel on each other 5 times over a two-week period before finally meeting.
I’m still smiling. Because it reassured me that life can be easy. It reminded me of what life was like when I was a teenager; the manmade barriers thrown up by busyness didn’t seem to exist then like they do today.
Our children didn’t need to be enrolled, entertained, scheduled, supervised, coached, or assessed in an adult directed activity to be happy. They led the way and we followed. They were free to take their time. Collect sticks. Throw rocks. Navigate the trail. Find their balance. Get dirty and have fun.
It left me craving more.
I’m conscious of the benefits of a slow childhood so I intentionally avoid over-scheduling our daughters. But, in our modern world I’m acutely aware that I’m the odd parent out. And that makes it hard.
When we go to our local park on weekdays it’s either empty or if it’s after school it’s chock-full of organised sports with no space remaining for free play. Our neighbour’s children don’t jump the fence like we used to and even if they did, they’re only free on Tuesday between 4pm-5pm; every other time slot is filled with gymnastics, hip hop and music lessons.
Children are spending more time in organised sports which has been shown to significantly lower creativity as young adults. It’s not the organised sports themselves that destroy creativity but the lack of down time. Even two hours per week of unstructured play boosted children’s creativity to above-average levels.
With children being carted from one activity to the next, the days of kids being kids and playing all day long has been erased from our society’s collective memory. We’ve devalued what children need most and replaced it with excessive adult control.
Perhaps, of all the elements of simplifying childhood that I’ve written about, simplifying schedules seems to be the one that causes the most controversy. Yet, it’s a relatively easy thing to do; there are no secrets or special tips you need to do it. It’s as simple as paring back and saying NO.
I think what stops us from simplifying is fear. Fear of missing out. Fear that we may be impeding our children’s future success. Fear of what other’s may think.
It takes a leap of faith and a brave parent to trust that simplifying our children’s lives and giving them down time to play, connect with their families and create simple joy is what our kids really need. We need to protect them from society’s time thieves as they will only keep taking more and more from our kids.
I’m heartened by my experience yesterday. Because no matter what choices we make in life it feels better when we feel like we’re doing it as part of a community, even if it’s small or virtual. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Let’s find the courage to “miss out” together so that we can create white space in our children’s lives and give them the freedom to paint it with the vibrant colors they choose. I have no doubt they’ll create works of art beyond our wildest imaginations.
Photo credits: Evelyne Photography – www.evelynephotography.com
Evelyne is a professional photographer in The Netherlands. Based in The Hague, she specialises in shooting people and capturing personality. Though she works mostly in the The Hague area, Evelyne travels and shoots all over Holland. Boundaries do not exist between her portrait photography, corporate photography and commercial photography and she just launched her newest project ‘Kids by Eve’.