Until very recently, my day tended to start a little bit like this: breakfast – a frantic affair with my toddler and pre-schooler, set to the soothing sounds of me chirping ‘Quick! Quick!’ anything between 7 and 27 times within a 15-minute window.
The toast that was requested might be rejected, thrown or dropped on the floor. I prepare breakfast – again – and the familiar sound of my blood pressure pounding in my ears only partially masks the cries of, ‘But I wanted the blue bowl!’
Frustrated with how long it takes my three-year-old to eat his cereal, I might even take over and spoon-feed him just to get the job done quicker. With one last anxious glance at the clock, I hustle both boys upstairs where faces are washed and little bodies are shoehorned into clothes, with more than a few derailments (‘Stop taking your clothes back off!’) along the way.
Busy is best … or is it?
By the time we’re all fed, washed, dressed and the front door closes behind us, the kitchen resembles a disaster zone, we’re horribly late and I’m vibrating with the sheer stress of it all.
I’ve always tried to keep our two young sons occupied. There’s a plan for the morning, such as a trip to the park or a playdate with a friend, followed by more plans after lunch. I like to keep them busy and tire them out, but the tradeoff to this is that I feel like I’m constantly rushing them along, shooing them into prams or cars and frantically looking for lost little shoes. I’m pressing fast forward on their life and I sometimes genuinely wonder if the toll of it all is shortening mine.
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However, during a recent rare moment of calm, I stumbled upon a hashtag on Instagram that piqued my interest – #zeroplansday. Not having any plans scheduled for our day would normally send me into a bit of tailspin so, naturally, I was intrigued.
After a little investigation, it turns out that #zeroplansday is closely aligned with slow parenting, a parenting style that includes very few organised activities, preferring instead to let children explore their surrounds at their own pace. Instead of cramming your schedule with back-to-back activities, the idea is that you let the day unfold naturally.
Where do I sign up?
I had nothing to lose, so I decided to give it a go. “Where are we going today?” asked my three-year-old, as he does every day, over the din of the breakfast chaos. “I don’t know,” I shrugged in reply. He was so startled by my answer, he forgot to tell me that he hated his toast.
With no plans in front of us, there was no reason for me to hurry anyone along. I had to force myself not to glance at the clock, say the ‘Q’ word or wrestle the spoon from anyone’s grip – but I soon managed to relax into it.
Instead of aiming to get out of the door as quickly as possible, getting ready became an activity in itself. My little boy showed me how he can dress himself (we’re always so short on time, I never give him the chance) while changing the baby involved infinitely more tickles and cuddles. What’s not to love about that?
Relish in the specialness of childhood
So what did we do for our #zeroplansday? We packed a picnic and went to the park, which turned into a slow walk by the river where we fed the ducks some of our sandwiches. Instead of rushing and shouting, we ambled, played and relished in the specialness of childhood. We went home, sat on the floor and read books and then decamped to the kitchen where we made an early dinner (full disclosure: this took a superhuman effort on my part not to just take over and do it myself!). We didn’t do anything, yet we somehow did everything.
I’ve always strived for ‘busy’ but I’ve since realised that ‘boring’ doesn’t have to be a dirty word. When we give our children the opportunity, their imaginations can flourish. While I’m not sure I’ll never be able to ditch the activities altogether, I’m definitely keen to adopt certain elements of the slow parenting movement and drop a few #zeroplansday into our week. The boys love it, I love it – and so does my blood pressure!