SFP 159: Slow Living with Kids: Painful or Delightful?

Slow living with kids…what does that look like? Frankly, the days can feel painfully slow. But sometimes they can be delightful. What gives? Today we are talking about shifting toward a slower lifestyle and what that looks like with family life. Finding a balance between structured and unstructured family time can help us find more happiness in parenthood.

Show Notes/Links:

Hi, there it's episode 159. And today we're talking about slow living. The difference between painfully slow and delightfully slow.

You are listening to the Simple Families podcast, the Q and A style show that brings you solutions for living well with family. Here's your host Denae Barahona.

Hi Denaye here it's episode 159. And I appreciate you tuning in for the Simple Families podcast. In today's episode, we're going to talk about slow living and sometimes slow living can seem completely incompatible with raising young kids. Sometimes the days can feel painfully long and painfully slow. Most of you know that I'm a huge fan of boredom and boredom is something that is very much present when you're living slower with kids. Yet in many ways, boredom can be painful for grownups, both for ourselves. We really don't like to let ourselves get bored. The moment we have a second of downtime or reaching for our phones or something to entertain us, but we also don't like to let our kids get bored because they whine and they complain. And often we can perceive them as being unhappy and nobody wants their kids to be unhappy. So today we're talking about slow living.

Sometimes it can feel painful and sometimes it can feel delightful. And why is it that there's such a dichotomy between the two before we jump into today's episode, here's a quick word from our sponsor. The sponsor for today's episode is Prep Dish, and you all know that I love my prep dish. Now, if you're not familiar with Prep Dish, it's a meal planning service, and each week they send you a menu of meals to cook. They have a paleo option, a gluten-free option, and now a keto option. Now you might be thinking what I was thinking, which is why am I going to pay for someone to send me recipes when I can get a million free recipes on Pinterest? Let me tell you, not only does it eliminate decision fatigue, but it's so much more than just a few recipes each week, you do get a list of recipes, but these come in three parts.

So there's an Ingredient List for shopping. There's a Prep Day List for all the work that you need to do on one day in advance of the week, and then a Meal Day List, which tells you how to do the last minute preparations for all the meals. If your kids have any bit of a witching hour in the evenings, or if evenings are just generally a hard time, because you're tired and they're tired and executing a meal, just sounds impossible. Prep Dish is an awesome solution. I encourage you to give it a try, go to prepdish.com/families. Again, that's prepdish.com/families. And you'll get two weeks free before we jump into our topic for today. I want to bring you a quick listener spotlight. And if you're new to the podcast, listener spotlight is where I bring you some words from an audience member or from a listener.

This message came from Jill and what Jill had to was particularly impactful. And I think really is something that you all need to hear as well. Jill is a part of the masterclass that is currently underway and the next one's going to be launching in September. So keep an eye out for that if you're interested. So here's what Jill wrote to me. She said, what stands out to me most in a great way is your ability to be honest about your own habits, allowing yourself some grace while learning to become a parent and always clarifying what works for you might not work for everyone. And what works is always changing. Thankfully you and I seem to share many traits. So I'm finding a lot of aha moments, but if you share things that don't work for me, I no longer feel like I just wasn't doing it right.

I have a better understanding of what's going to work for me and my family. Thank you so much for these words, Jill, and this really struck me because you bring up this idea that the things that I talk about here on this podcast may or may not work for you. And I always want to emphasize that, that there is not just one way to parent there. Isn't just one way to do life. Just because I introduce you to something that I'm doing that is working for me in my life doesn't mean that it's going to work for you and yours. So I always invite you to take what works for you and leave what doesn't. And this is a message that I continue to drive home in my book, simple, happy parenting, which is coming out in less than two weeks. Now, I want you all to fully understand that this is my story.

This is how our family found simplicity. And of course it's packed full of tips and tools and strategies, but life is dynamic and it's always changing. Thank God, because how boring would it be if it wasn't? And this becomes especially apparent when we have young kids who are growing and changing, what seems every minute. So for our kids are growing and changing every minute. And you know, everybody and their mother tells you that you blink and they've grown up and it goes so fast. Then why is it that sometimes the days can feel so painfully

Slow. It feels like this impossible balance to strike. We want to slow down our lives because we don't want our kids to grow up so fast. We want to soak up and absorb every moment, but then sometimes it can feel painfully slow and painfully boring. But then we are surrounded by these whimsical images of childhood, where kids are just rumbling through the meadow, laughing and playing with imaginary fairies, or maybe that's just the social media profiles that I'm following. But when we think about childhood, there seemed to be two extremes. The one where we are pulling our hair out a 24 hour day seems like a 2,400 hour day versus this idea of slow living, which in many ways seems aspirational. And I don't know why I have this image ingrained in my head of children, frolicking through the forest or frolicking through a meadow, definitely full of wild flowers, possibly wearing a flower crown, definitely barefoot wandering aimlessly for hours.

I think you all can kind of imagine the images that I'm conjuring up here and maybe slow living looks like that for some families, but it doesn't look like that for us, for our family. It means that we don't have a lot on our schedule. We definitely do things and we get out, but we try to avoid a lot of activities that we have to preplan and schedule and buy tickets for and coordinate because the truth is all that stuff takes a lot of time and effort. And I have no idea if when the day comes, if we're even going to be in the mood to do whatever it is that we planned and scheduled and coordinated. When we put our kids into a lot of activities, we're putting a lot of expectations on them, whether or not they're ready, let's take the four year old that you signed up for soccer.

If your four year old is registered for soccer, which he or she may have expressed interest in, and then they get out there and they decided all they want to do is pick dandelions. Most parents are going to be a little disappointed when they paid to send their kid to soccer and they put the time in to get them dressed, to get them to the soccer field. And then the kid just stands around picking dandy. Lance, some structured activities are perfectly fine, but we also have to understand that our kids' moods, their need for relaxation and downtime are going to shift depending on the day, depending on the hour when we structure and we schedule our family for a lot of activities, it means a lot of transitions. A lot of get your shoes on, get your jacket on, get in the car, get out of the car, get back in the car, get out of the car.

And I don't know about you, but getting kids in and out of car seats is exhausting. And if it's taking a physical toll on us as adults, it's definitely taking a toll on the wellbeing of our kids too. So slow living in some ways is the antithesis of a highly scheduled, highly structured life with family, slow living built in time for rest relaxation, flexibility, creativity. It allows us to stop and savor the moments and to delight in the moments rather than counting down the moments until they go to bed. I use the word delight intentionally because there is a stark contrast between delighting in the time that we spend with our kids and dreading the time that we spend with our kids. I think it has an impact on them. And I think it has an impact on their self-esteem and their wellbeing to know that their parent enjoys this time that they spend together.

At the end of the day, I want my kids to know that they are desirable and they are enjoyable. And if you're spending more time dreading than delighting, that's okay, you're human. You might just need to readjust your bar. We go into parenting with preconceived notions about what our kids should be doing, what we should be doing. And sometimes we have to let that go. We can find happiness and letting go of the expectations and embracing what is, we'll talk more about this. Let's start by talking about painfully slow and what those days look like, because I know those days very well. So for the first four years of Parenthood, I was mostly a stay-at-home mom working from home during nap times, there was about 10 months, one school year where both of my kids were in Montessori school for three hours in the morning, but I spent one of those hours driving them back and forth.

Other than that, it was all me all the time and the years where it was all me all the time, the days felt long and they felt slow. So let's say you were taking my advice for Beetham. And I said, don't, over-schedule your kids. Let them have more free on structured time. So you cancel their after-school activities. And now every day from three, until they go to bed at seven, they are completely unstructured. Now, first of all, don't ever follow my advice for Beetham what works for me. Doesn't work for everybody to remember, but let's just pretend for this instance that you did. So now you have kids who are unoccupied for three or four hours every afternoon, and you haven't put them into structured activities and they're bored and they're getting under your skin and they're driving you crazy. We know that boredom is a transitional phase.

And once our kids figure out how to work through boredom, that there is a lot of beauty on the other side of it, there's a lot of creativity and innovation to come. Once they learn how to power through boredom, this comes easier for some kids than others. Some kids are better able to occupy and entertain themselves. And some kids seem to need more external entertainment. They need more friends around, they need more people to talk to. So if you're going to be enjoying unscheduled, unstructured time with your kids, if you're going to be trying to seek delightfully slow, rather than painfully slow, there are three things that I think are going to help with us. And those three things are the physical environment, your mindset and energy management. So first let's talk about the physical environment. I find. I enjoy spending slow unstructured time in spaces that are beautiful in spaces that are clean.

So if I'm sitting around my house and it's cluttered and a total disaster, I'm probably not going to feel relaxed. I'm going to feel stressed out, feeling like I should be doing something else rather than just sitting around quote, unquote, being present with my kids. So if you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that we spend a lot of time in our garden. And to me, our garden is a really beautiful and calm, quiet place. Life almost always feels slow when we're there. It helps that there's a gate on it. So my three-year-old can't run off, but I digress. We're outside. We're together. We're breathing fresh air and we're in an environment that brings us joy and really lights us up. Now being in our garden, doesn't always feel delightfully slow. If it's 95 degrees outside, or if it's pouring down rain or if it's freezing, or if in some other way, I'm physically uncomfortable.

Then that time spent there feels painfully slow, not delightfully, slow, physical comfort and wellbeing plays a role in how we experience the time that we're spending with our families. That's why I'm such a huge advocate for simplifying our homes and creating beautiful spaces that we really love spending time, a home in a place that you don't feel like you're trying to escape from constantly. So let's talk about the harsh reality that is sometimes spending time with young kids can feel painfully boring, particularly for adults who are being asked to engage in, pretend, play, pretend, play doesn't come easy for us as adults, our brains, no longer work in that capacity. We more or less lose our ability to disappear in a fantasy land. When we're about eight, nine or 10 years old. After that point, it doesn't feel very authentic to us and it can start to feel kind of uncomfortable and like something we don't really want to be doing.

So if you feel bored as anything, when you're with your kids, don't feel guilty about that. You're definitely not alone finding a few delightfully slow moments every weekend, maybe for you. It means finding a beautiful park, spreading out a blanket and bringing a ball to kick around. It doesn't have to happen for hours and hours. It can just be for 20 minutes or 30 minutes. It doesn't have to be elaborate. And it certainly doesn't have to be whimsical. I remember when my oldest was three and my youngest was just turning one. I had a friend that invited us on a beautiful day to go fly a kite. And in Texas, you don't really get that many beautiful, cool breezy days. So flying a kite sounded in theory, like it would be this nice, slow, lovely activity to take our kids to do, right? No, no, definitely not.

Actually, to me taking a three-year-old and a one-year-old to go fly a kite sounds like a nightmare. My one-year-old who was a very proficient Walker by that point would have been running in a completely different direction or possibly getting herself tangled up completely in the kite string. Can you just imagine the logistics of trying to run and get the kite started and getting it flying so that the three-year-old can hold the kite while simultaneously trying to prevent a one-year-old from running off and going into the street, call me a Debbie downer, if you will, but flying a kite with a three-year-old and a one-year-old. Nope. Not doing it, just not doing it. So I smiled and said thanks, but no, thanks. Sometimes these things sound more fun in theory, than they are in practice. Now, if I had had an extra set of hands, if my husband had been there, perhaps, and there was one of us to keep the one-year-old and one of us to help the three-year-old with a kite that might've been fun, but I am really careful to know my limits.

And I'm careful to keep my Barlow and taking my three-year-old and a one-year-old to go fly. A kite was definitely outside of my bandwidth at that point in time. And I have no problem admitting that this came up recently, we were on vacation and my husband was going to take the two kids to a water park by himself. And that sounds fun. Right? Go to the water park with dad. It does sound fun, but the reality is one of our kids loves waterslides and the other one hates water sites. So what do you do with the one who hates watersides when the one who loves watersides needs you to take them down, the Waterside things that sound super fun in theory, can in practice be kind of a logistical nightmare. And I think sometimes we can get wrapped up in this idea of, Oh, that sounds so fun.

And then not realize that maybe in practice, it's not really that fun and I'm sure you can all come up with examples of that. So as always, I think we need to have low expectations. We need to keep the bar low. You're always allowed to change your mind, and you're always allowed to jump ship. If you get yourself into a situation like flying a kite with a one-year-old and a three-year-old delightfully slow days with our kids might look a whole lot different than we expect them to look, try to drop your preconceived notions about what this might look like. I know that I started enjoying slow time with my kids a lot more. Once I felt rested and I felt that mentally I was in a better place when I'm going through periods of stress and overwhelm. And my brain is so busy and occupied.

I have a really hard time slowing it down. So whenever I spend time with my kids, my body might be stopped or moving slowly, but my brain is still firing away. And in those times I find it the most difficult to delight in the slow. And instead I feel like, Oh my gosh, is the stay over yet? Are they going to bed yet? So our mindset around enjoying unscheduled, unstructured time with our kids can very much be impacted by our own wellbeing. If our cup is full and we have been taking good care of ourselves, we're going to be able to decompress. We're going to be able to be present. We're going to delight in the slow time, far more than if we're stressed out and overwhelmed. So finding an environment that you find to be relaxing and you find to be enjoyable is a very important part in delighting in the slow one structured time with your family, but also changing your mindset and understand that, doing all the things and going to all the birthday parties, joining all the sports leagues and the dance classes, all that can sound really fun, but it can be really exhausting.

It can create a lot of stress and it can take away more than it gives. And that's what we have to pay attention to. So the last part in successfully managing a less structured and slower day with your kids is to manage the energy. This is especially true if you have more than one kid, but it also is something to keep in mind with just one child. Now, when I say manage the energy first and foremost, understanding that your kids have a need for movement. If you're expecting them to sit down on a blanket and have a proper picnic with you for 30 minutes, they're going to be squirming. They're going to be singing. They're going to be shouting. They're going to be rolling around it is not going to look like you're expecting it to look. If you have more than one kid, they're going to be at each other's throats.

They're going to be arguing. They're going to be bickering about one thing or another. Somebody is probably going to be complaining about being bored. All of these are realities. When you're moving towards a slower, less structured day, it doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. It just means you all are normal humans. It also doesn't mean that you can't have an enjoyable time. It might just mean things. Look a little bit different than you expected them to look. So for having a slower day with our kids, we have to understand that a they need to move and B they need to cycle back and forth between expansion and contraction. Expansion is free play. They're running, they're doing their own thing. They're playing on the playground. They have space to move. They have room to roam. Contraction is when you're engaged in a small activity in close quarters, maybe you're doing a puzzle as a family, or you're sitting in eating together.

Kids need to cycle back and forth between expansion and contraction all day long. So to successfully have a slow day. You need to recognize when they need to expand and when they need to contract. Here's an example of how I would use this on a typical Saturday. So if we have a Saturday with nothing planned, which is most of the time for us on the weekends, we don't plan very much at all. We'll wake up. My kids get up early and my son gets up at six. My daughter gets up about seven 30 and we'll read a couple books. We will play with some blocks or some of our other toys, which tend to be open-ended. These are contracted activities. So they're happening in closed spaces. We're working collaboratively inevitably after too much contracting time, my kids start to pick at each other. They start to bicker.

That's my signal that they need to expand, put on their shoes. They go outside and ride their scooters. They run around in the yard, or my son joins me in the kitchen to cook some breakfast. And my daughter plays in the playroom by herself. Nobody's in trouble. Nobody's shamed for not getting along with one another. Instead, they're just redirected towards expansion or contraction. And as a parent, I find it so empowering to recognize when my kids need one or the other. It changes my perspective from being punitive and thinking of my kids as misbehaving and thinking of it more as a shift in their energy and a shift in what they need. So the best thing I can do to support that is to help provide that venue and to help provide that space when necessary. So on weekends, when we don't really have structured or pre-planned activities, we just cycle back and forth between expansion and contraction all day long.

So we might be playing with some toys and we go outside and ride some scooters. We come back in and we prepare lunch. And then we go for a drive, go to our local rec center. We dropped the kids off to play in the childcare while my husband and I exercise, we pick them up and then we go to lunch. After lunch become home, my kids get a little bit of TV time, post TV. We try to do something active, get out of the house if possible. And then we come together for dinner and then bath and bed. It's just sort of a sample of what a day might look like for us on a Saturday. And if you go back and think about those things, what we're doing is we're cycling back and forth between small activities in close quarters together and activities we're expanding and we're separating and we're giving each other space and then we're coming back together.

And then we're giving each other space. This need for expansion and contraction, I think is a general human need in all relationships. But when it comes to kids, I think they still need us to help them with some prompting and redirecting. They aren't quite yet adept at recognizing when they need to expand or contract. So sometimes they need our help. So back to the picnic example, if you spend a lot of time packing up a nice lunch, going to a park, spreading out a blanket, planning this beautiful picnic for your kids. And nobody wants to sit on the blanket. All they want to do is roll around and run around, let them roll around and run around. That's them showing you that they have a need to move the picnic may or may not go down like you were hoping it to go down and that's totally okay.

It doesn't mean it's a failure instead. It means you are capitalizing on one of the benefits of slow living, which is the ability to be flexible when it comes to spending time with our kids. If we can lower our expectations and go with the flow and be flexible, we're going to find more happiness and more relaxation. And most importantly, we're going to find that we can delight in the time that we're spending with our children rather than dread it. So the three key points in managing a slower, less structured day with kids. First try spending time in environments that you enjoy and environments that make you feel good. This might be certain rooms in your house. It might be outside. It might be at a park, whatever it is, identifying those, and then work towards shifting your mindset. This slow time with your kids is not going to look picture perfect.

And that's okay. You'll come to find that these less structured days are far from perfect and far from a delic, but what they are is slower and less stressful. And lastly, manage the energy by tuning in and paying attention to what our kids need. We can help to make the day more enjoyable for everyone. I hope that you found this helpful. I want to remind you that simple, happy parenting comes out in less than two weeks. And I would absolutely love for you to pre-order pre-orders are incredibly important for the success of a book and I'm actually offering a pre-order incentive right now. If you pre-ordered the book before it comes out on June 4th, you'll get two free group coaching sessions this summer. If you go to simple families.com/book, you'll get the link to order the book and the link to claim your pre-order incentives. And if you've already pre-ordered, you can go to that link as well. simplefamilies.com/book/ and claim your incentives there. If you want to chat more about slow living, you can leave questions and comments simplefamilies.com/episode159. If you're on Instagram, take a screenshot and tag me and tell me what you're loving. Thanks so much for tuning in and take a moment to leave a rating or review for this podcast. I appreciate your support and have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.