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A Move Toward Slower Living – Part II – An Interview with Carl Honoré

Slow is on my mind, as you’ll see from my last post.

I am writing the foreword to Christine Louise Hohlbaum’s new book, The Power of Slow, due out in November. And as part of my recent Boston Globe column on slow living, I talked to the wiseman of slow: Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slowness and more recently, Under Pressure, a book on the costs of hyper-parenting. Honoré writes about a complex, emotional subject with great clarity and vision; I especially like the way he dips back into history for perspective on our own trying times. He walks a fine line well – calling for change without waxing nostalgic. Honoré spoke from his home in London. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Q – How is the economic climate changing the climate for parenting?

   A – The economic crunch changes the landscape in lots of different ways. In recent years, we wound ourselves up in a kind of hysteria over children. Parenting had become a cross between a competition sport and a consumerist production. … Every human relationship became a transaction. One of the consequences was that we created a culture of almost stultifying perfection. Perfect teeth, perfect vacations, and you want a perfect child to round out the moment. …

    Now we’ve had this economic wake up call. … We’re at one of those rare times when the things that were untouchable and unquestionable are now up for grabs. One of the things that’s on the table is the culture of hyper-parenting. …  More and more people have realized that we’ve lost our bearings when it comes to children. Rising obesity, serious sports injuries at young ages, substance abuse, depression. Millions of kids get up to take a pill just to get through the day. If a society has to medicate children just to survive their childhood, I don’t think it’s the children’s fault.

      Q – Surely, this change isn’t easy. It’s not easy to cut back on busyness, to question what we believe in.

      A – There is a lot of pain out there. It can make people less willing to try to new things. [But] I feel optimistic. [Slow parenting] involves less money and less energy, less running around. It’s a simplification of things. … Now is a time to retrench and reset our family metronome.

   Q – Is there a downside to slow parenting?  

   A – When people talk about anything slow, slow food or whatever, what they mean is not doing everything at a snail’s pace. What ‘slow ‘means is doing everything at the right speed. There are times to be busy, rushing around, and there are times to change gears. If you can get close to your family’s natural tempo, what works best for you as a family, if a family can get to that rhythm – an enriching array of activities, but time and space for boredom, doing nothing – I find it hard to see disadvantages. Finding that correct tempo is not an easy thing to do. My family is sometime a bit too busy. What we’re talking bout here is relinquishing this addiction to perfection. That contributes to making the drumbeat of modern parenting one of anxiety.

     Q – Is this truly a lasting correction, or just a short-term backlash?

     A – The jury is still out. … But the pieces are there for it to be a real change. I could be wrong. I’m not an oracle.

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  1. May 15, 20097:04 am