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Less is moreI’m not sure why she bothered to pull up a chair in the first place: The mother of my kids’ playdate didn’t sit much. Instead, she repeatedly jumped up and shouted over my deck’s railing at the boys playing in my backyard, micromanaging their every move, while I sat there feeling incredulous—and soon, guilty.

Nobody was fighting. Nobody was crying. Nobody was bleeding. Why couldn’t she just let them play? And why was she making me feel like a bad mother for keeping my mouth shut?

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was “slow parenting.” This growing movement is swinging the pendulum away from the hyper helicopter parenting of the past decade toward something simpler, a little retro, and a whole lot less scheduled. Slow parenting isn’t slacking off. It’s letting kids be kids. And it’s about time.

If the 00’s were the decade of flash cards and prepping your preschooler for Yale, then the 10’s are shaping up to reclaim childhood for a generation of kids who are often too busy and too closely supervised to truly enjoy it. Moms are putting the brakes on hovering and giving the thumbs-up to child’s play, thereby returning to the more hands-off approach to parenting of our mothers’ generation. The Great Recession is certainly playing a part in this shift: Many parents are questioning their return on investments in expensive music lessons, traveling sports teams, and other kids’ activities. The backyard looks plenty enriching when money’s tight.

But why back off if you care about your kids so much? Parenting has become “helicoptering gone berserk,” says Laurie Mulsman, a mom from Salem, Massachusetts. When she let her kids, Rachel, 6, and Joel, 2, play independently at the local playground one afternoon, another mom complained, “You should be close enough to your kids that you can touch them.” Yet Mulsman says, “If they never fall down, how do they learn to get back up?”

Indeed, parenting less can be poohpoohed in today’s ultra safety-conscious culture. But Carey Fitzmaurice of Bethesda, Maryland, didn’t want to be one of those mothers tugging at a toddler leash on the sidewalks of Washington, D.C. Instead, she taught her son Sam, then 3, to stop at crosswalks and to avoid running into people. So when Sam darted off one morning, making a beeline for the United States Secretary of Commerce and his bodyguards outside Starbucks, time seemed to stand still. Sam ran headlong at the Secretary—then swerved around him, perhaps averting a national security crisis. Just like his mom had taught him.

Fitzmaurice’s little moment of anxiety just proves that parenting less really can mean parenting more: Kids do learn what they need to, but on their own, with guidance (not meddling) from mom. Whether you make it a way of life or just slow down some parts of your day, you’re helping end the era of rushing kids through childhood. Maybe now we’ll all be able to sit down.

3 ways to back off

  1. Don’t micromanage your kid’s next playdate. Scary? Maybe. Survivable? Yes.
  2. Unschedule your family. Set aside a time when no one has to be anywhere but home together.
  3. Wait 15 minutes before you fix something, whether it’s a broken toy or a snack. Who knows? They may figure it out for themselves by then.
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