May 30, 2019
On a recent trip to Denmark, I was a bit shocked to see parents tooling around the city with their children plunked into box-type containers attached to the front of their bikes. (Fun fact, it’s estimated that a quarter of all Copenhagen families with two or more children own one of these cargo bikes for transporting kids, groceries, and other necessities. And there is even a special term for the moms who travel this way – bakfietsmoeder – a Danish equivalent of the US ‘soccer mom’.) Beyond the intriguing “Harriet the Spy” visual reference they conjured up for me, I was fascinated by the easy and convivial nature of this set up. The children were in an open seat, clearly in view of the parent. He/she could chat and even snack with them on their way to and from school, errands and home. No one was strapped in, harnessed, or secured. The parent was not offering the protective shell of their arched, Lycra-ed back, racing their progeny to the next event. Rather, it seemed to be a collective and moveable feast, with a relaxed and festive air. I watched moms sit with toddlers in outside cafes; bookless, iPad-less, without a toy or a prop. I saw dads hanging out on benches with their little ones, seemingly engaged in conversation only. After a few days of more family observations, I began to realize that these people were truly in no hurry with the work of parenting – rather, they parented at the pace of childhood. The Danes seem quite comfortable simply being with their children in a gentle and casual way. And I think, much like their cool, minimalistic design aesthetic that is in global high demand, these behaviors are portending the kinder, gentler way we will family in the future. The signs are certainly showing up at home. A few years ago, tremors from deep in Silicone Valley started to reveal a dramatic pull back on the mixing of tech and family. Articles like this one in the NY Times last year, showcased highly placed tech executives banning devices in their homes and even sending their kids to no-tech schools. Their fear? Technology was eating away at the very fabric of the connected family community they all dreamed about, and they feared losing their kids, and themselves, to the demands of their digital devices. When asked about phones and kids, one executive shared: “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.” As these pioneers wean themselves off the very devices they created, there is new time to fill. Now, the emphasis is on board games, heading outside, and simply ‘hanging out’. The pace is slower, the lifestyle is simpler. For all of us trained on the aggressive vertical ladder of achievement, it’s hard to not check boxes. Hitting the parenting buzzer at the appropriate milestone feels like an accomplishment. But is it? It seems like the latest child development research is bearing out the fruits of a more meandering candy land approach. An opinion piece in the NY Times “You Don’t Want a Child Prodigy”, spoke to the broad experiences Rodger Federer was raised with, allowing him to choose his game from a place of interest and passion, not burn out. Even MIT has published a report that points to simple back and forth conversation with little ones as the smartest way to ensure success. Quantity time, slow and steady, seems to win the race – if there even is one to win. Slow love seems to be catching on with younger Millennials and Gen Z today in the way they are choosing to relationship. Part by choice and part by circumstance, these younger people have delayed moving out, home ownership, marriage and forming families. Today, less than half of this cohort are married, and despite being in the sweet spot of child bearing years, less than half of millennial women have had a baby. This is not to say they don’t form relationships or that they don’t want children, but adult life no longer starts with marriage or parenthood. Sex, once the brass ring of adulthood, is readily available at the swipe of an app. A lifelong partnership, however, has subsequently developed a lot more meaning and significance. It’s now something to strive for after establishing a career and a home. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies romance and a consultant to the dating site Match.com, has come up with the phrase “fast sex, slow love” to describe the juxtaposition of casual sexual liaisons and long-simmering committed relationships. Young couples today are willing to take their relationships slowly so they can use their time to figure out who they are and what they want from each other and from life. To quote one young woman about her postponement of marriage “Since marriage is a partnership, I’d like to know who I am and what I’m able to offer financially and how stable I am, before I’m committed legally to someone.” “My mom says I’m removing all the romance from the equation, but I know there’s more to marriage than just love. If it’s just love I’m not sure it would work.” Marriage has become an achievement, not a rite of passage. I think we are starting to embrace slow. We want to savor the food that is grown locally. We want clothes that were made in a way that brings value and meaning to each piece. We look for cities with walk ways, and bike paths; communal gardens and farmer’s markets. We are looking to engage with the people that we love, broadly and in real time. Perhaps being ‘slow’ is the new ‘cocooning’ of the 80’s. Rather than going into hiding, we are choosing to tap the brakes and pause for a bit. We all need a rest. Slow love, something that takes its sweet time, and ripens when it’s ready, feels right, right now.