Reflections on Slow Childhood

I’ve been really touched this past week by the gentleness of God and the child-ness Barefoot Girl. At God’s quiet persistence, I’ve relaxed my hold on our daily schedule and over time created gentle rhythms: morning read aloud (that we’ve done since babyhood), followed by a science experiment, then a hands-on activity like making bread or harvesting herbs, finished by lunch and clean up together and sprinkled throughout with what Charlotte Mason would call “spreading the feast” and unschoolers would call “strewing.” Afternoons are given to music practice, her own projects that she has in mind for the day which usually involve an audiobook and creating something, and daily chores.

It’s been good.

This past week, though, has been confirmation. I’ve wasted so much time regretting my distracted state during early motherhood and feeling like I missed cherishing her childhood for so many years, and with the speed of today’s childhood I have operated under the mindset that she’s already transitioning into the “pushback” stage of adolescence; however, having the quietness and the space within my own spirit to listen to God and really see her has shown me otherwise. In following our gentle rhythms this week I was touched by the lingering child-joy that she still radiates when given the chance, such asthe bubble science experiment that led to a bubble blowing session in the spring sunshine and her delight in just playing and experiencing life with me. Another morning she felt led to put on a pretty dress (that ended up being one that my mom sewed for me when I was her age – and she enjoys it!) and dance to the Lord with some praise music, and I realized something.

I was blessed by that. It’s not often that I use that word, but there it is. God used it to remind me to be less of a Martha (Luke 10:38-42) and give time in the day to be free to praise or live as the spirit moves us; not only that, but I realized that in the beautiful God-order of things, families are meant to be reciprocally ministering to each other. I think I place the weight of “blessing” my family on my own shoulders, and forget to look at where they’re blessing me too. I know that I tend to operate in the rigidity of my own to-do list and schedule, and I’m learning flexibility.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Romans 12:2

My years of homeschooling a highly sensitive child (and living with an HSP husband!) has given me a different perspective on a lot of things, but one of them is definitely education. For the first several years I tried to “do school at home” and was frustrated and discouraged when that didn’t work. It wasn’t until embarrassingly recently that the Lord led me to understand that Romans 12:2 relates to everything in a Christian’s life, including how we educate. The “school at home” method still conforms to a fallible human’s idea of what a properly educated person looks like, but that’s not what I believe to be true.

What is true is that each person, each child, is made uniquely in the image of her Creator, and they’re each different from each other, so why do we try to “educate” them all the same? Some, mine included, are more sensitive to the world around them and feel deeply all the emotions of the people they’re around, are extremely sensitive to others’ approval or criticism, are hyper aware of the discomfort of the wind or the heat or the cold or their clothes, are fully alive to all the joys and sorrows (from the loss of a wild rodent to a family member – it’s all felt deeply), and yes, they actually do have a lower pain tolerance because they physically feel things more.

Some people might tell kids like these that they need to toughen up, but I’m not one of them (anymore), and here’s why:

God made them that way.

If God made them to be feel life that deeply, who are we to tell them they should experience life in a way different that the Creator of their souls intended for them to experience it? Society needs people that have an enhanced sensitivity to everything around them and experience the world in a way that many of us never will, with all senses wide open and a finger on the pulse of the world around them — aware of all the scents, sounds, colors, and feelings that they come in contact with. In truth, perhaps I also wonder what it’s like to be so fully alive to the world around me. I have reached the point that I do feel numbed and cynical to life, and I need my highly sensitive family members to keep me in touch.

This sensitivity means that they also need more “empty space” in their lives to download all of this stimulation, and a lack of this space results in severe anxiety and ultimately depression — just ask Mr. Buckeye.

And so I’ve come to realize that highly sensitive kids really do need a slower childhood. They need time in the day to dance, to blow bubbles, to play . . . and our conventional culture pushes them to be too busy, too stimulated All. The. Time. so that their nervous systems never have a chance to catch up and unwind. In truth, the busyness of schools and constant activities robs them of their childhood and creates a generation of kids with severe anxiety (don’t think so? a simple google search talks about the epically high anxiety rates among today’s youth).

I believe I can say this with Biblical truth backing me: To God, educating a child is educating her soul, NOT keeping up with distant stranger’s arbitrary and ever-changing standards. It’s dancing to His beat in her heart, nurturing her soul by baking bread with Mom or picking flowers together, and honoring the beautiful sensitive spirit He created her with by not overwhelming her with someone else’s standards. We celebrate our own growth – even the adults – and don’t stress to keep up with anyone else; I’ve learned that God’s timing and plans are not my own, and it’s better to go in tune with Him.

My experience has been that we are closest to God when we’re living within the realm and the gifts that He gave us — that we experience Him most when we’re dancing or writing or woodworking — and honoring Him as our Creator. The way we educate is part of that beauty of life.

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