Slow Family LivingSeveral years ago we hung an Appreciation Banner in our house. It is a piece of burlap with a pocket sewn on for each person and a pocket for paper and pens and a pocket for all the world. The idea is not my own completely – I co-created it with a dear friend and co-author of my previous book.

It is the simplest of tools and of designs and yet the effect this banner has on our family is nothing less than profound.

Too often as parents and as partners we see what’s not working…pick up your clothes, make your bed, put your backpack away, do your homework, you left the sponge in the sink, don’t talk to me that way, and on and on it can go.

This banner fosters the opposite.

Every now and then we call it into action. We invite everyone to stuff the pockets with written appreciations both big and little. This changes the way we see things. It makes me as a mom and a partner look for the things that are working and the things that are good and happy and fun and celebratory.

It could be something as simple as appreciating that a child got up for school so cheerfully or took out the trash the first time they were asked. It could be an appreciation for an apology or a smile when you needed it most. It could be for someone else or even for yourself. It could be for anything in the world.

When the pockets are stuffed full, we make an announcement that we will read them aloud. There is usually one last mad dash to stuff the pockets a little more. The last minute flurry is always exciting!

I am continuously amazed that this appreciation muscle gets stronger the more I use it. And the kids feel this way too, that the more you appreciate, the more there seems to be to appreciate.

Then at dinner each person is handed the stack from their pocket. We go around the table and read them aloud and it feels so good. And it makes us want to do it again and again. Because whether you are reading the things that people appreciate about you or hearing people read the things that you appreciate about them, it just feels like pure joy. And who couldn’t use a little more of that in their home?

Try it. I think you’ll like it.

Slow Family LivingI’m spending time with my mom this week, as she turns 88 years old. She has lived a good life, raised us nine children and says she’d do it all over again if given the chance. She truly loves this life of hers, and her role as mom to all of us.

Every summer we gather at her home and hang out together for weeks, sometimes making a friendly competition about who can stay the longest. Her grandchildren too, many of them now grown, come back to the well that is the home my mom created.

I hear people say to her, “Oh! You’re so lucky!” But really, I think it was all less about luck, and more about intention. Her putting in place the traditions she wanted and speaking the language of family connection while we were little and as we grew.

My mom was the queen of ritual and made lots of things special and fun even in their simplicity. Our birthdays, holidays, and even the day-to-day were celebrated simply but powerfully, imbued with special meaning for us as a family.

As adults now that is what we remember. The special breakfast on Christmas and Easter that was Cheerios and ice cream and strawberries. The birthday presents on the table when we woke up. The foil-wrapped Cracker Jacks on the back porch on Three Kings Day. The Christmas stockings on St. Nicholas Day. There was nothing elaborate in any of it. And yet it was all incredibly celebratory and made us feel connected to each other and to this unique entity that was our family.

To me this is the basis of Slow Family Living: the idea that as parents we can put traditions in place that are simple and easy and celebratory of the fact that we are a family. With our own fun and ideas and rules and ways to create connection in the day to day and in the holidays.

My goal in writing Slow Family Living is to give families ideas and inspiration to create connection in whatever way works for them. Be it driving home from soccer practice or school, or celebrating the major holidays and other special days. How do you do it? How do you celebrate the fact that you are a unique and amazing family, connected now and connected for a lifetime together?

Slow Family LivingSometimes when people hear the title of my book, Slow Family Living, they get a little nervous, as if I’ve suggested something so far from their current existence that they couldn’t possibly get there. “Oh! We’re not even close to slow!” They apologize to me as if I am the queen of slow, lazing about with my  family, feeding each other grapes and singing campfire songs (which we do sometimes—the campfire songs, not the grapes).  But really, what I hope families will take away from the book is not more pressure to meet a goal someone else has set for them, but the understanding that slow living is about pausing just long enough to figure out what they truly want. Now, while their children are home and little. And down the road, when their children are grown and having children of their own.

Carrie Contey and I started Slow Family Living, the website and online community, not to add more stress to an already pressure-filled world, but to help families find ways to create more connection in their day-to-day lives. And more joy! Because we realized that what families really needed was the space to tune into their own needs and wants. In order to really see each other and fully connect.

Whether we are stay-at-home parents or single parents or parents of one or ten, in order to create deeper connection, we all can pause, take a breath, and find simple ways to connect as human beings and as a family.

Slow Family Living is not formulaic. What works for us when our kids are little might need to shift when our kids get a little older. And what works one week might need to shift the next week. And in each house, it can look completely different, too. All that matters is that it works for your family. It’s like a muscle, that needs to be developed, so that it can keep you connected for a whole lifetime as a family.

In our house the question we ask on a very regular basis is, “Is what we’re doing right now really working for us?” Do we need to stay in? Or go out? Do less? Or do more? Invite friends? Or go alone? Try something new? Or return to a favorite family tradition?

Once you get the hang of it, slow living is actually much easier than trying to keep up with the impossible pace of modern life. After all, enjoying time together is what family is all about. Now while everyone’s under one roof, and down the road when our children are grown and gone.