Simplicity Parenting: Then and Now
The book, Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, is a great resource. It has influenced my parenting choices over the years. A main idea of the book is to question whether we are building our families on the four pillars of “too much”: too much stuff, too many choices, too much information, and too fast.
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I wrote an article for the Simplicity Parenting website in 2010, about how I applied the principles of the book within my home. Five years later, with a new perspective, and older kids, I thought I’d revisit the article and give some updates.
Too much stuff:
Then- Birthday parties used to be the biggest source of stuff for us. For birthdays, the past few years, I’ve offered my kids the option of taking one special friend on a get away, or having a party with several friends at home. They usually choose the get away. One year, when my son did have a birthday party with several friends, we did a book exchange in lieu of gifts. Another year, I threw a “Valentine’s Day party” for my daughter and her friends, instead of a birthday party. That way, she could celebrate with her friends, but the focus wasn’t on gifts.
I need to trust my kids more. They are bright, creative, imaginative kids. They do not need all the toys that I thought they needed to keep them entertained. Given the space, time, and yes, even the gift of boredom; they will eventually come up with far more inventive games, of their own making, than what toys, designed to be played with in only one way, will allow.
Now- I’ve relaxed quite a bit on this principle, but then again, at 11 and 16, toys don’t factor in much anymore. We’ve only got a few toys around, mostly kept on hand for little kids who visit. As far as other stuff goes, like books, clothes, and sports equipment, I can’t say if it’s personal taste, the influence of their upbringing, or the fact that we live in a small house and there’s simply no room- but neither of them seem interested in collecting a lot of stuff. And birthday parties? Mostly, they're still simple, but we went all out for my daughter’s 16th- and it was wonderful. That party was the exception, not the rule, so it was appreciated.
Too many choices:
Then- Mealtime is one example. My kids can reliably expect that we will eat dinner together each night, as a family, around the table, and that they are expected to at least sit with us, even if they don’t want to eat. If they don’t like what’s offered, the most I’m going to do, to go out of my way to accommodate them, is to make a PB&J sandwich. The choices about the what, when, and where of mealtime have been all but been eliminated, simplifying life for all of us and eliminating stress.
Yet, I need to be better about setting up appropriate choices for my kids. An example, last week I took my six year old to Target to pick out a birthday present for his cousin. He wandered around the toy aisles, unable to make a decision, and got a bad case of the, I wants for himself. Nothing I suggested met his approval and we both became increasingly frustrated. Clearly, he had too many choices. I could have set us both up for better success had we narrowed down the choices ahead of time, to a manageable set of choices for him. For instance, instead of saying, “Let’s pick out a toy”. I could have said, “Let’s pick out a water toy for the back yard”. We could have gone to one aisle only, and left quickly.
Now-Mealtime certainly has changed! We held out as long as we could on family mealtime, and I’m thankful we did. The reality now, with sports and dance, dinner is often on the go. But the basic principle of limiting choices was a good one, and I’m seeing the benefits today. Again, it’s hard to say if it’s a factor of maturity or upbringing, but the benefit I see is that my kids are (mostly) grateful when I go out of my way to offer choices and be accommodating- yet they don’t expect it.
Too Much Information:
Then- Limiting screen time has contributed to a more positive environment for our whole family. We did this gradually. First we stopped watching the news in front of the kids. Currently, we don’t have a television. The kids use Netflix, on the computer, to watch movies. They don’t have to watch commercials this way either, a big plus. My husband and I watch the things we like on Netflix after the kids have gone to bed.
I want to avoid adult conversations, such as talk about finances, problems from the news, or negative issues with other people, when around the kids. I try to adhere to this rule, but I still slip more often than I care to. As Kim John Payne says, “Children need to know that they have a place in a good world, and a future of promise.” I also like his three part filter for conversation- Is it true? Kind? Necessary? ( for more on this topic, click here.)
Now- we caved and got a television. We like to host people in our home, and there’s some things- like watching football games, playing x-box, and kid’s sleepovers that made us change our minds on that one. Things have changed, but the kids are older now. Both kids would still tell you that I’m too strict about what they watch, but it’s nothing like when they were younger. I’m happy they had their early years protected from too much information.
Then- Kids will let us know when life is too busy and too stressful, although it’s not usually with words. Stomach problems, whining, insomnia, stalling…these are some of the ways my kids communicate to me that we need to slow down.
In order for me to slow down, I had to quit comparing myself to other people. I would finally get my activities whittled down to a comfortable level for my family, and then I would look around at other people in my life, see how much more they were doing, feel lazy, and involve myself in things out of guilt. I did this with the kids and their activities as well.
Now- we are still a work in progress in this area. Life is faster than ever with an 11 and a 16 year old. We need to periodically re-evaluate our schedules and remain vigilant against committing to too much. Yet I’ve also relaxed on this principle, as well. I accept the idea that some seasons in life are busier than others, and we’ll be okay, as long as there are also slower seasons to balance those out.
Looking back, it appears that I’ve relaxed in most areas of parenting. The hard work in the younger years, equals benefits reaped in the older years. I’m not saying it’s all easy right now. It's not. I’m still in the middle of the pre-teen/teen years with my kids, so I’ll leave the advice giving, for those years, to people who are on the other side. But I hope this update serves to encourage those of you with younger kids. Simplicity parenting goes against the grain of mainstream culture. It takes some effort and intentionality, but it's worth it. I'm more sure of that now, than ever.