I first heard a recommendation for the book Simplicity Parenting while browsing Instagram. If a mother enthusiastically suggests a book, I generally add it to my reading list. I know it must be worthwhile if she took the time to read it in the midst of the wonderful chaos that is caring for a family.
While reading Simplicity Parenting, I spent more time underlining passages than I did reading, which means it is so full of wisdom and good reminders that I had to share my favorite excerpts with you. Author Kim John Payne is an educator, a school counselor, a private family counselor, a researcher, and of course a parent. In his book Simplicity Parenting he shares poignant vignettes of families he has worked with to bring about a simpler, more meaningful lifestyle. All of the understanding he has gained is shared with readers in an easy and applicable format. I'd highly recommend that you read this beautifully written book for yourself, but in the mean time, here is an abridged version of sorts.
On Routines and Everyday Life
Meaning hides in repetition: We do this every day or every week because it matters. We are connected by this thing we do together. We matter to one another. In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the the splashy, blow-out trip to Disneyland but the common threads that run throughout and repeat: the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime (with a hot water bottle at our feet on winter evenings), Saturday morning pancakes.
Some people may feel that politeness, especially for young children, is a form of blind obedience, or enforced conformity. I take a different view. Politeness is one of the simplest ways to establish a base beat of predictability in the home. Points of politeness throughout the day are like the lights of a suspension bridge, securing and connecting…
Politeness practiced in the home is a very basic, simple way to give children deep feelings of safety. Even if your schedules are untamable, your thoughts and days as cluttered as can be, a form of predictability is established with politeness. In a rushed, often rude world, a line is drawn around your family when you speak to one another with respect. Count on it; your children will. They hear and feel it, like their own heartbeats. They often seem to forget, but not really. The rhythm is internalized: Notice how quickly they look up if you forget a please or thank-you.
Parents also suffer the effects of a chaotic, arrhythmic home life. When life is a series of improvisations and emergencies, each day different from the next, children don’t know if they’re coming or going. As parents at least you know. You know that you are coming and going at the same time, crazy busy, and no matter how adept you may be at “multi-tasking,” you feel stressed by it all. Beaten down, mentally and physically. Yes, rhythm makes children feel more secure. Absolutely. But a sense of rhythm makes adults calmer, too, and less plagued by parental craziness.
…The good news is that you can start small, gradually establishing little islands of consistency in your daily life. If your family life is a piece of music, what does it sound like now? Which points of the day can you begin to connect with others, so bits and phrases of a melody emerge? ...any repeated note of the day can be made more rhythmic.
What are your children’s “flashpoint” or difficult periods? For a lot of kids, transitions are the trickiest: getting out the door in the morning, coming to dinner. The flow of the day will be improved when more rhythm is brought to those points. However, start small. Choose basic activities that need to be made more consistent, and work up from there, slowly changing the composition of your days. Once you’ve established some routines and rhythms you can more easily tame the day’s stickiest wickets.
A rhythm’s value comes from the intentions behind it. As you consider increasing the rhythms in your family life, ask yourself: Would this make life easier, more balanced? Will this help with what we need to do? More importantly, will this contribute to the way we want to live?
In their consistency, rhythms establish trust. They offer children a sense of order…the joy of anticipation and the security of things to be counted on, ever day. Busyness, change, and improvisation will still have keys to your house, but they won’t entirely rule the day.
On Reasons to Simplify
As parents we define ourselves by what we bring our attention and presence to. This is easy to forget when daily life feels more like triage. By eliminating some of the clutter in our lives we can concentrate on what we really value, not just what we’re buried under, or deluged with. With simplification we can bring an infusion of inspiration to our daily lives; set a tone that honors our families’ needs before the world’s demands. Allow our hopes for our children to outweigh our fears. Re-align our lives with our dreams for our family, and our hopes for what childhood could and should be.
The process of simplification removes some of the major stressors of daily life, reducing swollen expectations and sensory irritants. It closes down the “Red alert” or triage approach to daily life, so parents can restore a more natural balance, one where the “everyday” has a place, and time expands. Where distractions don’t overwhelm connection, and the rituals we share are small promises made and kept, every day.
By simplifying you offer your child support, and a container for the issues and changes they are working through. You also offer them a model, one that may be a lifesaver as they get older. This is the lesson they will take with them: A small period of downtime is a form of care, a way of being cared for. It’s true, you may be the one doing the caring now, and insisting on limitations that they may resist, but you are also beginning a pattern that they can continue for themselves and will serve them throughout their lives.
Sadly anything can be commercialized and trivialized through overexposure and excess. By establishing a consistent level of “enough” (simplicity) rather than too much (overload), we leave room for our children — room for their imaginations and inspirations, room for them to build relationships with the things that they play with or read.
Balance is what we’re after in simplifying our family’s schedules. And once we cross our kids’ names off the “Race of Childhood” sign-up form, time opens right up. Time for rest and creativity to balance activity; time for contemplation and stimulation, moments of calm in busy days, energies conserved and expended; time for free, unscheduled play, for ordinary days, for interests that deepen over time; time for boredom; and time for the joy and infinite passion of anticipation.
On Boredom and Being OK with Ordinary
…As a society we parents have signed on to be our children’s lifelong “entertainment committees.” We’re unpaid performers, that’s for sure, but performers nonetheless. And we take it seriously. As such, we’re accustomed to seeing our children’s boredom as a personal failure. From their earliest days, we hung mobiles over their cribs and never stopped. A break in the festivities (or in the string of classes and playdates) and we are liable to jump up and dance. No wonder we’re exhausted.
Let your kids be bored. Let them be. Sometimes in my lectures I write up a “prescription” for parents: “Boredom. To be allowed three times a day, preferably before meals.”
“How was your day?” When your child answers “Regular,” or “Average.” do you feel a sense of disappointment? Even if your day, too, was quite ordinary? Ordinary days are the sustaining notes of daily life. They are the notes that allow high notes to be high and low notes to be low; they provide tone and texture. If a child’s happiness is not hinged on the high notes—not hinged on exceptional events or having exceptional talents—then they have a true gift. An exceptional character. They may be able to live their life with an appreciation for the moment, for the simple pleasures of an ordinary day. Can you imagine anything better?
Aren’t a good many of your days quite ordinary? It seems sacrilegious to admit it, especially when we’re forever encouraged, and encouraging others to “Have a great day!” Yet I’ve found that embracing the beauty of an ordinary day is very helpful in simplifying our children’s schedules.
There’s freedom in embracing the ordinary: freedom, and possibilities. Because in most things, the exceptional is not really what we want for them anyways. What we want for our children, truly, is engagement. We want their love of the cello [for example] to grow, to evolve and endure throughout their lives, whether or not they perform…whether or not they are ever exceptional cellists.
After all, the ordinary allows for the exceptional, but not the reverse. Given ordinary opportunities and encouragement, a truly exceptional talent will surface. But interests — even strong interests and abilities — often burn out when they’re pushed too hard, too fast, too young. The drive toward the exceptional leaves many loves and passions in its wake. Loving something for its own sake—not for its potential in fame, glory, or music scholarships—is far from ordinary. It’s an extraordinary blessing—a strength of character any parent would wish for their child.
On Verbal Clutter
When everything is a request, you have another form of verbal clutter: “Taylor, howya doing? Would you like to get in the car now? What do you think? Can you buckle up that seat belt? Will you shut the door? Sweetie, is that you throwing those toys up to the front? Would you please stop?” Directions can and should be direct. “Taylor, time to get in the car and buckle up. Shut that door, please.” “I can’t drive with distractions. We don’t throw anything while the car is in motion.” Requests may seems like “gentler” forms of communication, but with so many of them they’re very easy to ignore, and their uniformity make it hard for a child to know what’s really important. They invite response, but not really, so the overall effect is one of background noise. “So Ben, what do you think? Wanna get ready for bed now? Brush your teeth, buddy, okay?” “Bedtime, Ben. You know what to do.” By simplifying the requests you make of your child—asking fewer, but meaning those more—you can begin to “stand inside” each one.