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Simple Parenting – Two Quick Book Reviews

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Okay, I’ll admit it – if there’s one thing I thought I’d do when I became a parent it was to become a voracious reader on the subject and to my surprise the only thing I picked up during pregnancy was the “What to Expect” book.  That was it.  I could drone on on the whys – a combination of reading too much made my the anxiety part of the my ante-partum depression worse and a post-pregnancy decision to trust my instincts. 

However, about 6 months later, I was ready to do a little more reading.  I didn’t go for the “how make a genius” books, or anything on how to make them better, faster or better.  I wanted something that could help lead me, as a parent, to help form their lives to the best I could.  With this in mind I turned towards the one of the pinnacle principles of my life – voluntary simplicity.  VS, for those not in the know, is simple the conscious decision to make do with less – what this implies personally varies from person to person.  For some it’s just turning off the television a couple of nights a week, while for other it means chucking the T.V. and just about everything else to the curb.

I already felt like I had a pretty good grasp on how our lives would reflect these ideals in our parenthood.  Ben and I had already talked extensively about toys, clothes, activities, etc.; but I wanted to find something that reinforced my crazy idea that I might not permanently damage the child by not giving them everything and letting them do everything as well.

Two wonderful sources I found were “Living Simply with Children.” by Marie Sherlock and “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross.  I’ll let the officials give the low down on the books.

“Living Simply with Children” -“Raising children ranks as one of life’s most rewarding adventures. Yet between Mom and Dad working full-time jobs, endless carpooling of overscheduled youngsters, and the never-ending pressures to buy and consume, family life can be incredibly—needlessly—complex. What if you could find a way to spend more time with your children, replace unnecessary activities with meaningful ones, and teach your children an invaluable life lesson in the process? Living Simply with Children offers a realistic blueprint for zeroing in on the pleasures of family life:

• How (and why) to live simply and find more time to be with your children
• Activities and rituals that bring out the best in every family member
• Realistic ways to reclaim your children from corporate America
• Helping children of any age deal with peer pressure
• Raising kids who care about people and the planet
• How to focus on the “good stuff” . . . with less stuff

Including sections on limiting television, environmentally friendly practices, celebrating the holidays, and tapping into the growing community of families who embrace simplicity, this inspiring guide will show you how to raise children according to your own values—and not those of the consumer culture—as you enjoy both quality and quantity time with your family.””

“Simplicity Parenting” – “Waldorf educator and consultant Payne teams up with writer Ross to present an antidote for children who are overscheduled and overwhelmed by too much information and a fast-paced consumer culture that threatens the pace and playful essence of childhood. Payne claims that a protective filter should surround childhood, rather than the competitive, stressful adult world that has encroached on childhood’s boundaries, preventing kids from developing resiliency with a sense of ease and well-being. But Payne is not a doomsayer: he presents a wealth of practical ideas for reclaiming childhood and establishing family harmony. In chapters covering four levels of simplification—environment, rhythm, schedules and Filtering Out the Adult World—Payne explains how parents can tackle extraneous stuff and stimulation by reducing the mountain of toys, limiting scheduled activities, providing valuable downtime and employing such pressure valves as storytelling and periods of quiet. According to the authors, limiting choices and activities will lead to kids who are more secure and less stressed, and to parents whose days are calmer. With fewer choices, Payne explains, families have the freedom to appreciate things—and one another—more deeply. Though simplicity parenting may seem a stretch for some, others will find that Payne’s program for restoring creative play, order and balance is long overdue.”

My Two Cents –

“Living Simply with Children” – Earned a place on my bookshelves for the later years.  Henry isn’t exactly active outside the house yet, or interactive in the ways necessary for the examples in this book so this will sit on the shelves for a couple of years, but I’m glad to have it in my arsenal.  The author gives great advice for parents who already practice VS or are new to it; she gives step by step instructions on laying out goals and activities as family.  And has a wealth of sources for developing meaningful activities within the home. 

My only qualm with this book was that the author gave no examples for VS homes where both parents work.  Though it’s a touchy subject in many circles, two working parents are often a reality nowadays and particularly will often be a reality for those just realizing they could live more on a little less.  If you, like me are part of a two working parent home, don’t dispar there is still a lot of good advice nestled in this quick read.

“Simplicity Parenting” – Simply put, I loved this book no question about it.  My qualms with the first book were met in this one.  Kim John Payne aims his book toward every lifestyle – one working parent/one SAHP, two working parents, multiple children, only children, single parents, etc. and I was so pleased to see so many realistic examples (given from his own experience) of his ideas at work.

Dr. Payne touches on many subjects – the first and largest being the need to limit toys.  Straight up, less in more people – he and I see eye to eye on useful and engaging toys.  For those who have grandparents and other relatives who love to give gifts he offers the simple and realistic idea of toy and book home libraries to keep rooms and playspaces uncluttered.

Other subjects are the simplification of activities (your child does not need to be in and do everything – they’ll be happier and you’ll be happier), the simplification of food and meals (family dinners are a must and limiting the their food away from over processed, extreme, unrealistic flavors helps them develop healthier lifestyles), the importance of routine (he offers up wonderful ways for even the fast paced-career having parents to help establish calming routines), and the need to limit exposure to media and the adult world (he’s not an advocate for keeping them from reality, but letting them grow up as they should).

One interesting claim of Dr. Payne is the success he’s had with his ADD/ADHD patients and the success he’s had using the techniques of simplification and routine to give these children a little more control over their already over-stimulated minds.  He does not claim to cure the disorder, but rather gives advice for non-perscription based help in managing it.

This book might not be of interest to anyone with the mindset that their children will be deprived, no questions asked, if they are ever denied any toy or belonging or that they will fall behind without enrollment in every sport, lesson and activity.  If you think this already, this book might not be for you.

However I do feel renewed in a few of my own parenting goals:

  • Limiting toys and books – not a total deprivation, but rather an active examination of what is useful and beneficial.  We will continue to focus on toys and games that have multiple uses and application and which foster imaginative play and concrete learning skills.
  • Boredom is okay – let your kids be bored.  15 minutes of whining could lead to making Transmogrifiers out of cardboard boxes.
  • Peaceful rooms – keep your rooms peaceful and organized, limit the items in the childs room so that it is a relaxing haven for them to retreat to.
  • Limit activities – Our personal resolves rest somewhere around here – When old enough to take part in all these activities they will allowed to have music lessons, Boy Scouts/4-H/Similar group, and one sport per season.  This will be open to change depending on the child’s interest and skill – concessions will be made if they show to be particularly devoted to a particular activity.
  • Family Life and Routine – Not too long ago I would have run from the idea of welcoming routine into my life, I loved jumping from one project to the next and now I find myself working hard to secure a day shift for just the opposite reason.  We want to have a routine within our family – days and nights for activities, errands, family time and adventures all worked in together, but also time to be along, to be quiet, to work, and just to be together.  I’m determined to have family dinners be a focal point of our lives as well as night-time routines; also into the mix are traditions that come with the seasons and holidays.
  • Let my kids be kids – I want to strive to allow my children to enjoy their childhoods, it’s such a fleeting moment in a person’s life.  I don’t want to keep reality from them, there are appropriate times to talk about the big subjects – birth, death and everything in between, but I don’t think my kids need to see pictures of death and war on a regular basis.  I don’t think they need to know about every up and down, every worry and concern that their parents deal with – sometimes it’s okay to be happy when they’re awake and save the worry till they’re sleeping as little minds are often too quick to accept the weight of the world on their own little shoulders.  It’s a fine line, but one I want to walk with an aware and conscious mind.

Overall I highly encourage you to read either of these books whether your kids are 18, 8 or 8 months.


3 responses »

  1. Interesting, maybe I’ll check our library for these books. Both my husband and I are on board with simplicity when it comes to stuff, but I’m not sure how simplified the activities will be. We’re both a bit mixed when it comes to activities – we don’t want too many, but I think we have different opinions about how many is too many. It should be interesting. Instead of stressing about that now, though, I remind myself that we are completely united in wanting to keep our priorities straight – faith and family above all else. Hopefully when the time comes we can use these priorities to determine whether or not to add a specific activity to the mix.

    • I agree – it’s going to be a challenge, particularly since we grew up with the mentality (particularly as we got closer to college age) that we had to do everything to keep on top of the curve. But I do like the idea of giving them the chance to try everything, just not all at once. Even looking at baby/toddler activities theres a lot I want to do with Henry, but there’s no reason why we have to do it all at once and all year long – we can do a couple months of swim lessons AND THEN toddler music AND THEN some gymnastics, etc. leaving plenty of room for at home/with family time.

  2. I placed a hold at my library for “Simplicity Parenting”, thanks for the recommendation! 🙂 Can’t wait to read it!


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