3.21.2016

Minimalism with Children: Thoughts



We are a family living in an urban setting and we enjoy living where we are. We shop our share at big-box shops, drive daily to school. We watch cartoons. We love plastics. We own and consume our share of things to make our life possible. No, we don't dream of selling our possessions so we can travel the world.

Let's also be clear that I am not a perfect mom. On occasion, I have been known to: babysit or pacify the Tod with iPad, iPhone, toys, fed him junk food, let him cry-it-out, watch him fall from a place that is much higher than his height, cut his fingernails too short that it bleed, knock him to the ground while swinging the door open, do other horrendous things which resulted in the mommy guilt that keeps me awake at night.

In our household, minimalism is about living mindfully in the world that is not perfect, how we attempt to raise a child while we, ourselves, as parents are still struggling and finding our way to achieve the ideals that we have in mind. Growing up is a lifelong journey. And raising children by imperfect parents actually build resilience and character -- Of course, I am not talking about extreme case of parenting or abusive behavior toward children. Human being is extremely resilient. Just think of yourself and your own upbringing, most would say, "I turned out just fine. I turned out more than just fine because now I am a contributing member of the society despite my parents being x, y, z."

I hope my message to fellow parents come across as real -- life with children is often not-Instagram-able. You are tired, dinner is not made, children are not bathed, melt-downs are the norm at the end of the day. My posts in this series are the low-hanging fruits for anyone who would like to live more mindfully with children. Do small things often, as John Gottman would say.

These are my thoughts about minimalism with children. I am by no means an expert -- resources are included below. (I use the term parents and caregivers interchangeably because I realize some children spend the majority of their time with caregivers who are not necessarily their parents).

  • Minimalism and children are inherently compatible because what children need the most is attention and presence from their parents. The most useful parenting advice I've learned to this day is to place the relationship and connection with my child as the first priority. Everything else will fall into place when I follow this advice.
  • Activities and experiences can clutter true connection with children. Just like things, activities can be used as proxy of parents' attention or lack thereof. After-school activities can be taxing and cluttering to the family's dynamic and schedule. And how many of us are familiar with this picture: we go to the playground and witness caregivers siting on the perimeter, waiting and using their hand-held devices instead of actively making connections with each other? (But playground time is my break time! More about "taking a break" for parents and caregivers, below).
    Choosing activities mindfully is as important as limiting tangible things that clutter children space. I remember as a child craving a true moment of connection; a time when an adult listened to me, or just be there for me without any agenda or advice. 
  • Children are more capable than we think -- it is often not our job to entertain them. Children are, by nature, keen observers and curious experimenters. With limits and boundaries in place, children can and will entertain themselves. For example, when a safe play place is set up, babies can play on their own without much interference, eliminating the need for things to entertain them. I learned this valuable lesson from RIE teaching -- lots of parenting blogs are written with RIE philosophy that parents can ideas on how to accomplish this independent play time in different age range. 
  • Parent's own perceptions and attitude about material things matters. Just think for a second: when stuffs or gifts always present during "happy" times such as birthdays or celebrations, children will soon correlate the two together. Ditto with activities or experiences. We all grew up with less-than-perfect parent/s, but parenting a child can turn into a process of re-defining our attitude toward life and healing ourselves.
    Indeed, parenting, just like any other role we assume in our lifetime, can be an avenue for spiritual practice and personal development. One resource I use often is the book Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel (in fact, any book by Dan Siegel is my favorite). Another resource is online course Parenting as Spiritual Practice by Miriam Mason Martineau or similar (I will talk more about parenting resources in upcoming post).
  • Just like a baby can't skip rolling over before walking, in order to fully understand the cost of ownership, children need to experience ownership. Is it more important to own less things or to pass the lessons of healthy ownership of things? Lessons are often learned when mistakes are made. I prefer to have clutter than to declutter at the expense of valuable lessons of sharing, caring for things, etc. On the other hand, I proactively appeal to my child's developing reasons before bringing things home (such as new freebies, new toys, gifts, etc.). I continually educate myself on what my child is capable or not capable of doing developmentally (any book by Dan Siegel are especially helpful, so are many child development books out there).
  • In order to give, you have to have. Children are, by default, takers. They require so much of our energy and time. Parents who take care of themselves first are parents who can give more fully to their children. And taking care of self does not mean spending days in spas or nail parlors or shopping. To me, it is consciously and continuously doing things that fuel me intellectually and spiritually. To some, this includes pursuing highly rewarding careers and delegating child care to capable caregivers. Refueling can be a family event, too. Do whatever it takes so you can be fully present, the best version of yourself with your children when they are with you. Fuel yourself up so you won't have to steal mini breaks by looking at your phones/devices when you are with your children. 

What are your thoughts about minimalism with children? What resource/s have been helpful for you? What are your low-hanging fruits in achieving a more intentional life with your children? 


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