A Simple Book

I’m rarely one for how-to or self-improvement books, opting instead for advice unearthed in the twists and tangles of any given life. I find that I learn more when I have to work for it, when its interpretation is my own, a flattened landscape mined deeply for meaning. Memoirs have always been my terrain of choice.

And yet, 2018 arrived with the need for a quick shot in the arm. A long winter had left us all a bit stir crazy, cooped up with subzero temps and high fevers, a wild restlessness gleaming in each of our eyes. Stacks of books, mountains of crafts, small piles of unfinished projects sweeping through the entire home.

It’s worth noting Scout has entered that particular parenting season we all love to forget – the stage in which a child transforms into a verified dinosaur, shrieking high pitched desires and throwing himself onto floors. It has been loud, and it has felt loud – my own reactions less than award-winning – and I suppose we all needed a bit of quieting.

And so, on a whim, I placed Simplicity Parenting on hold at the library, and the speed at which it was available is so uncanny I’m left wondering if my librarian might have peeked past our curtains on a random Tuesday and, witnessing our current state, ushered us to the top of the list.

I read it in two days.

The takeaways were well-written and memorable, and while I need no convincing that simplicity is worth fighting for in every one of life’s areas, I found myself both affirmed and convicted. Kim John Payne’s advice is beautifully balanced, grounding aspirational concepts with practical guidelines, blending big picture ideals with tangible steps. Mostly, Simplicity Parenting is a necessary reminder that there is always room for small improvements – from home environments to media usage to everyday rhythms and rituals – each pointing us toward a truer goal: raising calm, happy, secure kids.

In short: for anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by parenting in a modern age (i.e., me and everyone I know), I highly recommend. A few favorite lessons:

simplicity parenting


Inevitably, there will be times when our children seem to be spiraling. We sense poor attitudes, atypical behaviors, sour moods, and while it’s my own tendency to strengthen consequences or over-lecture in an attempt to tighten things up, Simplicity Parenting offers this counter-intuitive wisdom: Relax. Give it due time. Consider it a soul fever.

When temps are high in a physical fever, we notice the symptoms. We take a temperature, cancel plans. Read from favored books. Pile blankets on the couch, offer juice. Time stops for a bit as we allow the sickness to run its course until our child feels strong, healthy and makes a slow return to normalcy.

With a soul fever, the same steps are called for. Noticing the symptoms, quieting things down. Bringing your child close. Standing guard. Comfort over correction. Partner over parent.

My friend’s mother does this famously. Monthly, she gifts her teenage daughter a mental health day – a day where nothing is expected of her, where no work is to be accomplished. Rather than attending work or school, they make galettes for breakfast, read biographies on the couch, take afternoon bike rides down unknown trails. It’s a Sabbath of sorts, a simple practice where once renewed/refreshed/rejuvenated, any trace of soul fever is long gone.


Ever a realist, entertaining imagination has never been my strongest suit. And yet, on the flipside: I’m forever comfortable admitting I know very little about the inner-workings of this world. When Bee asks me if dinosaurs had feathers, if tortoises have weddings, if beetles know of The Beatles, a good and hearty “What do you think?” is in order.

The truth is this: in a ragey, polarized society, there is much fear being doled out for the taking. And so, as quoted by Ellen Goodman, “The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears.”

Fear is easy. It is everywhere – in rushing cars and confusing diagnosis and bulletproof backpacks. And yet: hope is everywhere, too. It is readily available, and searching for it is of highest priority. We can fear for our children, or we can hope they will string together a meaningful existence on their own. We can dream for them, and dream alongside of them. We can help them dress for every tortoise wedding to come.


On any given day, there are a slew of corrections to make – particularly for parents of small children. Shoes on the rug, the door is open, hands need washed, plate in sink, top drawer please. And yet, we’re often far less focused on calling out the good, on saying what we see. Ensuring we’re viewing our children in a good light, despite awareness of their flaws (despite operating within your own).

And so, simply, we must take a few minutes a day to remind ourselves of the good. The child’s golden self. And when the days are long and it’s difficult to see past a myriad of failures (a child’s, your own), there’s always this:

“Call their grandparents, godparents, or favorite aunt. Choose the ones who love your child to bits and tell them: ‘Look, this is your job as [fill in the familial relation]. Remind me of everything that is wonderful about Henry. And please… keep going until I say stop.'”

The truth is this: parental love, while strong and fierce and beyond condition, is not a walk in the park. The kids we love act unlovable, just like the spouses we love act unlovable, just like the world we love acts unlovable. But we can remind ourselves of the good. We can hold each golden self in highest regard, parenting from a place of respect, of surprise, of grace.


While Simplicity Parenting details a long list of typical practicalities that I’m already much aligned with – less scheduling, less lecturing, less media, less hovering, less stuff, less activities, there is a key area in which less is never once recommended:

“When your child seems to deserve affection least, that’s when they need it most.”

And I suppose that’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it? Finding a way to clear the forest of harsh roots, to cut down the weeds of rote routines and defeasible discipline, and allow our young trees the time, space and light to grow into something lovely. To draw them close. (Again.) To grant undeserved affection. (Again.) To stand tall as we witness newness, these small miracles of the simplest form.

(Again and again and again.)


Tell me, any books you’ve read lately that you loved? (I can’t stop talking about this one, either!)

  • Oh my goodness I’m reading this now too and it’s offered much needed advice. I think we are in the same season. It’s HARD. I’ve never wanted a manual more than I do right now. I actually found this book in response to your earlier post about bringing sparseness to the toys. It’s a work in progress but we’ve gifted a bunch of things and life does feel a bit more manageable. Less is more! And the notion of soul fires does help to lend compassion to the tough times. What a ramble of a comment! All to say, I hear you (and gosh shared aha moments are worth so much), and you’re doing a magnificent job — as always!!

    • Oh, right back atcha, Kate. Sending love (and coffee) your way, Mama!!!!! So good to be in the trenches together. :)

  • Love this! And that it applies for parenting at every stage as well as every relationship!

    Just finished “Fiercehearted” and “Lilac Girl” both I recommend !

  • i will be adding this one to my list! I read the creative family manifesto this year and it was so encouraging and affirming. as someone who loves to create and realizes I am a better parent when I make room for it. It is all about family rhythms and connection through creativity so good! thank you for your beautiful words erin :) I am potty training a toddler and nursing a teething baby simultaneously these days and theres always room for less

  • SUCH a great book. I had the opportunity to see Kim John Payne speak last year and he was so wonderful. I need to re-read this book, especially after my parenting this morning as we were rushing out the door. Thank you for the reminder!!

    • Oh goodness – been there. ;) I plan to add it to my re-reading list as well! (And I’ll bet he’s a wonderfully engaging speaker!)

  • I read Sinplicity Parenting a couple years ago and it definitely impacted our home life. As a Christian, though, secular parenting/self-help books always leave me feeling unsatisfied, knowing that true success can’t be found anywhere but the Gospel. So my favorite yearly read is “Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family” by Paul Tripp. It is a parenting book that is focused on he parent, not he child, and on spiritual attitudes rather than techniques.

    Some high points: We are called to be ambassadors for God, which means we don’t have any authority outside of the One whom we are respresenting. Our every word and action should faithfully represent God’s love, mercy, grace, correction, and character to our children. And, something I constantly need to remind myself: while we parent our children, God is parenting us. While we discipline them, he disciplines us. We must admit our need to be parented by the Heavenly Father if we can hope to faithfully parent our children with the same grace, consistency, and love with which He parents us.

    • Oh, I can completely relate to this. I always appreciate books that focus less on behaviors in the child and more on surrender in the parent — we can’t give what we’re not receiving, and all that. This sounds like a book I’d love – thank you so much for sharing with me!

  • Love this Erin! I so appreciate your perspective on life! I haven’t read this one, but it sounds super helpful. I enjoy the concept of a soul temperature. That’s a good analogy! As a counselor, I sort of instinctually know that I need to pause and give the boys a minute when they are upset. But sometimes I question myself on if I am “parenting” enough. So this is a helpful way to remind myself to stay calm, even though they are technically being disrespectful. :) In my experience, the outbursts are still bad, but they do not ruin the rest of the day if I can keep myself calm! Another book I really gained a lot from is “Shepherding the Child’s Heart.”

  • Actually, yes Erin, your book “Chasing Slow”. I started it while sick in bed with strep about 5 wks ago, devoured 1/2 in that one sitting, then each night before bed, read a chapter or two. I finished it a few nights ago and I can’t stop thinking about it. My sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas because it was on my reading list. I loved it. Your writing style spoke to me and so did your account of your life. Mine is nothing like yours, in that we are all on our own unique journeys, but there was something about how getting caught up in the go-go-go reminded me of, well, me. I’ve heard about “Simplicity Parenting” and it’s been on a wishlist in my Amazon account for a while. I think it’s time to order away. 3 kids, ages 10 and under and we are all in need of a little “simplicity” these days.

    • Oh what a kind compliment to receive this morning, Jeanne! I’m so very thrilled my book resonated with you — writing it was such a gift to me, so to think it’s made its way to another person in need of encouragement and perspective is just icing on the cake. Thank you for telling me how much you enjoyed it!

  • As a general rule, I stay away from parenting books, BUT simplicity parenting is truly amazing. I re-read it a few times a year. There is so much wisdom and it has completely changed how I view my children when they’re “acting out.” He has another book called Soulful Discipline that I also love. I wish he’d write a book to help me in my life the way he understands kids. 😉 And as a heads up, there are a million podcast interviews he’s done if you just search his name. He’s truly wonderful to just listen to and find my bearings again as a mom.

    • Oh that’s a great head’s up – thank you, Mary! And I hadn’t read Soulful Discipline – that sounds like a great one, as well! Adding it to my library holds. ;)

  • This has absolutely nothing to do with parenting, but I just finished Kristen Hannah’s new book “The Great Alone.” It was excellent, and will no doubt be one of my best reads of 2018.

  • I want to read this to actually learn how to parent myself. I might add it to my to-read list even though I have no children.

  • Oh Erin, so much love for your words.
    So much hope you give me for my future self, while for now I dream of motherhood.
    Love, Catarina

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