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:
ON CARING FOR SOUL FEVERS
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.
ON MAKING ROOM FOR DREAMS
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 LOOKING FOR THE GOOD
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.
ON DRAWING THEM CLOSE
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!)