Simplicity Parenting

May 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

I finished “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids” by Kim John Payne this week.   I wanted to love it, I liked it a lot, but it also left me sort of grumbling.   Generally I would recommend it but with the following caveats: it is not a book well rooted in the “Voluntary Simplicity” movement in general, it is not really about parenting and it certainly isn’t from a Catholic/Christian world view — not even a slightly ascetic world view.  If you pick up this book thinking you are going to read about how to parent within the voluntary simplicity lifestyle you are going to be disappointed — this book is NOT about that.

All of this I can understand, the author’s work isn’t about the simplicity movement; he is drawing from his work with his clients (presumptively mostly wealthy or solidly middle class, duel career couples with one or two precious snowflake children).  These people are not the type to embrace a radical lifestyle change — so for those of us on the more radical lifestyle path there are going to be a few places at least where we stop and point to some really hugely obvious issue and say “You could eliminate that problem entirely if you were just willing to be a little more counter-cultural”.

Western children are not particularly happy.  They live in the richest time and culture ever imagined and yet they are stressed, unhappy, out of shape, insecure, hyperactive, troubled little people.  They are figurative (and sometimes literally) starving for essential nutrients while becoming obese on a rich diet of sugar and fat    And we, their parents, do this to them – at the very least we let our society do this to them.  Payne gets this right and he also gets much of the solution right – I would argue that he doesn’t take it far enough, but Simplicity Parenting is a good, maybe even a great,  start.

Payne does a fine job laying out the case that what our children suffer from is the result of  “Too much, too fast, too soon.”  He points to the forces of consumerism, the self-fulfilling  marketing axiom “Kids are Getting Older Younger”, the work of David Elkind, and the endless appetite for parents to push their offspring to gain a competitive edge for the future as forces of modernity and consumerism are swirling  around our children pulling apart their sense of security and even their sense of self.   These forces push children into stress responses where they react in their own particular ways, the quiet thoughtful child becomes more withdrawn, the active child bounces off the walls, the child with the forceful soul becomes aggressive.  The book then bogs down a bit with a chapter comparing the over stimulation of children with physical illness.   Several examples from Payne’s  practice are trotted out to illustrate the “Soul Fever” concept and how simplification of the child’s world helps alleviate the “symptoms”

Where Simplicity Parenting touches on great is that it isn’t like so many of the current “problems with childhood” books.  It doesn’t spend 200 pages hand wringing over the plight of our children followed a short list of “action items”.  The book is almost a workbook.  It breaks several core concepts down into digestible chunks – phases to walk through.  And the book is brimming with “process” while illustrating the intention and hoped for result of each phase.

The best laid out phase is the first:  “Environment”.  Simplicity Parenting walks parents through the  process of de-cluttering their children’s rooms and “stuff”.  Toys are given extensive treatment.  Books and clothes are next up for culling and then scent and lighting (focusing mainly on the child’s room but also briefly touching the home in general) .   Coming from a Waldorf point of view Mr Payne has some definite opinions about what makes for good, creative play, especially in the early years.    The craziness of Rudolf Steiner aside I think there is a lot of value to some of the ideas of Waldorf — not all mind you but some of them.  I also agree with many assertions that Payne makes about the inability of children to really enjoy anything when they are overwhelmed by “options” and “choices”.   All in all getting rid of the “stuff” cluttering our children’s lives and rooms is an important and logical first step in simplifying and enriching their lives.

We then turn to “Rhythm”.  This is a very “Waldorf” idea, the one I think that is probably most valuable.  If you are going to plunder  from Waldorf this is the one concept to grab first.  Payne draws the concept of ritual into rhythm in a way that is natural and works.   This is also the chapter where the reality of what Payne’s audience will  accept and the reality of what children probably would thrive with comes into  crashing discordance as illustrated with the almost harmless sentence, “Rhythm and ritual are what we aim for; predictability may be what we can achieve.”   We then jump the tracks and start talking about how to compromise for predictability.

There is a subtle yet devastating switch at this point.   With “environment”  i.e. “stuff” the decluttering and dejunking focused on the child’s room and things.  Mention was made in passing that unless the the entire home went the way of the children’s things and simplified and decluttered that the child’s world would revert to a cluttered disorganization cacophony.   The hypocracy of expecting the children’s stuff to simplify while the parents stayed on a hyper-consumerism course would not work.  It might seem obvious, but it is glossed over for the rest of the book, if the parents lives are an unpredictable, overscheduled, over worked mess then all the good intentions to bring harmony, rythme and order to the children’s schedules are much less effective in the long run.  The imbalance and  hypocrisy will most likely overwhelm the attempt.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t good ideas in the rest of this chapter.  Some of the author’s thoughts  “previewing”,  the idea of going over the next day’s event, giving a child an idea of what to expect, is very powerful.  When the usual rhythm and schedule is disrupted this sort of preview can give the child a sense of control, but it is a piss-poor substituted for the comfort of normal rhythms and predictable schedules.   Among the other valuable items are little nuggets of parenting thought that seem to be commonly missed, children bond with us through the little daily things we do, that some of the best relationship building moments happen in the unstructured “down-times”, parenting is more craft and process than it is a checklist-able, goals oriented production.  Bringing back and simplifying the family dinner,  dumping “edible food-like substances’ and nutritionally dubious treats, creating bed-time routines and allowing for more rest, the return of the bedtime story and creating a sense of family connection with the sharing of family stories and history are all really great ideas and well worth incorporating.

Before leaving this section I also want to point out something that drives me a little batty.  There is explicitly stated the idea that a teenagers “work”, their developmental stage, is one of defining themselves in opposition to their parents.   To illustrate here is a quote about 15 year old Alison the daughter of Laura, “Alison’s full-time (developmental) job right now is to push Laura away, but on her “time off” she does what also comes natural to her.  She can think of her mom as an alien one minute and, thanks to their broad and deep connection, snuggle with her the next.”  This is my personal pet-peeve, so I won’t belabor this, but it IS NOT a teenager’s job to push their parents away.  Despite even modern takes on Freud and Erickson much of the conflict of this stage of development is constructed behavior based on the ridicules idea that young adults are busy with the work of developing their own identity and that means that they must have some kind of raging personality conflict with their parents.  This view is aberrant, the creation of marketing and social forces that undermine parental confidence and keep teens in the infantile  self-identification phase as long as possible, not allowed to take on adult responsibility and deprived of any meaningful work, their sense of self allowed to be defined only on the most superficial aspects they become easily controlled and herded through the corridors of shopping malls and high-schools, trained to be good little consumers, basing their sense of worth on the trappings of success, what they own, wear, drive and on physical perfection and competitive victories.  Ok, so maybe I did belabor that a little bit.   But it is almost astounding that in a book entitled “Simplicity Parenting” there wouldn’t have been at least a little questioning of the “teen” paradigm.

After Rhythm we turn to a very similar chapter on Schedules.  It seems that the author’s main distinction between rhythm and schedules is age.  Young children have rhythm, older children have schedules.   Within “Schedules”  there is a bit of an extended mixed metaphor of farming and sports and children’s over scheduled lives.   Payne makes a strong arguments for the worth of boredom, that busy days be balanced with calm days and he even make the daring suggestion of returning a sense of Sabbath to our daily lives.  All great ideas.  I really like what he says about the joy of anticipation and what it can give to children and I found the idea that over-scheduling can lead to an unnatural need for stimulation that replaces “inner development with outer stimulation”, a nascent addiction.   We then turn to the pressure parenting issue.  While Payne focuses on sports and martial arts this concept also applies to just about every aspect of a child’s world, schooling, art, music, dance, sports, all these good things get thrown into some deranged hyper-drive as parents compete to have the most wonderful little snowflake child possible or they at the very least feel compelled to give their children the “competitive edge” they “need” to succeed in the adult world.  Parents need to disengage their egos and hope and let their children approach life at a slower more balanced pace.

The final process chapter is “filtering out the adult world”.   The first part takes on the used of media “screen time” and how it is detrimental for very young children and at best of questionable value for younger children.   We then look at balance a child’s need for emotional safety and their need to explore their world and the role of parents in helping them navigate these conflicting needs.   We also look at the way parenting has shifted home is no “base camp” from whence children launch their adventures while over anxious “helicopter parents” flit overhead driven to protect their children from a horribly dangerous world.  The world of course is not much more dangerous than when these parents were young, but the immediacy of media and the desire to constantly sell the alarming makes risk assessment difficult.   There is also a few page of the reality that moms especially are overworked.  The female partner of duel career families almost always is the one to bear the brunt of child rearing responsibilities.  Payne gives us a few idea about the possibilities of father taking on responsibility for somethings — but this is a woefully under addressed aspect of this book.  Among the best ideas from this chapter are limiting screen time, talking less, monitoring less and trusting our parenting instincts more.

The conclusion of this book was strange.  We are present the tale of Carla, her hyper career oriented parents and the baby brother on the way.  At six Carla is stressed about the arrival of a rival and her parents are worried that their “production schedule”  will not go off as planned unless Carla becomes a team player and gives her buy-in to the baby-brother roll-out.   After her bedroom is de-cluttered, daddy adds “dinner” to his day-planner a few times a week and mom makes time for daily a special craft time with Carla (even though some nights mom is rushing to get take out to make the dinner meeting)  started to decompress and feel better.  I understand that the book would have been ill served to select a “perfect” family willing to make drastic changes in their lives and that is probably just as good that  we see that even small changes can be good, but this particular story just seemed to illustrate my problem with the book as well.

No one gets to have it all.  When we are unwilling to say, “I will trade off this good thing for that good thing” and instead just try to fit more “good things” into our days and lives eventually something breaks.  When we as parents try to fit our babies into our hyper-schedules, pop them into six weeks maternity leave, and then after work and weekends while we continue to rush forward at break neck speed in the career world somewhere a wheel is going to go flying off and more often then not it is the weakest link, the most vulnerable and sadly the most precious, it is the children.   Now I know that many people, probably all of Payne’s clients, and a good portion of the audience of Simplicity Parenting would swallow their own tongues before they would be willing to be so counter-cultural as to scale back, scale down, work less, consume less, live smaller, but yet at the same time live more fully, but that is the natural conclusion of almost all Payne’s arguments.  Yet he stops from going to those conclusions and leaves all of his great ideas at the children’s bedroom doors.

I have to laugh at myself

March 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

So, I have been totally overwhelmed the past two weeks and have been seriously remiss in my blogging efforts.   I am still working on my 40 bags but I haven’t been updating as well as I would like.

But I have to say it has been really fun hearing about how many people are doing the 40 trash bag thing this year.   I guess it has been sent out to a bunch of email lists and has been on a few forums.  I hope everyone who is doing it gets something valuable out of it and has a better Lent for the letting go of stuff.

More Bags

February 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I got caught up with my bagging.  I got a bag of Ashley’s things, another bag of Rachel stuff and a bag of clothing from the boy’s room.  Today we are going to go through some toys.  The children have actually been pretty excited about this.

40 Trash Bag Lenten Challenge

February 18, 2010 § 4 Comments

Ash Wednesday is February 17, 2010.   Next week.   I am looking forward to it.

We are doing the 40 trash bag thing.  Really,  I know it might sound a little bit insane that I can actually rid my family of 40 bags of stuff each year, but we manage to do it.

Last year’s Lenten Challenge

I know this has been making the rounds this year again and I really appreciate all the wonderful families that join with ours in doing this.  If you would like me to link to your blog just leave a comment and I will add you in.  This year I will be sending out reminders via twitter at simplycatholic1.  Last year I set up a facebook page and you can also connect there.  And here of course is where I will be posting my progress.

So, this weekend I am picking up a few boxes (for books and such) and I am excited to start this on Wednesday.

This year’s bags:

Monday the 22nd – Friday the 26th : A bag of Ashley’s clothing, A bag of Rachel clothing, A bag from the boy’s room, two bags of toys.

Saturday the 20th: A bag of Kyle’s clothing.

Friday the 19th: A bag of clothing from the girl’s room

Thursday the 18th: A bag of clothing from the girls’ room.

Ash Wednesday is tomorrow.  The first bag is going to come from my closet – clothing.   Update: This bag took me about 10 minutes.  I didn’t let myself over think the items I was putting in the bag.  I would love to wear some of the stuff again (if I lost 30 pounds) or some things I have hardly worn… but if I hardly wear them why keep them?   I literally put  two dresses in the bag that I have never worn and I let myself part with the chiffon dress I made for Ashley’s Christening and have worn about twice since.   I have been hanging onto this thing for almost 18 years when it could be someone’s favorite dress.  So I let it go.

40 Trash Bag Challenge Starts Tomorrow

February 16, 2010 § 1 Comment


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the start of the 40 trash bag challenge.

When possible I plan to donate those things I am getting rid of.  There are many things I have that I do not want and do not need but would be perfectly serviceable for someone else.   Then there are things that have stayed in my home that are sheer folly — I don’t need them – I don’t want them – I will never use them – in some cases they aren’t use-able but I don’t let them go.  I cling to something material when I should just let it go.

But the first bag is going to definitely be a useful bag.  I am going through my closet and I am going to be brutal.  If I haven’t worn something in a year, and I have no plans to wear it in the next few months,  if it doesn’t fit today it is gone.  I will allow myself three exceptions and the rest is going to charity.

Food – SOLE food, frugality and where the rubber meets the road

October 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

Last Monday I linked to an article “SOLE Food: Eating organically (and responsibly) on a food-stamp budget” penned by Michelle Gienow,  which intrigued me at first because, like so many other families, we are trying (having) to trim where we can and the food budget is getting a good, hard look.  I also, like so many other moms, am concerned about the quality of the food I feed my family,  conserving the natural environment and the ethical dimension of food production.   But the “SOLE Food” article left me with bad taste in my mouth.

I suppose this is entirely my own fault.  I wanted an article, thoughtful and well reasoned by someone who is either talented at pinching a penny, a seasoned SOLE food practitioner, or at the very least someone who is somewhat familiar with both.  What I got felt more like the ramblings of a spoiled suburban mom who shops at Trader Joe’s and fancies herself environmentally conscious because she frets over how many dead song-birds her coffee represents,  gets a CSA box, shells out 7$ a gallon for milk and has the good sense to be appalled that she bought her children Chickfil-a kiddy meals.   And no, I am not exaggerating anything there.  So, yet again,  my judgment on this might be a tad harsh because of the expectations I had going in.  I am sure she is a lovely person and yes, she is at least “trying”, but it still me off a little (and really pissed off some people in her comments).

As happens every once in a while I sat down to write a response to this and ended up with multiple  tangents going off in different directions.  So I am just breaking them apart instead of sitting here with a blog with no new posts for days on end.  My thoughts meandered off into several  different directions.  First there is the thought about SOLE, what is means, what I think it should mean, where it fails and where it can be better. Children of that tangent spring their own full blown ideas:  Why we need to rethink what we think of labor, can the world be sustained by small farming and what would that mean, and why we need homemakers and how homemaking promotes a truly sustainable world. And finally I realized that I can take on the “foodstamp” budget challenge pretty much anyway I want.  First off by dumping the concept of  “Foodstamp budget” and then going ahead with just a thrifty budget  and secondly by changing the SOLE idea to more match what I think is a real-life friendly way.

So I will be popping these up as I get them complete and then linking them all back together.

40 Trash Bag Challenge — Day 13

March 10, 2009 § 1 Comment


Today is Tuesday,  March 10, 2009

This is the thirteenth day of the 2009 40 trash bag challenge.  The challenge is an  opportunity to remove the excess clutter and “stuff” from our lives.  The excess can be given away, sold, donated or trashed.   The first goal is to let go; the second goal is to bless others.

Today I am going through the dishes and the knickknacks.  So many things end up in our homes, souveniers, gifts, things we picked up here and there that serve no purpose, are not enjoyed and are just around because we haven’t gotten to the point where we are ready to let them go.  Today is a day to let go, let those things we care little for go to some charity we value so that they may bless others.

Today’s Scripture Reading

Quote for the day: “Who except God can give you peace? Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart?” – St. Gerard Majella

Reading poems from “A Child’s Garden of Verse“.

Craft: We are working on our eggs.

Lap book page: Poland and Lithuania packet.  St Casmir,  maps, coloring page. (this will span over for several days.  This will be our last day on this.

Other great ideas: (if you stumble on something that should be linked here please comment or send me the link)

Jesus Tree

A Meaningful Lent

40 Trash Bag Challenge — Day 12

March 9, 2009 § Leave a comment


Today is Monday,  March 9, 2009

This is the twelth day of the 2009 40 trash bag challenge.  The challenge is an  opportunity to remove the excess clutter and “stuff” from our lives.  The excess can be given away, sold, donated or trashed.   The first goal is to let go; the second goal is to bless others.

Today’s  bag of stuff for our family will come from the laundry room -again.  This seems to be the room where everything ends up that doesn’t have a “real” home.

Today is a busy day for us with homeschool enrichment and CCD this afternoon.

Today’s Scripture Reading

Quote for the day: “Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back. – G. K. Chesterton

Reading poems from “A Child’s Garden of Verse“.

Craft: None for today

Lap book page: Poland and Lithuania packet.  St Casmir,  maps, coloring page. (this will span over for several days.

Other great ideas: (if you stumble on something that should be linked here please comment or send me the link)

Jesus Tree

A Meaningful Lent

40 Trash Bag Challenge — Day 10

March 6, 2009 § Leave a comment


Today is Friday,  March 6, 2009

This is the tenth day of the 2009 40 trash bag challenge.  The challenge is an  opportunity to remove the excess clutter and “stuff” from our lives.  The excess can be given away, sold, donated or trashed.   The first goal is to let go; the second goal is to bless others.

Today’s  bag of stuff for our family will come from the laundry room.  This seems to be the room where everything ends up that doesn’t have a “real” home.

We had Little Flowers today so we are having to do more of our serious study this afternoon which is competing with a very sunny day.  The yard work might win “Oro et Laboro” can be our moto for the day.

Today’s Scripture Reading

Quote for the day: “It is better to say one Our Father fervently and devoutly than a thousand with no devotion and full of distraction.” – St. Edmund

Reading poems from “A Child’s Garden of Verse“.

Craftpisanki for kids  (this will take about three days).

Lap book page: Poland and Lithuania packet.  St Casmir,  maps, coloring page. (this will span over for several days.

Other great ideas: (if you stumble on something that should be linked here please comment or send me the link)

Jesus Tree

A Meaningful Lent

40 Trash Bag Challenge — Day 9

March 5, 2009 § Leave a comment


Today is Thursday,  March 5, 2009

This is the ninth day of the 2009 40 trash bag challenge.  The challenge is an  opportunity to remove the excess clutter and “stuff” from our lives.  The excess can be given away, sold, donated or trashed.   The first goal is to let go; the second goal is to bless others.

Today’s  bag of stuff for our family will come from the office.  This is a clutter day for me – while I would love to be able to bless someone else with each bag, that isn’t possible.  I am going through my files culling out old and outdated information (that lease agreement form 1994 is NOT going to be needed again) and tossing them.

I suppose in a way this sort of thing helps others, mostly my family, but also those I have made commitments to.  I am one of those people who end up with piles and piles of semi-important papers because I am afraid to let anything go until I have thought about it.  But my procrastination lets things accumulate as I put off thinking about them.  Then I have clutter.  Lent is a good time to look at those problems we face with a critical eye,   How is this helping my walk with Christ, or is it hindering me.  Not dealing with semi-important things in a timely manner hurts.  It hurts my peace, my real life friendships and my spiritual progression.

We are missed starting talking about St Casimir yesterday so we are catching that today along with this fine Saint we are looking at Lithuania and Poland, especially their Easter traditions.

Today’s Scripture Reading

Quote for the day: First, do what is necessary. Next, do what is possible. Soon, you will find you are doing the impossible!”  –  St. Francis of Assisi

Reading about Saint Casimir.

Craftpisanki for kids  (this will take about three days).

Lap book page: Poland and Lithuania packet.  St Casmir,  maps, coloring page. (this will span over for several days.

Other great ideas: (if you stumble on something that should be linked here please comment or send me the link)

Jesus Tree

A Meaningful Lent

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