Minimalism is about so much more than materialism―about getting rid of stuff. Minimalism is about stripping away all that is preventing us from living according to our values. It's about reassigning meaning to what we do have. And it is about simplifying the chaos of life―of our stuff, our minds, our souls, and our relationships.
In my last post, I shared how being a new parent is making me less selfish and is helping our family's minimalist efforts. In reflecting on that parent-child relationship, it got me thinking about the countless mistakes that I’ve made in my first year of parenting. Let’s face it, we’re all going to make our share of mistakes as parents and as people. The mistakes we most urgently need to address, however, are the ones that come from flawed parenting philosophies. Whether these flaws are from our own ignorance or from a misguided, but well-intentioned understanding of parenting, we need to gain awareness, first, before we can attempt to make corrections.
So based on my own mistakes, here are 5 tips for parents to gain that awareness and create order:
1. Your child doesn’t need every toy
It’s probably our biggest pet-peeve and, I have to confess, I think we have too many toys as I write this. Felicity has toys that she hasn’t touched in weeks. She’s had long stretches where plastic spatulas, an empty pop bottle, or an empty diaper box were by far her favorite toys. From the start, we quickly learned to be intentionally frugal with our toy buying. Most of the toys we own were purchased at a big discount or we have received them as hand-me downs and gifts. If Felicity has grown beyond them, we’ve given them back or given them away.
2. Do not become a slave to your child
In the last post, I talked a lot about providing for the needs of our children, and how it’s so important to allow ourselves to be fascinated by them. But parents also need to be attentive to their own needs. I remember having a conversation with Celia before we got married about the things we needed to keep in our lives―things that, on a personal level, would keep each of us happy, refreshed, and fulfilled.
I remember saying that I need to play in my weekly soccer league, to have time to run at least a few times per week, to finish my master’s degree, and to be more active with my faith and our family’s faith than just attending church every Sunday.
Celia echoed some of these needs, but also the desire to continue her education, to stay connected with our non-local relatives, to not have our children in daycare 5 days a week, and to travel.
We needed to check in with similar talks lately―discussing what we needs we’re not being attentive to as a couple, as individuals, and as a family. It’s a good discussion for couples, whether parents or not, to keep coming back to throughout marriage.
Are we making sure that we are maintaining our own personal, emotional, physical, and mental health? When the baby comes, what do we need to be attentive to so that our interests and our hopes don’t get absorbed into the life of our child? If we lose touch with ourselves, we will also lose our ability to love our family as we ought. The family should be a place of shared growth, and of mutual love, interest, and support.
3. When we’re “free” from our children, don’t self-indulge
A temptation that I face over and over again is to make my “free” time from baby duties all about me. Right after Felicity is put to sleep, or a nap, or when Celia is away with her for something, my first instinct is often to indulge in mindless, lazy recreation. “I deserve it,” I tell myself. “I put in the time. I did my duties. This is my time.”
Like I just mentioned, we do need personal and private rest and recreation so that we can stay mentally and emotionally refreshed. But the temptation, at least from my experience, is to immediately revert to the opposite extreme of passionate self-comfort. Be on guard for that. The virtues of temperance and moderation come to mind.
4. Ruminate about your child, but reflect on your own life too
Celia and I have some of the most heartwarming talks when we’re just laying in bed recalling the wonders that Felicity blessed us with that day. But we too often just stop there. I end up missing some of the best fruits of the daily discoveries in my child because I don’t allow them to also bring about my own self-reflection.
The outward fascination of our children needs to generate an inward evaluation and reflection on our own lives. That reflection should overflow to an even greater love, fascination, and renewed interest in our spouse, our family and friends, in God. It will allow us to conscientiously reflect on God’s will and plan for us right now―our hopes and dreams, our current struggles and challenges, our highest values and aspirations.
5. You’re not the center of the universe, and neither is your child
I believe that the majority of mistakes or sins that a person makes in life comes from the fundamental error of living as if life revolves around us. We can do this in a similar way with our children. Our world and our life can revolve around them.
I can’t grab a drink with a friend because Felicity needs to wind down before bed, follow her routine, and go to sleep in her own bed at exactly 7:51pm. I can’t do the dishes because I’m being a negligent parent if I leave Felicity alone to play by herself for 15 minutes. We can’t get a babysitter to stay late tomorrow night because maybe Felicity won’t fall asleep for the sitter.
Exercising prudence is very important and very healthy. Having a million unreasonable “I can’ts” and “that isn’t possible” because our child at the center of the universe is, however, is not healthy. Maybe your parenthood began this way, too. Maybe it has gradually become this way. The point is we need to take care of ourselves, so that we can take care of our kids. We need to bring our kids with us in life. We are a family unit and our children need to encounter different experiences and social situations early and relatively often. We need to have some flexibility with their schedule and with our expectations. Our children will be OK. They will eventually get to sleep and get back on track. And our entire family will perpetually need to make countless other adjustments to cope with changing schedules and expectations. That’s life!
So stay balanced. Avoid the dangers of complaining about our children and the energy that they require from us. Avoid the extreme bounce back to self-absorption once the kids don’t require attention. Allow your child to draw forth in you a renewed focus on life, on relationships, on yourself, and on our Lord. And last of all, enjoy the journey and the discoveries of parenting!
I am still making mistakes as a parent. You will too. What are some mistakes you have made? What are some parenting tips you have learned? Share them with us in the comments, Instagram, or Facebook. We wish you very happy, productive, and patient parenting!