One of the surest truths that I have learned as a new father is that a child is the best weapon against selfishness. I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m trivializing my daughter too much, but it’s true. Nothing can root out our self-focused and self-seeking attitude like a child can. And not just a little bit. A child will literally obliterate selfishness...that is, if we let them.
Children, especially infants, are also born consumers. So wouldn't that create selfishness? For many single people who are seeking to simplify their lives, are pursuing minimalism, or are trying to do ambitious things with their financial life, babies can be perceived as a hindrance and a roadblock to our pursuits. For some people, children and a family must be put on hold, and perhaps some even think children are completely incompatible with a minimalist lifestyle. If the pursuits of minimalism and simple living are causing us to even remotely draw these conclusions, then we’ve missed the point of minimalism.
Minimalism is for freedom. Minimalism is a lifestyle meant to thwart our self-seeking, consumeristic, me-hungry attitudes and behaviors. Minimalism is a lifestyle that declutters not just the “outside of the cup,” but the “inside of the cup,” as Christ would say. It is meant to declutter our selfish hearts. Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps us pursue our values—which, as a side note, are not arbitrary. Our values need to be grounded in truth, goodness, and virtue.
Minimalism is a lifestyle that is far from being incompatible with having children and growing a family. Here are some ways that I’ve come to realize that children are not only compatible with minimalism, but how they can benefit with your minimalist lifestyle:
1. Your child can’t survive without you
My little girl came into this world needing food and drink, needing to stay warm, needing to be kept clean in order not just to thrive and live well, but simply to live at all! She even needed touch and affection from us. A baby can literally die from lack of touch. (I’m serious. It’s called “touch empathy”—see for yourself!) This “neediness," unless we ignore it, will necessarily force us out of ourselves and direct us toward the love and support of our child.
2. Your child can’t thrive without you
Learning right from wrong, learning how to communicate, how to listen, how be a decent member of society comes from us, the parents. Celia and I are strong proponents of the theory that children are indeed smarter and more capable than most people give them credit for. Children will never know the harm that certain behaviors will bring if we don’t inform them. We can, and should, form their behavior, correct them, and praise them early and often. I’ve noticed that these efforts go beyond just the surviving and thriving of my child. This work of forming our children has put me in greater contact with my own values. Celia and I regularly talk about how the ways that we speak with one another, the ways we need to continue to show physical affection in front of Felicity, and how our own lifestyle needs to be continually shaped into what we want to emulate for Felicity. Our children ought to help us as parents to check ourselves and to make sure we are living in conformity with what we want and expect from our child.
3. Your child will fascinate you
I discover so much more about my daughter each day. Every day she is new. Every stage of her development is exciting. I have to admit that getting to know people is typically boring or even exhausting for me. But being in touch with the mystery of my daughter each day helps me to get a little more open to even those encounters with adults—with friends and family. As her personality grows I know her in a newer, deeper way. Every day, my inward focus is forced outward. Instead of remaining bogged down in my own self-interest, this regular captivation of my daughter increases my desire to be captivated by everyone and everything around me in life—the people, the events, the beauty of nature. You can check out a more detailed reflection about the awe and wonder that Felicity sparks within me in an older post, here.
4. Your child will annoy you
“Patience, patience, patience,” was my grandmother’s sage advice to Celia and I on our wedding day. Your child will teach you patience. You child will demand patience. Impatience is mostly a selfish response, I think. We are impatient when we sense a violation of our time, effort, and attention. When we have the world revolving around us, impatience rises up because things are not going our way. I remember the difficulties of trying to feed baby food to Felicity. She spits it out. Then she doesn’t want to open her mouth. Then she barely opens for a split second just so I can smear half of it on her face. ... And the beautiful dance continued. And then it hit me one evening, “Serenity now.”
5. Your child will love you
Felicity is so interested in me. She is captivated by the things that I do and say, the way mommy and daddy hug and kiss, and especially the funny faces I make (I should be careful or my face is going to permanently stay that way...) She even wants to give me her food (once she’s full) and her toys (as long as I give them back). Her attention, love, and generosity that she gives me draws even more attention, love, and generosity out of me. It is all one big cycle of giving and receiving. “Give and gifts will be given to you.” (Luke 6:38) By giving, we receive even more. And by giving to us, our child draws out and receives even more love from us.
So it’s that easy, right? Just have a child and your selfishness will be gone, you’ll have more freedom and more love, and your entire family’s pursuits will flourish. Not exactly. In the next post, I’ll bring up some potential roadblocks with children that can hinder our pursuits of minimalism, freedom, and an abundant life, not just for us, but for all of our family members. And make sure you SUBSCRIBE to our email list (at the bottom of this page). You will receive new posts right to your inbox AND we will be choosing a random subscriber from the list to receive a FREE BOOK on minimalism as a 2019 New Year's gift for your support!