Essentialism for Parents
Getting it all done. It's probably up there with having it all. Meaning, it's never going to happen.
I read Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown this past fall and it hit a chord with me as a busy mom of two kids, a wife, a friend, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, a maker, writer, business owner, and volunteer on two committees.
It's a quick, enlightening, and well-crafted read, with gems like:
"What if society stopped telling us to buy more stuff and instead allowed us to create more space to breathe and think? What if society encouraged us to reject what has been accurately described as doing things we detest, to buy things we don't need, with money we don't have, to impress people we don't like?"
I'm running a fairly lean operation over here: most of the things I do on a day-to-day basis are non-negotiables, like feeding breakfast to my two children while I empty the dishwasher.
But this is both true and not true.
I'm a stay at home mom with a few really important (to me) side hustles that I manage to squeeze into my very full days with the kids. This book has me rethinking almost everything else—our consumerism as a family, consumption of television, and the benefits of outsourcing things like landscaping and housekeeping—in favor of the sacred: my time to write, make, and be with the kids and family.
Essentialism in Practice
Here are some ways that I'm now planning on creating more space in my life for the essential:
- Stop some of the pilot projects I took on in 2015. Move the needle on the projects that align with my big picture goals. Schedule time for these projects. More on this here, if you're curious.
- Ask our housekeeper to come more frequently.
- Continue to have our kind and helpful babysitter come over and play for a few hours each week so I can make appointments, go to yoga, or exercise (things I can't do in my morning 'free time' while my daughter is at school and my son naps).
- Say no to additional volunteer opportunities.
- Less social media, more tech sabbaticals, consider an email auto reply that says I'm working on something and may not respond.
- Just be with the kids. No phones, no distractions. Just hanging out, talking, cooking breakfast, and listening to each other. Really listening.
- Plan a trip with my husband each year. This May, for our 5-year anniversary, I'd love to put our passports to use.
It's been a year since I first wrote about essentialism as applied to family life, the home, and obligations (I called it minimalism, then.) So here I am again, a year older and hopefully wiser, with an updated word, circling back and recommitting to intentionality and our one true finite resource, time.
My family, work, and self are three shifting priorities. It's a juggle. But I'm not letting even one of these go. They're integral to my well being and my values.
All the rest, well, they're not essential and can slide.
Essentialism and the Child
Oodles of years of schooling lay before both of my children. I have the sense, based on the angst I perceive in my Facebook feed from parents whose children are knee deep in the common core, that there's much 'covered' in their daily curriculum that's non-essential, and perhaps even worse: detrimental. McKeown asks:
"What if schools eliminated busywork and replaced it with important projects that made a difference to the whole community?"
I can only imagine.
I'm not going to fret too much on the testing that my children will inevitably face. We will cross that bridge in public school when we get there.
But for now, the years at home, and at nursery school will be all about play. Moving, shaking, making, tinkering, figuring out, exploring.
Trying it Out with your Preschooler
Whether you have decided to forgo nursery school, opt for daycare, a full-time sitter, or are just looking to enrich the hours you have with your preschooler, there is a way to adopt an essentialist philosophy to parenting, exploratory learning, and a lifestyle that fosters creativity.
I think it's much simpler than we might imagine it to be.
"The way of the Essentialist is to tune into the present."
McKeown reminds us of the two Greek words for time: chronos (temporal and quantitative) and kairos, the time that is opportune, right, and qualitative.
You've probably guessed it—it's about kairos, guys. All we ever have, really, is right now.
It's about making space in our own life for the essential and then—here is the big then—it's about presence. And if presence is something you struggle with, then how about listening? Really listening. Hearing what your child is saying. And being right there, with them.
And have some fun! Check out the wonderful resources both here and here if you are looking for ideas on how to create non-academic, play-based environments at home that foster creativity, curiosity, and exploration.
And of course, start with McKeown's book. You can pick up a copy right here.
First photo via Unsplash and last by Rebecca Pitts.