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Alpha Mom Book Club: Minimalist Parenting

Apr23

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Alpha Mom book club logoOur parenting book choice this month is “Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less.”

I was intrigued by the title. This was a book that I would have gravitated toward in the bookstore even if I did not know the authors, Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest. Because, hey, I like to do less and wouldn’t we all like to enjoy our lives more? But what exactly do the authors mean by minimalist parenting, was a question that I wondered. Do they advocate living like Tibetan monks? Eschewing possessions and leaving our children to play with sticks? Does it mean letting your kids run wild with minimal parental interference? Is it hands-off parenting?

Turns out it was none of those things.  I read the book and discovered that I am a minimalist parent and I didn’t even know it.

What is Minimalist Parenting?

Minimalist Parenting Book discussionMany years ago I had been telling my mother-in-law about some angst-filled parenting decision that was on my mind. I can’t even remember now what it was that was causing me that much stress. But I do remember what my mother-in-law said to me. She said she thought it was easier to be a parent back when she was raising her children. That there weren’t so many choices or ways to question your own instincts. I think there is a lot of truth to that. When you have so many different choices, so many different voices telling you the right way to do something, it is easy to become overwhelmed and paralyzed by the feeling that you will never be able to make the right choice. I think minimalist parenting is about looking at all your various parenting choices and realizing that at the end of the day most of them are not as life-altering as you believe in the moment.

Asha and Christine write, “The obstacle standing between you and a happier, less overwhelming version of your family life isn’t something you’re doing wrong. It’s that you’re wrestling with abundance–too many choices, too many obligations, too much stuff, and too much guilt about trying to do it all.”

Minimalist Parenting promises to “show you how to minimalize your family life–how to edit your schedule, possessions, and expectations so there’s more of what you love and care about and less of what you don’t.” Through the many examples and strategies I was able to fully understand what they meant by minimalist parenting. I loved the personal anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book. It made what they are writing feel real and personal and gave you the ability to connect to real-life examples.

I have loved both of Asha’s and Christine’s websites for years, but even so this book gave me the words to explain why what I was already doing felt right for our family and helped me let go of some of the guilt. I think most of us parents have areas where we feel guilty, and they are always the ones where we are the most unsure of ourselves as parents.

Family Scheduling

I have one friend who schedules her children’s every waking moment, her children really do not have any downtime. And that is fine for their family. But often times I talk to her and feel that pang of guilt that my children aren’t going to spend a week at ceramics camp or cake decorating camp. I have learned that I need to not take my friends parenting their children differently as a personal attack on the way I parent my kids.  Let’s agree to take the word should out of our vocabulary when talking to anyone about their parenting.

I loved how both authors put in personal stories about how they arrived at the parenting path they are on. I enjoyed reading about the “mistakes” they made along the way. Christine writes in one chapter about over-scheduling her daughter’s summer vacation with camps that should have been fun, but turned out not to be a good fit. We have had the same thing happen, when I listened to the shoulds of other parents and didn’t remember what works for our family.

Education

I think whenever you read parenting books, the chapters that apply to what is going on in your life are the ones that resonate with you the most. While reading the chapter on Education there were several times that I put the book down in my lap and thought for awhile. My family has gone from homeschool to public school to private school. Transitioning from one of these to the next was never an easy decision. Reading this chapter enabled me to truly assess my educational priorities so that I could articulate why moving away from public school was the right decision for my kids. And I think that the authors are right that there are good points and bad points about every school, the key to being happy is a school where the scale tips to good points. But these things are often very different for each family, and each child within a family.

Vacations

Again, this struck a cord with me. Maybe because I envision long, leisurely vacations with my family, but the reality is that these don’t happen. I remember when I was in the fifth grade, my mother took me on a week long trip to the Bahamas. My favorite part of the experience? Room service! I have discovered that the same holds true for my kids. They don’t need elaborate vacations to have fond memories. They love the “free” continental breakfast that many hotels offer, you’d think it was a five-star restaurant they way they go on and on about the waffle maker that you flip over to cook your own waffles. When I returned with my daughter from an two day trip out of town, she couldn’t wait to tell her brothers the highlight of her trip…how we watched TV in bed!

Guilt

This book lays out a framework for you to make decisions about your parenting that feel right for your family. It gives you permission to let go of the guilt. And it shows you how having less, is actually having more of what matters for your family.

Discussion Questions


* How did you feel about the guidelines laid out in
Minimalist Parenting?
* Did it open your eyes up to ways that you can “have less” in your life?  Were you already following the principles, but didn’t have a clear picture of your parenting style?
* Do you think that this minimalist style of parenting is a throw back to the way people used to parent their children before we were “wrestling with abundance”?
* Have you resolved to make some changes in your family life?

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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6 Responses to “Alpha Mom Book Club: Minimalist Parenting”

  1. Asha Dornfest Apr 23 at 6:27 pm Reply Reply

    Wow, Chris. Thank you for taking the time not only to read, but to give such a thoughtful review of Minimalist Parenting. You really hit the nail on the head with our intent…which is to help parents embrace their own sense of confidence and agency in the face of overwhelming amounts of choice and information.

    One of the most eye-opening parts of writing this book with Christine was the realization that we ended up in the same place by traveling totally different paths. Our upbringings, parenting experiences and life situations are so different, and yet we found ourselves with a similar story to tell. It’s not too much to say that I feel we were meant to write this book together.

    Can’t wait to hear what other Alpha Mom readers have to say.

  2. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel Apr 24 at 11:31 am Reply Reply

    This book is about tuning out the urgent in our culture and focusing on the important.

    My takeaways from the book are:

    – “Minimalist Parenting is about editing.”

    – This is my overall guiding principle: “The key lies in fine-tuning your filters so only the important stuff makes it onto your worthy-of-attention radar. The question goes from “How do I fit everything in?” to “What’s most important to fit in?””

    – I need to do this: “Identifying “Golden Hours” golden hours—the hours you’re most alert and productive. As much as you can, schedule your most creative and/ or challenging work during that time. These are the hours that deserve investment and protection.”

    – So true. I you should set limits about how much time you focus on certain things. Not everything deserves the same amount of research, time and energy spent: “If you’re a researcher, you’ll save a lot of time and energy by stopping the search at, say, three items with positive reviews from reliable sources. It’s natural to want “only the best” for your child—simply broaden your definition from a binary best/not best choice to “one of several good options.””

    – YES! “art of the modern tendency toward overparenting seems to be driven by a fear of scarcity, whether it relates to material goods or spots at day care or enrollment in the “best” school. We don’t buy it. We believe there’s enough to go around.”

    – I need to do this! “Another casualty of overscheduling: household responsibility. Many parents reduce the stress on their super-busy kids by prioritizing the time left for homework while lowering expectations about chores and family involvement. Yes, something’s got to give…but it shouldn’t be chores. Chores are at the foundation of learning collective responsibility and represent real skills kids will take into adulthood and real delegation potential for you.” I will start with baby steps.

    – I also loved the chapter on education and understanding your family’s educational priorities.

    – Remember this: “No School Is Perfect Every school has its burnt-out teachers, less-than-stellar programs, and classroom troublemakers. Some years will be better than others, both academically and socially. This is good. Ups and downs are part of the learning process and help build resilience and tolerance. Ultimately, variability sets kids up for a happier life.”

    – “Course correction beats perfection every time.”

    – “Your Children Are Watching- Children see and hear everything. It’s almost freaky how tuned in they are to our states of being. They know when you’re depleted and will act (and react) accordingly. Some kids will dial up the drama in order to stay at the center of your attention, while others will scale back their needs and step into the caretaker role themselves. It’s good for kids to see their parents as rounded, fallible individuals (not paragons of perfection), but it’s also important that they trust you’ve got the basics handled so they can focus on their own growth. Self-care sets a crucial example for your kids about the relationship between taking care of yourself and being able to take care of others.”

    – “Asking for help is not a weakness. When you let go of the need to manage every detail, you open up the opportunity to ask for help. Do it! It does not mean that you are incapable of doing something—it simply means you are opting not to do something at that moment.

    – This is true. I try for just 15 minutes of workout time: “Pursuant to the “think small” “point above, remember that any bit of effort is great. Don’t be hindered by the idea that if you can’t do a full forty-five minute workout it isn’t worth it.”

  3. Laura Rossi Apr 24 at 2:56 pm Reply Reply

    Hi! I was so happy to see this as your book club choice! I’m reading it too and have been following along on HuffPost and the Stress-Less parenting club tips. My life is better and easier after reading MP and in fact, I’m writing a review right now for my personal blog and telling all my readers and friends it is a must-read. I know Christine Koh from two blogging groups and I’m so excited to help spread the word about this book. And of course, I love Asha and AlphaMom too. Here’s to helping our Mom experiences be richer and better! Laura (@bookprgirl)

  4. Karen Apr 29 at 4:40 pm Reply Reply

    Chris – how do you manage to maintain friendships with friends who spin at different speeds than you do – like overscheduled/underscheduled/if you don’t find the most perfect school for your child then you don’t love them enough/etc. I’m love to hear more about this as we’re struggling with it in my little circle. It’s not really a judgement thing, nobody feels judged, but how where do the minimalists and the non-minimalists find common ground?

  5. Chris Jordan
    chris May 09 at 1:46 pm Reply Reply

    Karen,
    That is a really good question.
    I have found, over the years, that I have some friends who I like but parent very different than I do. Those friends I tend to socialize with without my children since our kids are not what we have in common–does that make sense? But honestly, the best friends that I have parent their kids in very similar ways, just because I think it is difficult, even if you don’t feel judged, to maintain friendships with people who have different core beliefs.

  6. Jilynn Parmly Jun 08 at 12:29 pm Reply Reply

    I’ll never forget my neighbor’s response when I asked if their kids, ages 4 and 7, enjoyed their recent week long vacation to Disney World.  He said that their favorite part was riding the bus from the hotel to the parks and in between the parks.  “We could have just stayed here, bought a city bus pass, and saved a heck of a lot of money,” he remarked.

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