Minimalist parenting works around the simple value of living and decluttering the non-essentials. In this space, parents can enjoy with their children more and make the family a truly homogenous unit.
For a baby, the essentials of life probably amount to nestling against her mother when she is hungry or sleepy, playing in the warmth of her granny’s lap, or being carried around by daddy. “Once the essentials are satisfied, you can find her delighting in something as simple as the tinkling of an anklet bell, or looking at the sunlight streaming in,” says Charmaine, a parent, reminiscing her days as a new mother.
Parenting experts are asking mothers and fathers to identify the essentials and the uniqueness of their families and to bring back the focus on the simple joys of childhood and parenting.
This can be achieved, just like in minimalist art, by eliminating all that is non-essential. This is a challenge since you obviously want to give your little darling the world. The choices available are overwhelming whether in toys, clothes, TV channels, activities, or even advice. “We’re in the midst of a parenting culture that feeds on excesses. More expert advice, more gear, more fear about competition and safety, and more choices. The result is overwhelmed, tired and confused parents and over-parented kids,” caution Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest in their book Minimalist Parenting.
Simplification is the keyword in relaxed, fun-filled parenting, according to Dornfest and other experts. We can create a better home space by clearing out toy clutter and working around the demanding schedules to spend more time with our children. Regulating our children’s screen time, goes a long way in helping them establish real connections with people around them. It is all about analysing our urges and keeping our needs versus wants in perspective. Minimalist parenting can also help us live in the moment.
Frazisca Macur, a professor of Communications and a certified Simplicity Parenting coach, recalls in her blog that she had to consciously resist taking videos of her two-year-old completely absorbed in jumping on the bed and belting out ‘Love Potion Number 9’. "It was awesome and funny,” she says, "but by taking a video, the spontaneity of the moment would have been lost, and she would have acted it out for me."
She further explains that if she had focused on taking the video, she would have missed out on the 'real' play. So, there was no extraneous intrusion of the video, and subsequent posting on Facebook. Instead, there was a child lost in the enjoyment of herself, and a mother who really lived out that moment of watching the child play.
This example illustrates that minimalist parenting does not entail lesser involvement with the child. Often, it requires more hard work, time and the ability to hold back when required. In short, the ability to do more with less.
“Growing up, by nature, is a series of weaning experiences for children. From the moment a child is born, she is weaned from the comfort and safety of her mother's womb. Learning the lessons of how to get her needs met, then transitioning to meeting her own needs, is essential not only for her survival but also for her psychological well-being,” writes Lisa Firestone, a clinical psychologist, in the journal Compassion Matters.
"Parents want to see their children grow up confident and resilient, but this will not happen if they are overly protective," says psychologist, Aparna Balasundaram, who finds over-parenting a common problem these days.
Most parents do not realise the harm they are doing by mollycoddling their children. Sanghamitra Ghosh, Principal of a reputed school in Delhi says, "Often, parents do not know when to step back. If a child has had a fight with a friend (something very natural), parents feel that they have to step in to resolve the issue. Left to themselves, children can resolve conflicts very efficiently. They can also forgive and forget. However, when parents get involved, the situation becomes messy leaving both the parents and the child stressed."
A child whose parents always take decisions for her and watch over her, will never feel empowered to take decisions for herself.
Even when most mothers were homemakers a generation ago, children spent a lot of time playing with their peers. Many life skills were learnt in such spaces of unsupervised free play.
Sanghamitra observes that many parents today are overly suspicious of the world and, in turn, sow the seeds of fear in their children, not realising the negative impact it can have on their child's personality.
"Striking the right balance between being protective and letting the child be, lies with the parents," says Rohit Moudgill, a corporate executive, blogger and father. "It is for parents to decide how tough they want their children to be," he adds.
Caught between doing too much and not doing enough and then plagued by a sense of guilt, parents often go overboard in trying to appease their children. More money is pumped into birthdays, toys and gadgets. There is also the social pressure to keep up with the Joneses. This a trap best avoided. But is it possible for parents to go easy in this era of excess?
Many would agree with Sanghamitra when she says that birthday parties celebrated at home are more meaningful. Children can help in designing/drawing invitation cards. and decorating the room. Today, birthday celebrations have become flashier. With Pizza Huts and McDonalds of the world becoming the favoured venues, there is a bit of sameness in the celebrations. “In the past, each home would have its unique and traditional way of marking these special occasions,” she says.
Divya Badrinarayan, mother of three, who has recently shifted base to Switzerland, says she tries to walk the talk. “I preach recycling to my kids. Part of their wardrobe consists of hand-me-downs, just like mine did. As a child, I could meet the cousins whose hand-me-downs I was wearing, and interact with them comfortably. My kids can’t meet their cousins, but each time they wear a hand-me-down, I remind them that they have a family tucked away in India,” adding with a chuckle that it also saves her from going shopping, tagging three kids along and waiting for them to pick out clothes, and then lug the shopping bags back!
Okay, so once you decide to dial back your lifestyle, it is important to get your child on board. For isn’t it true that even children are just as keenly aware of vogues, fads and brands? Children, as they grow, yearn for acceptance of their peers and try to ape them.
"Peer pressure can be best dealt with by communicating your value system to your child and explaining to her why certain things are not allowed," says Sanghamitra. This will require some patience and understanding. In the beginning, there could be anger and resentment. But, if you are firm and put forth your beliefs with conviction, in due course of time your child will come to understand and appreciate your point of view. But here, both parents must be on the same page. "More importantly, values are to be lived; parents should practise what they preach," she says.
Rohit Moudgill says that even if modern-day parents want to increasingly involve or let their child lead decisions about things like their room's decor, their extracurricular schedules, their choice of activities, and even what car or mobile the family purchases, it is important that parents do not cater to every whim of their child.
All parents want their children to be happy and successful. This is natural but, as Aparna says, "The problem arises when this growth is linked to material gains alone. As the child grows it is necessary they have role models who inspire them. Bill Gates and Azim Premji are superb examples of what you can do with your money." She adds, "They made ‘giving’ a cool thing to do."
"Children blossom to their fullest in a non-threatening, non-competitive environment," says Sanghamitra who has even seen parents wanting their four-year-olds to become good public speakers! When parents become overambitious, they unconsciously breed insecurity in their children which can be detrimental to their growth. She says it is now proven that a number of unnatural behavioural patterns in children arise due to unnecessary adult intervention.
For instance, the need to attract attention and to play to the gallery is a direct consequence of parents trying to show off their children; and revel in the praise being showered upon by relatives and friends.
The changing economic landscape of the country, competitive college and work environments coupled with flagrant commercialism have impacted parenting. But parents cannot justify, for instance, the constant herding of their children from one activity centre or tuition centre to another. This builds stress in the child and robs him of his childhood.
“Our education system insists on good grades for a child to get into a prestigious college on merit. Therefore, for many children, life is only about studying. Look at the alarming rate of suicides among children after the board results are out. It is obvious that children are feeling increasingly stressed," says Sangeetha Chadha, a mother who is among a handful of ‘peer’ mothers whose class 9 son is not among those who are ‘mindlessly’ sent to IIT-JEE tuitions.
The approach to minimalist parenting will vary from child to child, parent to parent. One size can never fit all. As a parent, it is important to listen to your heart and always stay connected to your child's needs.
Parenting is a natural instinct and if you allow your intuitions to guide you, you would spontaneously do what is right. You just need to realise what to value.
Maitreyee S Ganapathy is a freelance writer from New Delhi.
For those parents, who want to learn more about minimalist parenting, these books from www.amazon.com might be of great help:
Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less by Christine K. Koh and Asha Dornfest.
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross.
Minimalist Parenting: How You Can Raise Responsible, Calm, Respectful Children by Sandy Richmond.