Minimalist Parenting

determination-little-pineWhen I first heard the title of Christine Koh and Ahsa Dornfest’s new book, Minimalist Parenting, I felt a wave of calm and relief come over my body.

Finally, I thought, a parenting book which cuts to the chase and addresses the root of so many modern parents’ anxiety, worry and over-parenting issues, giving us the tools to manage our time based on our values and true priorities in life and family. I expected the authors would give us an opportunity to think clearly about the kinds of families we are building, and offer tools and skills to make our vision for family life a reality.

Minimalist Parenting’s main message is about living joyfully while staying true to your values:

At the heart of Minimalist Parenting is formal permission to step off the modern parenting treadmill, and to have fun while you’re doing it. You’re not blowing your children’s shot at success – just the opposite. Living a joyous life that’s in line with your values (instead of some manufactured version of “successful” modern parenthood) will give your kids room to grow into the strong, unique people they are meant to be…More importantly, this way of being will provide a model that shows your kids how to trust their instincts as they move toward independence and adulthood. Finally, Minimalist Parenting will allow you to claim space in your own wonderful life. This is your journey as much as it is theirs….As you embrace Minimalist Parenting, the roller coaster of family life goes from anxiety provoking to fun. You’ll still experience the white-knuckle drops, the ups and downs, and a few blind turns. But you’ll be strapped in with direction and confidence, and you’ll enjoy the crazy ride.

Doesn’t that just make you breathe a huge sigh of relief and start gathering your sanity again?

I most enjoyed the section in the book that helped me to identify my “time style” and offered time management exercises. One of the authors described how she and her husband didn’t discuss their different time styles until they were married for ten years! My husband and I have only been married 4.5 years. In that time, we’ve had two kids, a move to a new house, a job change and a new business. We definitely haven’t had the chance to analyze our time style differences. This book is helping us to do that now.

For example, if you were to have an ideal day off, how planned ahead would it be, how full of activity would it be and how many people would you want to see? In answering these three questions, the book offers three dimensions to consider in determining your time style — planned-ness, filled-ness and peopled-ness. For many couples, each partner’s time style would be completely opposite, affecting the success of different family scheduling practices. In our family, my husband and I differ on all three dimensions of time style as defined above. I tend to pack our schedule with activities that are planned in advance and are social in nature, because given a perfect day off, that is how I would spend it. My husband would be spontaneous, chill out and maybe see a friend at one point in the day. And our kids move more slowly than I do, too. So when I go into uber-planned, activity-filled, social mode, I am inadvertently tiring out the whole family and our older child has tantrums. This book helps me to see how considering the entire family’s time style will help me to make a more reasonable weekly schedule for our entire family.

The book also takes the reader on a journey of decluttering the home, decluttering finances, understanding the value of educational opportunities both inside and outside of school, simplifying extracurriculars, streamlining meal planning and aligning celebrations and vacations to prioritized family values.

The Minimalist Parenting website offers a free online MinCamp, which may be a great way to start your journey. Another idea is to work through the book with parents from your moms group, school community or neighborhood, book-group style.

Building Emotional Understanding

I recently took a parenting class called Building Emotional Understanding and will be continuing with certification as an instructor of Parenting by Connection with a non profit organization in Palo Alto called Hand in Hand Parenting.

Being a new parent of an infant is exhausting yet quite straightforward in the sense that if you are sure feed, clothe, bathe, cuddle and put to rest your new infant, he or she will be content and eager to interact, smile, play and learn.

Toddlerhood is a different ball game in that a parent meeting their toddler’s basic needs for food, sleep, cuddling and bathing don’t always compute to calm, angelic behavior (the understatement of the century!).

So what starts to complicate behavior as kids grow? In Building Emotional Understanding, Patty Wipfler, Director of Hand in Hand Parenting, teaches that the limbic system of the brain actually requires consistent, strong, trustworthy emotional connection in order to grow into an optimally functioning, learning system. In other words, the emotional bond is as important as sleep, food and bathing in a growing person’s development and can actually be used in moments of off track behavior to help steer a child back to their calm and reasonable place.

This may seem obvious to many parents and caregivers as they often recognize the positive impact that their strong bond with a child has on that child’s security and behavior, even in toddlerhood.

What is often misunderstood is what a child needs when their behavior goes off track. In our culture, time outs and punishments have become common place responses to a toddler’s off track behavior.

In the Parenting by Connection approach that is taught at Hand in Hand Parenting, a toddler’s tantrum is an opportunity to get closer, create safety, and invite a full session of emotional release from a toddler to create a deeper bond with caregivers so that the brain’s limbic system’s need for closeness is met. A toddler can cycle through a tantrum with an adult coming closer, rather than punishing and rejecting, much more effectively and with trust in themselves and caretakers in tact.

Many busy modern parents believe they don’t have time to use Parenting by Connection techniques in their chaotic lives. The reality is that it doesn’t take more time to implement this approach; it requires more presence. So if parents work on their ability to be present with their toddlers (and older children’s) wide range of emotions, being their close connection and safety as they cycle through and release difficult emotions, they will find their attempts to “discipline” more successful and sustainable and children’s limbic systems’ are fed rather than starved, strengthening their foundations for learning and empathy as they grow.

For more information, see http://www.handinhandparenting.org and contact me at (415) 377-6791 or at kiran@rayoflightcoaching.com if you would like me to provide a demonstration of how to use these parenting and behavioral techniques with children. I give talks at doctor’s offices, Mom’s groups, preschools and provide one on one coaching as well.