Is Simplicity The Antidote to Modern Parenthood?

Day

They’ve been chasing seagulls on the beach for twenty minutes, roaring at the startled birds like tiny dinosaurs. Their giggling resonates above the waves with the inimitable delight of toddlerhood. My son and his new friend run back to us puffing and grinning with rosy-red cheeks and windswept hair; the joy of unexpected and spontaneous play is infectious. I can’t stop smiling either.

We arrived in Auckland a week ago as part of my husband’s new work venture, which threatens to complicate the simplistic lifestyle we strive to carve out for ourselves. For the next two years we’ll be fully resuming our roles as global nomads, living between two countries: Canada and New Zealand.

Our best defence has been to neutralize complexity with a level of simplicity that is unprecedented even by our standards, and so far, so good.

We’ve abandoned our usual schedules, and my little man and I are filling our days building sand castles, making new friends, patting dogs, playing hide and seek and enjoying passionfruit sorbet in the fading afternoon sun. We have no agenda, nowhere we need to be. No playdates. No classes. I’ve surrendered to the tides of newness; my day job has slotted around our evolving lives now more than ever.

Although not my birthplace, these two iconic islands floating in the South Pacific have been my home away from home for the last twenty years. They conjure images of green rolling hills, white sandy beaches and snow capped mountains. People say when they visit New Zealand they step back in time to a simpler age. This place feels innocent, untouched by adversity commonplace in other parts of the world.

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So, when the time comes to bid farewell to our new little friend I’m struck by the conversation that follows. The boys have had so much fun they want to meet again, but his mother explains her son’s schedule is full for the next week. He’s visibly disappointed. Between daycare, swimming lessons, soccer and playdates he doesn’t have a spare moment.

His mum laughs with a hint of pride when I suggest her three-year-old needs a diary to keep track of his appointments.

As they walk away, my little man shouts, “nice to meet you”. He kisses me on the cheek and we play a while longer before heading home for lunch and a nap. I feel a shadow cast over their morning of innocent wonder as I stand alone with the parental knowledge that they’re unlikely to meet again.

Over the coming days I reflect on the hyper-scheduled child and the fine line between good intentions and too much. Our society expects children’s time, no matter how young, to be structured. To be neat, tidy and accounted for, and all too often, spent away from their parents. It compels me to question why. Why do we push our kids into a maelstrom of external distractions at such a young age?

There is no denying nothing challenges us more physically, mentally and emotionally than parenthood. Most of the time I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water. But, I also acknowledge this is the life I signed up for. In our modern world, with ever decreasing family support and ever increasing financial demands, parents are understandably overwhelmed with the pressure of daily life.

Outsourcing our children’s time seems to be the obvious answer to find a balance. And as a bonus, daycare and other structured activities claim to provide socialization, independence and greater future success. But, is it true and what’s the real cost for both our kids and us, their parents?

The world our children are growing up in is rapidly changing. Many economists predict self-employment and entrepreneurship will become a considerable part of the economic landscape. Our children will need to be able to think for themselves, shape their own destinies and be confident with a lack of externally provided framework.

Over-scheduling our kids, while well-meaning, may be doing more harm than good.

Simplifying our children’s lives and providing boundless opportunities for free play, is a progressive attempt at insuring our children have the capacity for unprecedented open-mindedness, enlightened thinking and innovation. But, more important than future success, what does over-scheduling do to family life?

Ask any parent if they love their child unconditionally and you’ll be deafened by a resounding and heartfelt, “YES!”. Of course we do. But it doesn’t matter what we say, all that matters is how they feel. And the most important thing to young children is time spent with their parents. When we send them away too frequently we relinquish, often unconsciously, precious opportunities to connect. And when it becomes excessive disconnection can flourish, threatening to undermine the very foundations of our most valued kinship.

“Children spell LOVE….T.I.M.E”, Dr A. Withal

But when time is our most limited resource how do we give it freely? As parents, we find ourselves desperately eking out precious minutes each day for ourselves – to go for a quick walk, to wash our hair or run an errand – time we took for granted before having kids. My husband and I, more often than not now, are burning the candle at both ends trying to get to a place we hope will safeguard unbroken time with our son, reduce the stress in our lives and give us more time for each other.

And, it seems we’re not alone. Increasing numbers of parents are inspired by their children to find creative solutions, because, the old model of earn more money and buy more stuff is failing to bring happiness. Minimalism may hold the answer. As Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist says, “the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you.” Having less stuff promises a reverse snowball effect of freeing up time to be spent on the things that make us deeply happy.

Here in our little corner of the world, I’m seeing more clearly what it is I’m chasing. A simple life in a complex world. It’s a tough nut to crack but I plan to give it a jolly good shot. Ultimately, each family must choose what’s right for them. But first, we need to realize we have a choice. We don’t have to follow the standard, if we don’t want to.

The mother I met at the beach is choosing a very different path to mine. She’s financially secure and chooses to stay home with her kids, yet she sends them away as often as she can possibly schedule. The choice baffles me, but I acknowledge the path may be the right one for her, for any number of reasons. My fear is in our haze of modern day overwhelm, our kid’s childhoods will be over in a heartbeat.

And we’ll look back, with grey hair and wrinkled hands, wishing we’d spent more time with them, stretching out our fleeting gift of young parenthood as far as we could have taken it.

It’s ok if your path looks different to mine. The key is not to compare or judge, but rather to hold each other’s hand as we walk these parallel lines of parenthood, and offer guidance, inspiration and support wherever necessary. Because ultimately we all want the same thing: to listen to our children roar with pleasure, their faces aglow with joy – safe in the knowledge that they can do it all over again the next day.

Ready to simplify? Take my Free 7-Day Simplifying Childhood Challenge

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COMMENTS
  • May 06, 2016

    I completely agree! My younger son is 5, and we haven’t had him in any scheduled activities yet. He goes to pre-school because I work full time, and he had swimming lessons with his brother last year. He enjoys playing so much that scheduled activities/classes haven’t seemed like a good fit for him. We just love having as much quality time together as possible.

    • May 06, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks for your comment Jenna and we’re the same – quality time is so precious. I can’t believe my little man will be three this month – it is going TOO fast! I am reading more and more about the value of free play to a child’s healthy development and crave as much of it as I can get for my son. Thanks so much for reading and have a great weekend 🙂

  • May 11, 2016

    As a mom to a 14,12,10 & 7 yr old I saw what other parents were doing and it never appealed to me. With only a few hours each night to be able to see their dad, we prioritized family time.
    We also only have 1 car so logistically if all the kids had been in different activities – it would have been a nightmare.
    Saying that, they are older now and we recently got a membership to the YMCA where they all participate in martial arts and swimming lessons.
    It’s a balance of honouring your child’s needs, your parenting style and abilities and long term benefit.

    I also think some parents are really struggling to justify their need to go to work and wanting that to make a difference in the life of their children. I’m not implying in any way that parents who have to work or want to work should feel guilty, quite the opposite – but I do think a lot of parents do feel guilty and want that time spent away from their child to make a lasting difference and putting their child in activities is showered with mostly only positive outcomes so that seems like money well spent.

    I think any parent who is following their child’s needs and lead are probably going to find the right balance.

  • May 11, 2016

    I agree that kids should not be over-scheduled and parents should try to spend more time with them. It also lets kids enjoy their childhood before they need to take on responsibilities. Life goes by so quickly that we shouldn’t speed it up by being too busy.

    When my daughter gets older, I want her to remember how much fun we had together as a family. Those are the memories that carry on with them.

    P.S. I love your writing! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  • May 30, 2016
    Cheryl Swarts

    Thanks for ALL this great insight. I’m feeling better about my decisions on raising my child. Keep writing and keep sharing!!!

    • May 30, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Oh thank you Cheryl – I’m so happy to hear it resonated with you. Really appreciate your comment. Have a lovely evening.

  • June 02, 2016
    Lori

    Such a good write! I really think that time management is the key to a happy life. The less we have to schedule or buy or deal with the more time we will have. I saw an Oprah show years ago that looked at a young couple’s finances and the mother having a job outside the home actually COST them money. Some financial expert proved it by tracking their expenses. The mother broke down in tears and said she had never wanted to be away from her two very young children but thought she had to work. So maybe a more minimalist life is the key. Or simply being conscious of what it is we are choosing.

    • June 03, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Lori! Happy you enjoyed it 🙂 You are right and we’re trying to work that out at the moment ourselves. If we had to put our son in daycare my job would hardly be worth it financially – all my income would be gobbled up, plus the added stress it would bring to our loose schedules. The rules are changing so rapidly it’s hard to figure out how to change and stay ahead of the game. In Vancouver, where we live, young couples are now deciding to have only one child or have none as they can’t afford a house and sadly, know that never will. We were lucky enough to buy our house five years ago, but if we wanted to buy in our area now there’s no way we’d afford it. We have one son at the moment and we had three years of “trying” before he arrived so I never took it for granted we’d have a second, but more and more with lack of time, cost of living and the complications of life we’re tending towards sticking with one and being grateful he’s healthy and happy. We’ll keep exploring and embracing minimalist as I honestly think it’s the only way for us. Thanks again!

  • July 08, 2016

    I so resonate with this! My daughter wanted her best friend to come and play at her house, but she couldn’t come because she had so many activities and then she needed downtime between her activities 🙁 I love the images of the beach and just having wild unscheduled time. It makes me kind of sad as my daughter’s friends get older they get involved with school and then they are tired and it’s not so easy to meet up. I’m relishing the freedom while it lasts!

  • January 10, 2017

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve made a conscious effort not to over schedule us as a family – with formal or informal activities. My son attends kindy three days a week now he is four and that’s enough. I’m not against organised activities for kids, but I think parents are rushing their kids from pillar to post from a fear of missing out, that is actually resulting in the kids missing out.

    • January 13, 2017
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much Amy! We’re on the same page. And you’re in NZ too? We live in Canada now but my husband is a kiwi and so we love it there 🙂 Sounds like you have a lovely balance in your home xx

  • January 25, 2017

    hey! i really rarely comment on blogs but i feel we are *so* on the same wavelength – i just wrote a piece very similar to this – have you seen this talk https://vimeo.com/23054135? sending lots of love – come say hey over on instagram @mamalinauk x x

    • January 26, 2017
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much Emma and I haven’t seen the video (I will watch) but I wrote a post about simplifying childhood based on Kim John Payne’s work called Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues – you may like it to. I LOVE your site, spent a while on it last night checking it out and will connect on IG. We’re definitely on the same wavelength. Have scheduled one of your posts on my FB page. Thanks for connecting 🙂

  • April 11, 2017
    Nicole

    My husband just walked into the house and marched directly into our sons room, bypassing his hunger for dinner and a kiss for me, to spend the only time he’s had today with our son, reading to him before he falls asleep. I resonate so much with your writing and I wrestle with it, too. Is my huge efforts to feed our family mostly organic and home cook foods, free play lifestyle (outside of his public school pre-K 3.5 hours a day) really preparing him for life or is it creating an outsider? Just in my little experience being a Mom, I am proud of how we live, but finding community and other like-minded families in our area seems the struggle. I have hope that community will form, and I haven’t given up on it…it’s not happening as organically as the kefir smoothie-pops I make. 🙂

  • May 09, 2017
    Bianca

    Thankyou for this post. I really needed some affirmation of my choices today and so much of what you have written here really resonates with me. Spending time with my little guy has so much value, sadly society doesn’t seem to recognise this value.

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