Just a quickie review this time, so let’s jump right in to Book #3 of my “8 Favorite Parenting Books”.
Living Simply With Children: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide For Moms, Dads, and Kids Who Want To Reclaim The Bliss of Childhood and the Joy of Parenting, by Marie Sherlock.
This book is now ten years old, and though some of the resources cited within it may be outdated, the principle behind the book remains stronger than ever: you and your kids do not need a lot of “stuff” to be happy, have fun or feel worthy. Less really is more.
Intrinsically, I know this and we really try to live this way as much as we can. For me personally, it is primarily from an environmental/waste standpoint. But it can be hard at times, particularly when you feel like you are swimming against a pounding sea of materialism, commercialism and peer pressure to keep up with what everyone else is buying. Of course we falter, and sometimes it feels like often. And it’s hard to curb the actions of well-meaning friends and family who do not understand, appreciate and/or remember your simplicity objectives—this is an area I have not mastered except in a “pick your battles” kind of way. It continues to be a work in progress.
Anyway, I read this book not too long after M was born, I think during my maternity leave. I had read three other “simple living books”* prior to M being born, and so finding this one seemed appropriate (and more current) as we added a new dimension to our lives. Indeed, that seems to be the first time period in parenting when you become aware of all the “stuff” that is supposedly necessary to raise a baby. I wanted to stay as close to the simple life as possible. Looking back over the past five years, I didn’t always succeed, but I am more or less happy with the decisions we made.
Now, as M approaches Kindergarten and has peers that are starting to talk about and compare their “stuff”, I (sadly) see that we are entering a new tidal phase that will require us to double down on our preference for simplicity. I seem to know more about which dolls M’s friends have than I do about the girls themselves. And just today I personally witnessed one little girl in M’s class, who apparently does not have the particular line of dolls like M and some of her classmates do, ask her mom if she could have one because she saw M carrying hers in. It was awkward for me and for this girl’s mother. I honestly was under the impression that all of the girls (there are 6 in the class) were each bringing in a doll every day to play with at play time and no one was being or feeling left out (indeed I had asked about this a few months back when we enrolled because while M was begging me to bring a doll to school like her friends were, I had initially said no because her prior school had a “no toys from home” rule, which I favored; I was told that kids can bring something in to play with and that it was OK, so I sent M in with a doll so she could tender her “social currency” when they played together…now I am completely torn about what to do given what I just heard this morning). This is not sitting well with me at all. What I observed at the Disney On Ice show this past weekend was another sad reminder of why I need to re-read this book and regain some hope, perspective and…well, balls.
Fortunately, this book will do that. It is certainly more of a beginner’s guide, very general in its approach (i.e. there are not deep philosophical discussions about the virtues of simplicity). It has several chapters about what simple living is, why it is important (for your family, community and the planet), and perhaps most importantly, it gives pointers about how to remain confident and steadfast in your preference for simplicity despite peer pressure, media/TV and marketing. It provides age-appropriate (young child through teenager) advice about how to teach and instill in your kids the value of living simply. It does this by offering explanations that you can give your children that are values-based, earth friendly, people friendly, and/or financially friendly. It gives ideas for simple family rituals and celebrations that you can incorporate into your home. There are resources listed throughout the book for further reading about a particular area (like the negatives of television or finding groups of other like-minded families/individuals). In sum, this book is a perfect introduction to simple living as well as a good resource to consult when you start to go off course.
* The three non-parenting simplicity books that I have also read (and should probably re-read!) are The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life, by Cecile Andrews (1997); The Simple Life: Thoughts on Simplicity, Frugality, and Living Well, by Amy Dacyczyn et al. (1998—this contains essays by several writers); and The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living, by Janet Luhrs (1997). These are obviously much older than Living Simply With Children, and so perhaps outdated from a resource standpoint. Aside from that, these books go much deeper into the philosophy of simplicity (particularly The Circle of Simplicity) and the how-to’s of simple living around the house. I also have another book, which I have not finished yet, called Voluntary Simplicity, by Duane Elgin, which is more recently published/revised in 2010. Any one of these books would be a good supplement to the book reviewed today.
Also, there is a more recently published (2010) book geared toward simple living with children entitled, Simplicity Parenting:Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross. I do not know anything about this book, but just mention it because it may have more current resources/links within.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
We recently installed a clothesline outside in our backyard. While it was part of our ongoing efforts to green up our home and use less energy when we can, the unexpected benefit that I have discovered is that there is something so peaceful about hanging clothes on the line. With the wind at my back, and sometimes music in my ears (today it was Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’s “Raising Sand” album…highly recommend it), a wave of relaxation always seems to overcome me in a way that doing laundry inside just doesn’t. And there is no really great fast way of hanging heavy, wet laundry without potentially having it fall to the ground, so you are forced to slow down, if just for a moment.
M has also taken to sometimes running in and out of the sheets and has fun while I get the job done. In some ways, I feel like it connects M and me to our families that came before us who did not have the luxury of indoor dryers. Even though it was fifty or more years ago, I imagine there were many young children afoot when laundry day arrived, chasing the sheets just as M does now. With technology erasing so much of the way life “used to be” (often for good to be sure), I like it when there are some things that I know that just will not change over time that can connect me to my foremothers. Although I don’t think that I will be buying a washboard anytime soon though!
And sometimes, there is a bit of whimsy to be found too…
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