As a site that covers parenting, we can say this with certainty: There are so many different parenting philosophies out there (and all of them are legit, no matter what your mother-in-law tells you.) From helicopter parenting and free-range moms to attachment parenting and tiger moms, there is no shortage of ways to raise your children — and no shortage of people who think you’re doing it wrong.
Because of this, parenting guilt is a real thing, and it can be really stressful. But minimalist parenting has a refreshingly low-stress approach (yes, you read that right — low-stress and parenting in the same sentence), and it’s way easier than you think. Since reading Minimalist Parenting by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest, I’ve adopted some of the tips and can vouch that these can make your life and your kids’ lives better, simpler and calmer.
1. Stop hovering
It’s tempting to be by your child’s side every minute of every day, but as a minimalist parent, I make a concerted effort to let my son have some space. I keep an eye on him, but let him have some freedom to find things out for himself.
It can be hard not to jump in every time your child is headed for an avoidable mistake you can stop, but try for small periods of time, then increase them gradually. Don’t ignore them. Instead, let them know you’re there if they need you, but you won’t be following them around with Bubble Wrap under their butt in case they fall.
2. Don’t overschedule
It’s incredible how young you can start your kids on extracurriculars. Whether that’s sports, dance, chess, theater — or all of the above — it doesn’t matter. This tendency as parents to want your kids to be exposed to a number of different activities comes from a good place, but it also means there are a couple of nights a week your kids might be eating dinner in the car between their different team practices and private lessons. If your child show up with ballet tights on underneath their baseball pants because they didn’t have time to change, this tip is for you.
Pick one thing, maybe two, that your kids love to do. That’s all. If your child thinks they love gymnastics, take a couple of trial classes before committing to the whole season. If you overschedule your kids, I guarantee you will be exhausted trying to squeeze it all in. And they’ll be exhausted too.
Leaving unscheduled time to read, play video games or hang out with their friends (online and in real life) will give them time to decompress and rest. You might need to fight the urge to say yes to everything and learn to say no a bit more. Say no to squeezing a playdate in between soccer and ballet and no to an extra errand before, after or even during after-school pickup. Take a cue from your kid and embrace that two-letter word. You’ll all feel better for it.
3. You don’t need to entertain your kids
You are not responsible for entertaining your kids. I repeat, you are not responsible for entertaining your kids. It’s getting increasingly harder — especially when things like Pinterest and Instagram exist — not to feel like you have to have an art corner with rainbow color-coded supplies, DIY after-school crafts for every day of the week or baking projects that are healthy and delicious.
By letting my son be bored, I’m encouraging him to figure out how to fill time by himself. This doesn’t mean I won’t give him suggestions, but I let them set up the activity, enjoy it on their own and clean it up by himself. That way, I can enjoy your mug of coffee while it’s still warm.
4. Let your kids solve their own problems
If your kids come to you whining about who pushed whom, try to be their mediator, not their referee. Ask them how they think they can solve the problem instead of jumping in with a solution just to make the bickering end. Don’t dole out punishments or quick fixes. If there’s a meltdown happening, try to talk the problem out as if it’s happening to someone else. Ask your kids, ‘If Bert and Ernie were having this problem, what would you say to help them?’ Reframing the context of the situation might give them fresh perspective.
Anyone who has ever waited 20 minutes for a toddler to put on one shoe (most likely on the wrong foot) knows the agony of wanting to just stick their foot in the shoe already so you can go on about your business. In these moments, I refrain and try to allot enough time for all the dawdling — like when he puts his coat on inside out and backward. In the end, that independence and freedom to figure things out on his own will be worth it because I’m raising him to be a self-starter.
5. Declutter your home
We acquire so much stuff — especially when we have kids. Minimalist parenting focuses on clearing all that unnecessary stuff out of your life so you can focus on what actually matters. Take the Marie Kondo approach to your belongings. You’d be amazed at how much stuff you’ve been holding onto because you think it’s important to one of your family members when they couldn’t care less about the item. Clearing out all the things that don’t matter allows you to focus on what does.
Nervous about tossing out your kids’ belongings? Try this sneaky maneuver: Take a day and pay attention to the toys your kids play with, the things they’re drawn to, what they are actually invested in. Box up everything else and put it in the attic or basement, but don’t get rid of the box yet. I’m willing to bet your kids might not even notice. If they do, ask them specifically what they’re looking for, dig those items out and put them in a separate box. At an interval you’re comfortable with, donate what they didn’t notice was gone, and every month or so, rotate the toys in the kids playroom. Pull out the smaller box, swap out some toys — and voilà! — it will be like they’re brand new.
6. Be smart about how you treat technology
As kids get older, technology is taking on a bigger role in their classrooms and is central to their social lives. Be sensible about how much time your kids spend with screens of any kind, and make sure that you set healthy boundaries where you can. Consider gating inappropriate websites, setting up parental controls, monitoring use on kid-friendly apps and creating time limits on certain devices.
Parenting isn’t about shielding your kids from the world; it’s about equipping them to deal with it in a healthy and productive way. One way to show your kids how to use technology to their benefit is by modeling the right behaviors. Children are sponges. They observe and soak up everything — even if you think they’re not paying attention. So teach your kids through actions, and be aware of showing them moderation. Show them that technology can be a huge asset in solving problems and being creative.
7. Prioritize self-care
One of the biggest parts of the minimalist parenting lifestyle (and my personal favorite) is self-care. Being a parent means putting your kids first, and all too often that means you slip into the background and vanish. But it’s not one or the other. Your own well-being is just as important as that of your children.
Your kids need you to take the time for some self-care because they need to see how important self-care is. There are a million and one excuses you can use to avoid finding some me time. But here’s the thing — it doesn’t have to be a couple of hours or even one hour. Start by setting aside 20 minutes a day for you. Whether it be for a quick meditation, some yoga or just hiding in the bathroom eating Twizzlers. You do you. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive either — whatever makes you feel good. Maybe that’s a chocolate bar or a five-minute face mask. Prioritize yourself, and your kids will learn how important it is to take time for themselves.
This post is sponsored by Messenger Kids.