Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less

Information overload has led to overwhelmed, confused parents and over-scheduled, over-parented kids.

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kk: From The Parent’s Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.
kk: Today, we’re discussing Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest
This title, presents a new conception of parenting: fewer rules and more listening to your gut. The authors explain an approach to raising a family that puts your personal and family values at the heart of your life as a parent.
kk: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.
kk: Vincent, what is Minimalist Parenting?
vp: Minimalist parenting is about trusting your own values and preferences once again. This approach is perfect for parents who frequently find themselves feeling overwhelmed by all the content out there and keeping up with changing parenting trends.
Dr. Christine Koh is a psychologist specializing in behavioral and cognitive science. Asha Dornfest is an expert on lifestyle and parenting, and how to strike a healthy balance between being both a parent and a professional. Lots of parents stop doing things for themselves and focus their lives on their kids. But the authors believe that becoming a parent doesn’t have to mean that your old life is gone forever. This title demonstrates that keeping your dreams and passions alive is not only good for you and your relationship, it’s also good for your children.
kk: Is minimalist parenting another parenting style or does it present rules for parents to follow?
vp: No, that's what makes this approach to parenting unique. The authors argue that it's not about following strict rules, it’s about giving yourself permission to reject expectations and ever-changing ideal ways of parenting. It’s about living a joyful life that fits your personal values, not those of others. Parenting this way makes your kids stronger and allows them to grow.
kk: That sounds ideal, so how do parents get started with minimalist parenting?
vp: While there are no strict rules of minimalist parenting, the authors present some steps to get parents started. According to the authors, the first thing parents should do is clear their mindsets. Begin with a fresh mindset that challenges the demand of “more.” One way to do this is to stop comparing yourself to other parents. Even if their children have more toys, get better grades and do more activities, their style of parenting is still not yours. Everyone has to develop their own unique path.
Next, drop the idea of being perfect. Instead, try to improve bit by bit. Remember that you’re not alone in your struggles and that other parents share the same worries, so find a space to talk about your experiences with them.
kk: As in a community of parents?
vp: Yes, either join a community or turn to a support system of parents.
kk: Well, good thing there's Parents Club!
vp: Haha, yes. Finally, remember that more doesn’t necessarily mean safer or better. Minimalist parenting is about you. The real importance lies in being present, minimizing and being happy – with yourself. These things will benefit you, your children's lives, and your entire family well-being.
kk: What do the authors mean when they say minimalist parenting is about you?
vp: You must learn to trust yourself, your interests, and your decisions. What the authors mean by this is that every family, parent, and child is different. It's important to know that what works for other parents or other children may not work in your situation and that's okay. As a parent, you consume information from various resources or other parents, but you should check your sources and weigh your decisions against your family situation. Do what you feel is right for you, even if that means not following the herd. The authors also argue that you are your main priority. When you treat yourself well, you can be your best self in your relationships with your partner, children, friends, and community.
kk: Does minimalist parenting focus more on self-care in addition to family well-being?
vp: Yes, the authors' advice not to feel that self-care is selfish. Actually practicing self-care is good in showing your children how to care for themselves. Self-care is critical to a healthy life and is easy to do by starting small. For example, allow yourself to care about how you look. Even if you work at home, get out of your old yoga pants occasionally and put on something that makes you feel great.
This also applies to spending time with your partner and your relationship. With children, it's easy to do family things or discuss managing family logistics with your partner. But rather than having your time together spend with kids or doing things for the family, start making room for pointless fun again.
kk: So it seems like minimalist parenting will give you the time to focus on who you are and who you want to become. But how does it work in practice? How do you make more time for yourself while still handling everything else?
vp: While it may seem too good to be true right now, the authors answer how to put this into practice. The primary way to implement minimalist parenting is using time management. Time is a limited resource. But rather than asking “How do I fit everything in?”, ask “What is most important to fit in?” Since you are managing your time and helping your family manage their time, you have to recognize the rhythm of your family and allow flexibility.
kk: Can you give an example of what the authors mean by this?
vp: Yes the authors give a hypothetical. Let’s say you’re an early riser; you could try to work in the morning and rest in the afternoon. Likewise, if your teenage child is a night owl, don’t force him or her to study early in the day. Let them stay up if they’re using that time to study.
Ultimately, time is a tool and you can use it to schedule wisely. Set aside time for yourself during your golden hours, the times when your energy is at its peak, then set aside family time while also allowing for transition time in between. Be mindful of the things you prioritize and make sure you prioritize time to do things for yourself.
Other advice the authors give is to tackle hard things first so you have enough energy for them and leave time for serendipitous encounters, time with nothing to do, and time that is open for your children. In addition, allow yourself to decline activities that you and your family don’t want to do.
kk: For example, should you save some chores for your children to save parents time?
vp: Yes, giving your kids chores as soon as possible also helps with time management and makes them feel more like valuable family members.
kk: That makes sense. So another thing that comes to mind when I think of minimalist is spring cleaning or having your home styled as minimalistic. Does the state of your house have anything to do with minimalist parenting?
vp: I thought the same, but yes the authors say the state of your home is an important aspect in minimalist parenting. The authors argue that having less stuff will make you a better parent. They say minimalist parenting isn't about depriving yourself of buying things or getting rid of everything in your home. It's about only buying things you need and keeping things you love. For many people, decluttering feels overwhelming, but you can start small. For each item, as a rule of thumb, ask yourself whether you would really pay to replace it if you lost it in a fire.
kk: Honestly that might help parents out financially too because you are buying less things and have more left as a result.
vp: But in some cases, more money doesn't equal a better life. While it can alleviate stress from paying bills or for necessities, money can also cause stress due to the options it offers and heightened expectations. But, if you find yourself with more money left over as a result of buying fewer things, you could choose to work less and instead have more time for yourself and your family.
So when buying things, the question changes from “Do I have enough money?” to “Do I truly need it, and not just because others have it?”
kk: That's a really good point. Also, parents can use this as an opportunity to teach their kids about finances and how to manage money.
vp: Exactly, it's an opportunity to help them understand where money comes from and how much things cost.
kk: True, good point. It seems like an underlying theme in minimalist parenting is relieving extra stress, is that true?
vp: Yes that is a component of minimalist parenting. Another area that the authors say stress comes from is education. Education generates stress for parents because you want your child to be in the best school, have stimulating toys, be able to read early on, play an instrument, and speak several languages. But, the authors say to drop these expectations.
Minimalist parenting embraces continual learning. Once you realize that your child is learning all the time, you’ll no longer be under pressure like finding the “perfect” school.
kk: What does continual learning look like?
vp: Part of ongoing education means cultivating curiosity in your children. You can do this by listening to different kinds of music or bringing home new and exciting food, etc. Another example is going grocery shopping together and let your kids pick what they want to eat. Encourage responsibility and independence, and make them feel like their decisions and knowledge are valued. The authors note that everyday learning and learning in the home environment are at least as important as your child's school curriculum. Schools are a central education environment and while they are important, they must be compatible with your actual day-to-day lives. So if a long commute to a slightly better school is interfering with living costs, time with friends, or family, then you may consider a different option.
kk: Okay, I get that. What about the stress that comes from a central education environment? I feel like when I was growing up, I had so much stress that was centered around school itself.
vp: That's a good question. There are a few strategies the authors note that make the school year easier for the whole family. First, homework belongs to your children, so parents should try to eliminate themselves from the task.
Next, get involved with teachers and the school community. School is a team effort and all parents are in it together. Get to know classmates or volunteer at school, and you’ll find that school-related matters become much more enjoyable.
Parents shouldn’t try to be perfect because every small step or effort is great. Don’t feel like a failure just because you can’t make breakfast every day or volunteer at school.
kk: Now that school is covered, what about time spent outside of school?
vp: When it comes to outside-of-school activities like playtime and extracurriculars, the authors say they are important but shouldn't be planned too strictly. Children need playtime but don't need to follow a strict plan. As a parent, you don't need to stress about which extracurriculars or playtime activities are best for children. What matters most is to put playtime in your schedule, and make it simple and good fun.
You don’t have to play with your kids every second. You should allow them to have independent play. This requires fewer toys, reduces clutter, and makes room for more creativity. Even chores can have a playful element to them and you don’t necessarily have to distinguish them from play.
kk: What about electronic devices and electronic toys?
vp: Electronics are definitely a mixed blessing. There are people on both sides of the debate of whether they harm or help children develop. But, you don't have to be restricted to either side. Minimalist parenting suggests that you find a balance that fits with your family. Dr. Koh reminds parents that electronics are only one kind of activity your child can engage in. Going outdoors to forests and beaches or using wooden toys are also important. These activities can stimulate your child and let them learn how to play without store-bought toys.
kk: So when finding the right balance among extracurricular activities, should parents keep an open mind? Since there is no universally perfect approach, so go with your child’s interests, right?
vp: Exactly, this will allow your child space to find their own passions and talents. Once they have found those, you can encourage them without pushing.
kk: So true. What about spending time with family, where does that come in?
vp: If you're a parent who is stressing about your next family vacation, birthday, or family reunion - you don't have to! Family bonding happens in many scenarios, especially casual ones. For example, shared meals are great ways for your family to connect. You can even shop and cook together and have everyone help by carrying out a task. It's fun, easy, and not too stressful.
kk: It sounds like the key takeaway from this title is that having children doesn’t mean you and your interests have to come last on the family priority list. Rather than looking for new ideas on parenting, listen to your gut and prioritize your family’s values. Simplifying in this way will create more space and time for you to develop together and as individuals.
kk: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki.
vp: And I’m Vincent Phamvan.
kk: We’ll see you next time.

We’re in the midst of a parenting climate that feeds on more. More expert advice, more gear, more fear about competition and safety, and more choices to make about education, nutrition, even entertainment. The result? Overwhelmed, confused parents and over-scheduled, over-parented kids.

In Minimalist Parenting, Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest offer a fresh approach to navigating all of this conflicting background “noise.” They show how to tune into your family’s unique values and priorities and confidently identify the activities, stuff, information, and people that truly merit space in your life.

The book begins by showing the value of a minimalist approach, backed by the authors’ personal experience practicing it. It then leads parents through practical strategies for managing time, decluttering the home space, simplifying mealtimes, streamlining recreation, and prioritizing self-care. Filled with parents’ personal stories, readers will come away with a unique plan for a simpler life.