Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids
by Jai Onofrey
When I came upon Kim Payne’s book, Simplicity Parenting, the first thing that struck me was the front cover. Two pairs of feet swinging over lightly rippled water, one small set and one daddy-sized, both with pants rolled up. I could feel the summer breeze between its pages. When I turned the book over it sported fluorescent yellow highlighter scribbled on its back cover, a sure demonstration that there were children present in my home amidst my moment of stillness and contemplation.
And therein lies the giant paradox of parenting. The jumbo- shrimp that can define day to day as life as a parent. There isn’t a lot that is simple about parenting. Save for love, which depending on the misdemeanor could even be questioned (just kidding – but you know those moments when you temporarily disown them). Then, there is tough love. Nothing prepares you for what it means to need to “discipline” your child, to determine what kind of parent you are after your idealisms burst and you make your first ‘mistake’. We can feel unarmed in many ways for what the stork has brought us with no instruction manual. We are stewards of these little people and the pressure of messing up our children if we don’t ‘do it right’ can launch many of us into a pseudo boot camp for parent how to. Many a new parent can fall into the trap of feeling the need to arm and equip themselves with all the greatest, latest gadgets, olden golden tried and trues, books, systems, advice, angles, processes, and ‘techniques’. Not to mention things that giggle, bounce, hum, swing and all other sorts of paraphernalia. And don’t forget those well-intentioned gifts, hand me downs and pay it forwards. And my personal all time favorite, ‘crazy makers’ (noisy toys that test your sanity).
My mother, as a gift to my first daughter, gave her a toy dog that sounded like an 80 year old man with no teeth laughing uncontrollably. Our first, and very infamous, crazy maker as new parents. This dog was funny~ it would roll around in doggie hysteria. As I began to feel strong urges to throw the dog across the room and rip out its innards (batteries), I knew that my mother was having the last laugh and incidentally, so was the toy dog. In my quest for simplicity, my case was not helped by the fact that I had spent years globetrotting, living out of a bag (pre-mama, pre-wife, pre-fixed address), therefore not exercising my domestic goddess muscle. As a result, when I did have a home to call my own and a bun in the oven, I was a little over-zealous, channeling Martha Stewart; collecting, accessorizing, color coordinating, refining the details. Oh gawd. I was excited, I was nesting and did so with gusto. Enter: Stuff, stuff and more stuff. And a much more complicated life than those early days I had spent living in an ashram in India studying the deeper meanings of life. It was pretty easy then to be simple. I’d like to see how Zen monks would be with a baby in tow. I bet they wouldn’t last a day.
So ~ Many of us end up with a lot of stuff. And not just in the form of material objects. Mental clutter, emotional clutter, time vampires, the lure of more, faster, bigger, better, combined with work and lack of routines which can equal over scheduling and kids who grow up too fast in an adult world. An overall arrhythmical hokey pokey from work to school, to after school activities, from play dates to enrichment activities. For many of us, this means very little down time, if any at all, and the same for our children. Life has never been busier or fuller for so many people, especially once kids hit the scene. Unless you’ve taken the time to have a purge party, on so many levels, and redefine your priorities, it can quickly get out of hand. We need a license to fish, to hunt, to drive, but take an egg and the fastest swimmer, and voila! a parent is born. Simple, right? Well, according to Payne, it can be. It may sound like you are chasing after a mirage for a drop of water. But I assure you, it is worth the magic carpet ride.
When we started Mission Simplify, almost everything in Payne’s book was anathema to our current modus operandi. We had to do a 180 on many fronts. Even though we were the perfect parents. (cheeky smile). Kim’s suggestions are not magic pills. However, some of the effects were immediate for our family. Many of Kim’s remedies to current maladies quickly took up permanent residence in our parental medicine cabinet of antidotes. Like a seed on the wind it swept through our home revolutionizing the way we went about our business. We confidently and without question adopted the ways of living that produced results quickly and relatively easily and effortlessly. The pearls hid in the fabric of the everyday; the rituals, routines and rhythms, the threads that hold it all together.
I had a hard time letting go of many things, but especially what I deemed to be useful. And with the way my mind works, that was almost everything. Mama, Aka, McGuiver. I can build a helicopter out of a hairclip and a rubberband….I’ve always been the girl who had what someone else was looking for in my bag of tricks. I took pride in that. But come full circle, it was still stuff, and I still had a lot of it. I seemed to have a disease, a phobia to letting go. And now my children had amplified the prognosis. It was exponentially worse as I attached it to sentiment. “Oh, I know it’s stained, but she wore that the day that she ate avocado for the first time!” and so on and so on. It didn’t seem to matter that there was a hundred other shirts in a similar category. Which ones to march off to the discard pile? It felt like a mini trailer of Sophie’s Choice. I felt somehow I was dishonoring memories if I threw stuff out or gave it away. I was feeling a need to save everything, projecting myself into the future when my kids would be off to college and I would be sitting at the kitchen table smelling their sweaters. But my birds were just babes, and an empty nest was at least a good 18 years away.
I was finally starting to understand my mother’s need to save my baby teeth in what she fondly calls “the memory drawer”. I’m certain she probably still puts stuff in that drawer and I’m in my 30’s. I bet if I looked she would have our first newspaper article featuring Modern Mama pressed and placed. There is even a very small part of me, albeit, very very small, that understands why a certain Jewish cinematic mama, would keep Gaylord Falker’s dry leathery foreskin. It is simply called being a mother. Its part and parcel. This is where parenting is simple. Love. Love is simple. It is unfathomable how much we can love these little babes. Even in their 30’s. We will always be our mama’s baby. And our little worm burners will always be our babies. Long after they are gone and have children of their own, we will still be sniffing sweaters. It just is what it is.
You may not go as far as keeping teeth and foreskins, but I’m certain that if it’s not one of these, or hair from the first haircut or the first bonnet worn home from the hospital, it’s something else. There is a deep primal part of us that wants the baby smell to last forever, if only we could bottle it. There is a part in all of us that wants the pup to stay a puppy. Obviously Payne is not suggesting that we throw the baby out with the bath water (excuse the pun) and get rid of cherished memorabilia that we place high value on and can never replace, but he is saying this: you need to dig deep. If you want to really assist your family in this process, you are going to have to make some decisions. He is saying that less is more and I share with you tongue and cheek about teeth and foreskin for this reason: You will have your moments. But it will be worth it, and armed with the support and inspiration of this book and hopefully those around you whom you have enrolled in your mission, you will be successful. And as a result, so will your family.
For my family, foundations that no longer served us were shaken, challenged and eventually forced into foreclosure. Letting go of the last pieces I had deemed were necessary for survival (my tot can watch television so I can have a shower) were like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. How was I to survive without oxygen, my crutches, all the toys and books and stuff needed for their entertainment and pleasure and education!? And heaven forbid, how could I eighty-six the well-intentioned gifts, hand me downs and pay it forwards we had received? How could we implement rhythm, simplify our schedule, and filter out the adult world?
But we did, and not only did we survive, we really started to thrive. My family has taken a sabbatical away from the daily grind and everyday pressures of modern life. I have created for my family a temporary oasis in which the implementation of simplicity has been made easier, forged and fortified by my determination to put Payne’s suggestions to the test. If there has been anything I’ve been reminded of during this process, it’s that the only thing constant in life is change. Amidst life’s perpetual and constant flux, a deep and sustainable shift has been made. My family’s life has been alchemically transformed, but I did need to roll up my sleeves and get a bit dirty.
There is a pathology that this book addresses, a seedy underbelly to the times we live in; our fast paced, hurried and busy lives, overflowing with stuff and information, inundated by more and more, filling our time to the point of overload. It is a rare bird indeed that seems to escape the negative aspects and grasp of consumerism, peer pressure, media and technology. These are only a few of the dragons that can breathe fire down the backs of our best efforts and intentions.
Payne gives us the tools to jump the chasm between wanting to create change and actually making it happen. He is the guy to have on your team. See in your minds eye as you approach the plate. Bases are full. Bottom of the 9th. Look to Coach Kim, who confidently, through years of experience and insight, points to the stands as you get up to bat. He can help you to hit a home run, and walk, rather than run the bases. It need not be a complete restructuring and revamping of your entire life. A commitment to make certain changes that resonate with you will help you to realize many of the rewards of applying the nuggets of wisdom in this book.
For more on Kim John Payne and Simplicity Parenting, be sure to check out www.simplicityparenting.com.
May the force be with you, and good luck on Mission Simplify!
*We are delighted to have three brand-spanking new copies of this book to give away to our followers (which my children have not yet attacked with a highlighter!). Contest closed at midnight on Friday, May 10th.
And our winners are……Julie V, Nicola R, and Stefanie C. We’ll be in touch via email to arrange for delivery of your books. Happy Mother’s Day ladies!!