How Do I Simplify My Family Life?

Wheatfield_Content_With_LittleA ‘simple’ life used to be one of the simplest things for a family to achieve.

In fact, for the majority of human history, ‘simple’ family life has been all but mandatory.

But for modern families, creating a simple life is not so simple anymore.

I know this because creating a simple life for my own family has not been simple.

I also know this because I have read hundreds of blogs, tweets and posts from other families who are struggling to create a simple family life for themselves.

And now I am cringing as I prepare to disclose embarrassing details about the contents of my hall closet.

 

 Is Simplifying Enough?

Does familial contentment require us to pare down to the bare, bleached bones?

When you’ve given away all of your technology and moved your children to a shack in the woods to grow wild asparagus in your forest garden does unfiltered contentment magically appear?

Or do you only trade one set of complicated problems for another?

How do you cut away careers, house mortgage, thousands of square-feet of belongings and possessions, cars, student loan debt, friends, extended family, pets, charitable obligations, big green egg, on and on and on?

Is seeking contentment by simplifying your life an oversimplification?

 

Hall Closet Confessional

My family and I are on a journey to answer these questions for ourselves. We’ve figured out ideas that work for us and flops that don’t. Our war on clutter is a daily war of attrition against 2 toddlers and ourselves.

For example, we have a hall closet filled exclusively with winter coats and old instruction manuals for gadgets we don’t own anymore. Accumulating estranged instruction manuals is one of my bad habits.

Accumulating estranged instruction manuals is like buying a box of breakfast cereal, dumping it all out on the front lawn for the squirrels to eat and then carefully stashing the empty box in a safe. It’s extremely illogical, and I know this.

My attachment to these orphaned instruction manuals is complicated, too complicated to explain to my wife, too complicated to explain to myself.

These complicated relationships with the accumulated stuff of modern life are part of what can make battling household clutter such a… well, battle.

 

Simple Idea

Here’s a simple idea that is working for our family.

We fill a bag during the week with items from around the house that we can agree to donate with little debate. Think worn-out undershirts, coffee table coasters, unused kitchen tools and toys the kids haven’t glanced at in a year.

Keep the bag in your trunk (or boot if you live across the pond) and when date night comes around, drop the contents in the nearest donation bin.

We get a lighter, more relaxed feeling as we go out for the evening when we use this method.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking for items to donate, think of a place in your home you’ve been procrastinating to organize. Bookshelves, junk drawers and hall closets (ahem) are likely candidates.

Of course, to execute on this you’ve got to plan and organize that date night first. Sometimes this is the trickiest part of the plan for us!

I’m looking forward to creating a series of posts about date night to address these difficulties soon.

 

Conclusion

Simplicity for simplicity’s sake is probably not going to be enough for my family or yours to reach the kind of contentment we are striving for. That said, building automatic declutter routines can definitely enhance nearly every aspect of your family life, from your date nights to your storage spaces.

Finally, don’t be greedy. If you’ve collected some effective tips on simplifying your family life to increase your family’s joy and contentment please share it in the comments below!

4 Easy Steps to Create More Time (Even When You Have Kids)

keyboard_optWe are all pressed for time, me included.  It feels almost impossible to scoop out a space for reflection and peace.

In four easy steps you can make a place for grace and sanity in your house.

Who doesn’t need more of that?

 

1. Turn off the TV

You’ve heard it before, so what’s new?

TV characters tell children what to buy, how to dress, what to eat, how to talk, what to aspire to, what to love, and what to scorn.  Given the pervasiveness of TV, children will often unknowingly allow it to control their play.

Instead of having a camp-out where they make decisions and invent characters, they have a camp-out where a popular show character is making all the decisions.

But here’s the thing: if you inspire and facilitate the right conditions for kids to be imaginative, they will be able to play alone for longer periods of time.

A child that can play alone for a long period of time isn’t interrupting you all the time, thus allowing you more time to get done what you need to get done.

Turning off the TV takes an enormous amount of effort.  It means finding other activities.  It means inspiring our children’s imaginations and minds by fully engaging our own.

The end goal though (resourceful, responsible, inventive kids) will be worth the effort, ten-fold.

 

2. If you don’t turn off the TV, switch to using Netflix or Amazon Prime exclusively.  

This eliminates all commercials, one of parents’ worst nightmares.

Think about it this way: if you get rid of commercials, your kids won’t know what products to beg you to buy.  

The next time when you go to the store, they won’t know what they’re supposed to whine for, will therefore whine less, and you’ll be out of the store more quickly.

Again, this pays dividends to you in the form of creating time.

 

3. Put your phone on airplane mode

I learned this while on vacation with my husband in Costa Rica.  We found ourselves in plenty of natural surroundings where cell service was non-existent (and we didn’t care).

The Monday I got back I took my boys to the park. My mind was still in vacation mode and I actually had the thought “Huh, I will have no way to contact anyone while I’m here.”

It took me about 10 minutes before I realized there is definitely ample signal to use my data plan in the park.

Then I realized I didn’t want the signal.

Instead, I realized I could get a few things accomplished that I wanted to get done while the boys were occupied with playing in the park.

So airplane mode stayed on for our outings to the park.

The next time we went, I took a book with me and actually managed to read two short chapters.

 

4. If not airplane mode, choose one social media app to delete from your phone

If you can’t decide which one to start with, choose Pinterest (Sorry, Pinterest).

It’s a time suck, it usually makes you feel inadequate and it’s completely overwhelming.

When you start to feel comfortable with deleting one social media app, delete another one.

And another and another until you are free from the social media trap on your phone.

Now use the time you would be spending on updating social media to finish reading that book, finish that

home decor project or just go outside and relax.

 

In Conclusion

Creating time in today’s culture is really about recognizing opportunities to convert the time you waste into quality time.

Just like with a savings account, making these conversions of small chunks of each day will add up into more peace, more reflection and more satisfaction each day, week and month.

Now, please share your own superb parenting experience.

What ways to create more time are most effective for you?

 

PS – Today’s Boost Your Parenting Newsletter contains the first piece of subscriber-only content and an exclusive opportunity.

Type your email into box below, then click SIGN UP NOW to be a part of something very special coming soon to Parents Who.

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5 Ideas and Strategies to Give Your Toddler Choices

Choice, Not Chance determines your_optEmpowering your toddler to make decisions between alternative choices creates positive self-esteem in your child and makes him a better decision maker for the rest of his life.

Giving choices also can mean the difference between a wall-eyed tantrum and a fun family outing. Toddlers especially need to be given the choice between two acceptable alternatives when possible.

But how do you invent two acceptable alternatives in the heat of the moment, right as an opportunity presents itself?

Opportunities to present choices seem to appear most often in public places where you are least prepared for them; at grocery stores, restaurants or public parks. This quick list will help you the next time an opportunity presents itself, no matter where you are.

If you’ve ever taken an improv acting class you might be familiar with some of the ideas and strategies below.

 

1. Think of Location-Specific Alternative Choices Beforehand

Sarah, me and our 3 year-old twin boys returned from the grocery store about an hour ago. While in the check-out line, Mr. B decided to dump out a dozen blueberries on the dirty linoleum floor.

But don’t worry, Mr. C didn’t miss his chance to contribute to the chaos. As Sarah sat Mr. B in time-out next to the commercial ice refrigerator, Mr. C took it upon himself to carefully stomp every single blueberry into a gloppy mess with his shoe.

Some trips to the grocery store run smoother than others.

But I find that giving my toddlers choices in the grocery store goes a long way toward making a smooth trip for us.

It’s inevitable that my boys will ask me to buy things we don’t want or need. One strategy that works to counter a barrage of ‘The Gimmes’ is to offer them choices well before we ever enter the store and plan out some acceptable alternatives beforehand.

On the ride there I prep them with some trivial choices like:

“Guys, do you want to use one of the race car shopping carts this time, or one of the big boy shopping carts?”

“Which color race car shopping cart should we look for, the green one or the blue one?”

Whatever they choose is fine and I follow through on their choices. This sets the tone for the more crucial choices that I will present to them later in the store to counteract The Gimmes. It reminds them that I will honor their choices.

The Gimmes usually hit for my boys as we pick up the bread. The bread in our grocery store is (frustratingly) located right next to an entire wall of pastries and junk food.

So as I’m getting the bread, Mr. B might say, “Dada, look! This one has a zebra on it. Can we get it, pleeeease?”

To which I might respond, “We can’t get that one, but if you are good and listen to dada and help me get the groceries, I will let you choose a special treat!”

The next question never fails to be “What special treat?”

This is where having alternatives in mind before you ever walk into the store is key. I know that my boys love goldfish crackers, and I let them indulge in those from time to time. I also know they will eat grapes all day if I let them. So I might have in mind that they could choose between some goldfish crackers or some grapes as a treat for being good.

Either option is acceptable for them to eat in moderation. I already reminded them on the ride over that I will follow through on our agreements. Plus, when more bouts of ‘The Gimmes’ pop up while shopping, I can return to our agreement and remind them of the choice of treat they have coming to them.

 

2. Create ‘Control’ Opportunities in Your Home

Toddlers want control. They especially want control over the things in the home that are theirs. This includes their rooms, their bathroom, their toothbrushes, their tricycles, etc. If you can give your toddlers ways to have control in safe, measured ways you will go a long way toward reducing conflict in your home.

One strategy I have found useful is to equip the light switches in their bedroom and bathroom with light switch extenders. These little devices are available online and in home stores, as well.

Or if you want to tackle a simple, fun, DIY solution this tutorial is a great guide.

 

3. Invent Choices Where None Exist

In the beginning, it’s a good idea to get your toddlers in the habit of making choices where the stakes are very low. If you know that you are going to go pick up the dry cleaning and go get your oil changed on a Saturday morning, bring the kids into the process the night before. Make planning a trip to run humdrum errands an event they can take some ownership of and feel invested in.

Lay out your plan to your toddlers on Friday night before bed time. Tell them that you would like to have their help in planning which place to go to first and which place to go to second. Whatever answers they give you the night before, tell them that this is a big decision and you think they should sleep on it. They will be excited to talk to you about this plan again in the morning.

You will most likely find yourself accompanied by some very enthusiastic partners as you set out on your errands. Follow through on their decision of where to go first and where to go second. The stakes will be low for you, but in one short exchange you will have provided a concrete example for your toddlers about the need to consider (‘sleep on’) important decisions carefully before deciding, as well as how to make decisions before taking action and how to follow-through on decisions.

Not to mention that you have transformed toddlers who would have whined and squirmed while running errands into co-captains on a fun, purposeful plan.

 

4. “Yes, And…”

One of the vital rules of improvisational acting is to never deny your fellow actor. This rule guarantees that a scene will keep going no matter how bizarre, contradictory or outlandish the dialogue becomes.

Follow this rule with your toddlers when presenting choices.  When your toddler doesn’t like the alternative options you present, sell them on the positive benefits of the choice itself by responding to negative or disagreeable statements by starting with “Yes, and…”

From the example above at the grocery store, if Mr. B responded to the options of goldfish crackers or grapes by whining, “But I don’t want any goldfish or grapes, I want the zebra!” I could respond with, “Yes, and remember I also told you that you get to make your own choice between the goldfish or the grapes.”

Then I might re-direct him by putting emphasis and interest on the choice to be made with questions like, “I wonder which one you will choose for your treat after you help me with the grocery shopping? I know you really like grapes because they are so sweet and juicy, but I know you also really like goldfish because they are tasty and crunchy. Which one do you think you will like to choose most today?”

 

5. Keep The End in Mind

Keep in mind that the ultimate purpose to giving your toddler choices is to help them learn how to make them. They don’t know how to weigh alternatives against each other or to consider opportunity costs or anything abstract. Go slow and keep your expectations low in the beginning.

Don’t be at all surprised when they forget everything you just talked about and you must remind them multiple times about the choice they made and the agreement they have struck with you. Don’t get discouraged when they respond negatively to the alternative choices you provide. You are still telling them “No,” and alternative options probably aren’t the things they really want. They are learning a lot about decisions and compromise.

Stick with it. Build up their trust by proving to them that you honor the agreements you make with them. They will come around soon to the idea that some control is better than no control and that a second-best treat is much better than no treat at all.

In Conclusion

Giving your toddlers some limited control can make a big difference in how they behave, especially in public places. Using the ideas and strategies above will give you an enhanced capacity to prepare choices beforehand and to come up with good choices on the fly.

While the short-term benefit of facilitating better behavior in your toddler is good, the long-term benefits are an even more powerful motivating factor. Studies have shown that there is a strong relationship between your child’s decision-making ability and his level of self-esteem.

It turns out that the best way for grown-ups to learn how to make good decisions is to practice, practice, practice starting when they are little. The choices you give your toddler today will make a big positive impact on the adult he becomes!

parents who, family

We Are Parents Who

parents who, familyThe day of the sonogram finally arrived.

Sarah and I held hands, held our breath, held our unblinking eyes on the monitor.

The technician muttered, “Well you already know you’re having twins, right?”

She couldn’t have said what I just heard her say, I thought. This must be a sonogram technician joke, I thought, just laugh.

“Ha good one, you got me there” I said.

Her face turned pink. “Oh, you don’t know yet! Er, congratulations you’re having twins!”

Later we stood in the kitchen of our little apartment after finishing all the phone calls to family and friends. Sarah took a deep breath and smiled at me.

“Chris, how are we going to do this?”

 

Parents Who Struggle

I believed, for a while at least, that we were successfully answering Sarah’s question a little bit each day.

We were blessed with loving family and friends to help us out. I got some lucky breaks in my career at the right time. We got a decent mortgage on a decent house in a decent neighborhood.

And the twins were tiny miracles of health and joy, the best Buddies we could ask for. But soon enough, I began to notice some disturbing cracks in the cultural foundation upon which we were building our family.

More money and more responsibilities at work meant significantly less time to spend with Sarah and the Buddies.

I saw more experienced workers in my company spending even longer hours at the office than I did.

We were keeping up with living expenses, at best. More income did not equal more money in the bank.

The Buddies came home from Mother’s Day Out one day asking to watch a violent TV show.

Our friends with young children began touting the power of the iPad to teach their children.

Screens slowly creeped into the Buddies daily routine despite our best efforts.

I accepted a promotion at a different company. With it came more money and responsibility.

Also,  a 2 hour commute every day through traffic like clogged arteries.

Somehow it still seemed we had no surplus money in the bank.

Days transformed into a halogen-lit,  air-conditioned blur.

12 hrs spent sitting in different size boxes each day.

Looking at screens.  Seeing each other even less.

Talking to each other late into the night.

About what could be missing.

 

Parents Who Realize

I went camping alone in the woods by a lake on my birthday.

What I really wanted was to get away from my phone, from the emails.  Away from a family I felt like I was constantly failing for lack of energy, for lack of focus, for lack of presence.

I had my very own “Eureka moment” when I felt an invisible weight slide off of my shoulders as I sat by the lake tossing rocks into the water.

I spent my time in silence that weekend looking at the trees rustle in the breeze, feeling the crunch of twigs under my shoes, watching a caterpillar make a long, laborious transit from one leaf to another.

I felt better than I had in weeks, in months, in a year.

At about the same time, Sarah was struggling to figure out how to get out of the house (aka “baby jail”).  How to buy milk without having to physically load up two kids and haul them into the grocery store.

She was feeling overwhelmed and confused.  Her anxiety levels were rising as she read more and heard more about how she “should” be raising her kids.

So she did the unthinkable. She signed off of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and started unsubscribing to her Groupon, Zulily and Moms of Multiples emails.

It was an epiphany. Into the new vacuum she created rushed silence, peace of mind, her own intuitive voice.

She was able to start envisioning what she wanted her family life to look like.  The ways she wanted to raise and influence her kids.

We decided it was time to rethink everything.

We started with asking ourselves some questions:

Are we doing the best we can for the Buddies?

Are we doing the best we can for our marriage?

Are we doing the best we can to build the future that we actually want?

 

Parents Who Search

We began looking everywhere for answers to new questions. We started by turning to conventional wisdom.

But, following conventional wisdom is how we ended up with expensive degrees, credit card debt, trading time for money, addictions to unhealthy food, addictions to constant distractions and addictions to needing more and newer and shinier clutter.

The conventional wisdom of mainstream culture wasn’t going to take us where we wanted to go.

So we started exploring the alternatives. We made lists. We took notes. We talked to people. We kept an open mind. We withheld judgement. We made changes. We tried new things. We forgave our missteps.

We set out, tentatively, on a road less traveled.

“Dada I don’t yike this green one,” Mr. B proclaimed at dinner one evening, prodding a pile of edamame with his fork.

“Dada, why can’t we watch a show?” Mr. C begged one Saturday morning.

“Dada, I yike this toy can I have it, pleeeeeease?” Mr. B begged at the store.

Introducing new creative activities to do with the Buddies was draining. Beginning an exercise regimen felt impossible.

Better food was expensive, eliminating distraction led to boredom, sticking to a budget was difficult.

We met the challenge of resistance at every turn. We began to view the inevitable appearance of resistance as a sure sign.

A sure sign we were on the right track.

 

Parents Who Take Action Today

Today marks the launch of our site, Parents Who.  This post is a culmination of many days and weeks and months and years of soul-searching and debates and research and effort.

It’s a step toward progress, not perfection. We will improve as we go. We will always be guided by a commitment we make to our family and to yours.

That commitment is to make sure our content, products, services and mission constantly remain focused on one important goal:

To enhance the quality time you spend with your family.

When you join us on this journey, please offer your voice and your gifts for the benefit of of us all in the comments section. As they say, it takes a village.

Please be the first (or second, or third!) person to leave us a comment on our very first blog post ever.

I also invite you to take bold action right now that costs zero dollars but delivers fresh ideas and proven strategies to your inbox.

Enter your email address in the sidebar or just click HERE to begin receiving the Parents Who Fresh Ideas Newsletter each week.

Finally, if you read the above invitations and thought, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Then I invite you to please take the following step instead.

Please take a little time today to tell a member of your family how much you love them.

Tell them how much they mean to you, how much you’re grateful and glad to be their Father, Sister, Mother, Son, Brother, Husband, Wife, Partner, Boyfriend, Girlfriend, Cousin, Step-Brother, Aunt, or Granddaughter.

No website can deliver the value you can personally deliver today, right this minute, to somebody you love.

Tomorrow is a strong possibility, never a certainty.

Don’t wait until tomorrow to tell someone how much they mean to you.

Thank you for joining us on our journey, and we look forward to personally connecting with you soon!