Joel's Note: This is a guest post from Samantha Langlois about how less is more.
It is a grey, winter day in northwestern Montana.
I'm standing at the kitchen sink gazing out the window at the many shades of winter white, grey, and blue. The break between one color and the next is indiscernible; they just fade from one to the next.
For a moment, I let the landscape soothe my mood. The sound of dripping water breaks my reverie though and I am brought back to reality by my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Zoe, playing in the sink next to me.
She is helping me wash dishes. I use the word ‘help' loosely because it really would be much easier to wash dishes without her help. But she loves it, and I try to remind myself when she comes running to help that I really don't have a good reason to say no to her.
My aversion to a wet floor is no reason to squash her enthusiasm and exploration. I've simply learned to look at is as an opportunity to wash the floor too! I've also learned that if I leave the water on a slow trickle, plug the drain, and toss in a few measuring cups, she will happily keep herself occupied for a good half-hour or so. That is like an eternity in toddler time! I can get a lot done in a half-hour!
The Wisdom of Innocence
I've learned a lot from Zoe over the last couple years; like how to slow down, pay attention, find pleasure in the simple things, and dig deeper than I ever thought I could. Zoe has proved to me that less is more.
Her playing at the kitchen sink is a perfect example. There are no toys involved with this favorite activity; there is nothing made of plastic, nothing with batteries, nothing pink. She likes to sing to herself (usually at the top of her lungs) while she pours water from cup to cup, or cup to sink, or cup to floor. She makes up stories about imaginary farm animals and weaves them into her songs. Watching her at the sink reminds me that there are times when kids are capable of more when provided with less.
Doesn't sound very American does it?!
This idea directly opposes one of the biggest (and most expensive) myths of modern parenting: buy it, and you and your children will succeed and be happy.
Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against toys. I simply believe that children are capable of amazing things and too many toys can actually squash their imagination. Not only do kids often lose interest in a new toy within a few hours or days, but placating your kids with a constant stream of new toys is like supplying them with a lifetime of fill-in-the-blank worksheets rather than a fresh, blank book. When given a blank sheet of paper, a child will fill it with his or her own individual inspiration and creativity.
Another one of Zoe's favorite activities these days demands only a muffin tin and some pumpkin seeds. She likes to make ‘chicken nests' in the muffin holes with the pumpkin seeds. She transfers the pumpkin seeds from muffin hole to muffin hole, occasionally slipping a few into her mouth. She made this game up entirely on her own. I love that it doesn't cost any money; and when she tires of it, I don't have an unwanted toy to get rid of; just put the muffin tin and the pumpkin seeds back in the cupboard.
Lessons of Daily Experience
I find this all very satisfying.
Partly because it makes me feel like I'm doing something right as a parent. Young children can't help but learn through imitation. I feel that one of the best things I can do for Zoe right now is model the values and behavior that I feel are important. For me that includes simplicity and frugality. When she chooses to play with pots and pans and pumpkin seeds, I feel like I'm succeeding in sharing my values with her. The absence of consumerism in our house is allowing Zoe to develop her imagination and creative fantasy.
By modeling simplicity and frugality for Zoe, I am teaching her another very important lesson: that resources are valuable and deserve to be conserved. Today's children are growing up in the shadow of climate change. The only certainty of tomorrow is that it will be dramatically different from today.
Zoe already knows about recycling and composting although she doesn't understand why we do those things yet. She loves to take the compost out and feed the chickens. She knows that if she plants a seed in the soil and adds water, it will grow into a plant that she can eat.
These are small lessons in creativity, simplicity, and self-reliance that I share through daily experience with my children. Knowing that Zoe's big brown eyes are watching me, all the time, strengthens my dedication to these values. I feel good about saving money and resources; keeps the good ol' New England Puritan in me happy. But I feel great about sharing my values with my children.
We're growing onions from seed this year. So it's time to get out the seeds and trays, the grow lights and potting soil. I hear the pitter pat of little feet coming to ‘help'.
Will it be messy? You betcha. Will it take longer? Yup. Would I rather just do it by myself? Sometimes. Will I pass up this opportunity to share not only quality time with my daughter, but also my values? No way! We'll talk about worms and sunshine and seeds. Zoe will want spoons and measuring cups for playing in the potting soil. We'll make a mess, eventually get the onion seeds planted, and learn something in the process. We'll spend the next several months taking care of our onion starts before planting them in the garden come spring.
Zoe loves picking onion flowers and I love sharing the simple joys of life with her.
Samantha Langlois is the mother of two little girls, Zoe and Hazel. She and her husband are the founders of Unconventional Parents, where they blend conscious parenting and enlightened entrepreneurship. Join them in their quest for passion, freedom, and happiness.