When were we hit with the “big bang” explosion of modern family life, one that left us sick with the demands of parenting in the new age, and virtually vomiting undigested stress over the days of our lives like the detritus of a karmic kinder piñata?
It wasn’t like that when I was growing up. Life was simple then. Little things mattered; and they were remembered.
Toys were treasured and maintained for their rarity and value—either as a hand-me-down from an older sibling, a prized Christmas gift, or a memorable “win” at the county fair. You could actually count them, polish them, and store them with care in your bedroom closet.
In fact, my father still has stored away the rocking horse my brother received when he was 5 years old in the 1950s.
It’s the age of instant McGratification.
Forget about impromptu games of street hockey, or lacrosse, when kids obligingly pulled the goalie nets off the road every time a neighbor gently nosed his car home from work. Gone are the twilight hours when parents would stand on the veranda, cup their hands over their mouths, and sound the call for kids of all ages to come in from the trees, gardens and sloping lawns next door and prepare for bed.
Gone are the days of Huckleberry Finn. And I highly doubt we’re the better for it.
These days, moms are powered by pedophile paranoia, multitasking madness, and mini-cab moonlighting.
As we gather breathlessly around our children’s music, hockey, ballet, soccer, gymnastics, art and what-have-you classes (a different flavor each day of the week) like personal body guards to budding royalty, we are nothing more than frenetic adrenaline burn-outs, each sounding like Minnie Mouse rushing out of a Disneyland fun den, after sucking back on a helium hookah.
Speed talking, fast driving, manic making of snacks and lunches—that’s my life—it’s all fast-forward and I realize I don’t have the wheels for it.
There are days when I long to slap my hand to my chest, reach up my other hand beseechingly to the sky and say “I’m comin’ Elizabeth, I’m comin'”, just like Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) from the 1970s TV show, Sanford and Son used to do.
I just want my house to stop spinning and land somewhere—even if it’s on the Wicked Witch of the East. I thought perhaps it might be just my age.
That was until I happened upon a recent article in Time by Nancy Gibbs, entitled The Backlash Against Overparenting, aptly beginning with a hallmark opening “The insanity crept up on us slowly; we just wanted what was best for our kids.” It’s a must-read.
According to the author of Simplicity Parenting, the average kid today has 150 toys (and I’ll wager at least 80 of them are “free” gifts from the McMarketing guys). He says that when life is “a series of improvisations and emergencies” with a stress level leaving parents feeling “beaten down, mentally and physically” it’s time to simply the family process.
Payne says that, even if we are at the point of saturation and burn-out, feeling that simplification is (quite simply) an overwhelming exercise in futility, there’s still stuff we can do to tone it down, little by little.
In a nutshell, the keys to “simplicity parenting” are threefold: 1) streamline your home environment to reduce toys, clutter, and sensory overload; 2) establish predictable routines to ground you and your kids like “pasta nights”, and time anchors for doing things, and 3) make sure you put down time in the schedule—you know, a good old fashioned “coffee break” in the midst of Munchkin Land.
Frankly, there’s a rosy sadness in me as I peruse this book. Had life not changed so drastically from growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the concept for this book would never have spawned from the author’s creative imagination.
It’s hard to believe that we need someone to re-educate us on how to enjoy the process of just being parents and kids, taking pleasure in hanging out together in the brief bubble of the weaning to tweening years, in the creation of our own family myth and ritual to be passed down to future generations.
On the other hand, Mr. Kim John Payne, M.Ed., I wonder what took you so long. I think I see Opie strolling down the lane in the distance with a fishing rod slung over his shoulder…or could that be Huck Finn?
Yes, it was all so simple then.