On this episode of the PlanSimple Podcast, I’m sharing 10 of the most important parenting concepts I’ve learned and implemented over the past 18 years. I’ve picked these up from different places — which I credit as I go. Some came easily and some took a while to figure out and untangle, but all of them have made a difference to me as a mother and to my family.
- Family dinner is non-negotiable.
I got this one from my mom and dad. And while I focus a lot on food here, the concept of family dinner is not about food, but about the company and the connection it brings. Family dinner provides a connecting point at the end of the day and a landing pad for love. When you make family dinner a regular thing, it provides consistency when life may otherwise feel chaotic. It becomes part of the rhythm of your days.
- We don’t have to “fix.”
This concept started with my own intuition and got refined and solidified by my work with Kim John Payne. More recently this idea was backed by my conversation with Trace Bell. Often when we are trying to fix something, we are trying to fix something in our own past, and also trying to fix takes us away from really listening. Often what kids need is not for us to solve a problem or make something better, but to witness their experience. That can be done with listening eyes or questions. One tool that we use, usually at family dinner, is roses and thorns. Each person shares something good from their day, something hard from the day or something they are worried about tomorrow, and something they are looking forward to.
- You don’t have to go to every game.
Right now after 18 months of missing things—games and performances and school events—we may feel like we should go to everything. It is great to go to a game or other event and be fully present, but it’s not always easy. Michael Thompson taught me that there is value in having a kid tell you about their experience, because you are present in a different way. I started going when I could really be present and listening to the amazing stories the rest of the time, full present at the dinner table. (Notice how the dinner table keeps popping up?)
- Talk about sex openly and early.
Does talking about sex feel uncomfortable? Does it feel too early? You want to be the one your kids talk to about sex (and any of the hard things to talk about sex, our bodies, money, drugs, alcohol … ). Dr. Sharon Maxwell said that if you haven’t told your kid about sex in second grade, you are too late. If you’re too late, don’t worry, I was too, but make a plan to talk and set yourself up as the established and trusted source.
- Hugs have power.
A small but meaningful addition to my parenting tool box was delivered in a story by Danielle Laporte. I knew that hugs were important, but she talked about hugging her tween son for at least 20 seconds, and I thought that sounded like a looong hug. So I started counting and realized how much I was rushing hugs. A 20-second hug is one you can land in, unrushed, and be present.
- Self-care and adult time are essential.
I grew up in the South in New Orleans where self-care was modeled in manicures, pedicures, getting hair done. My parents modeled the self-care of adult time. They’d take trips without us, go on dates, go to gatherings without kids. Later I learned what self-care really means. It can be cheaper and simpler than what I grew up with. It can be peeing instead of holding it in, working so cashflow isn’t a problem, standing up and taking a deep breath after slouching in front of a computer, going to bed instead of watching a movie (or sometimes snuggling and connecting while watching the movie). Self-care is responding to what you need in the now. One resource I love for self-care is The Art of Self Nurturing by my friend Kelley Grimes.
- Good stories are powerful.
Stories are powerful, and I have used different kinds of stories in different ways throughout my parenting journey. Whatever age your kids are, you can turn to stories. I grew up with stories—being read to, asking my grandmothers about their past. And then I encountered Nancy Mellon and her ways of bringing stories everywhere (including, you guessed it, the dinner table). Stories entertain, inform, build connection. And if you’re trying not to “fix,” stories can help share experiences without fixing.
- Define quality kid time.
Let’s start with this quote from Kim John Payne: In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy blowout trips to Disneyland, but the common threads that run throughout and repeat the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime, Saturday morning pancakes.” Sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. If we’ve been busy or away or a kid has had a hard time, we feel like we need a big adventure or something “special.” But what really matters is connecting. And that could look like a car ride alone to talk (or not), or snuggles and a backrub at bedtime or working in the same space together, or 30 seconds of attention before dinner. Notice that some of the other concepts I’ve shared fit into this one.
- Less can most definitely be more.
I talk to a lot of people about being overwhelmed with “stuff.” Fewer clothes, fewer toys, fewer gadgets … Less stuff actually makes life easier. You spend less time decluttering, putting away, and cleaning. But less also applies to our calendar or schedule. Your kids don’t have to do everything. You can decide you don’t want any activities on Saturdays or Sundays. You can limit how many activities each kid does. And at some points, it may just add up, so how can you make it easier? Maybe it’s carpooling or kids riding a bike to practice. Maybe it’s finding a team that’s closer to home or with a less intense schedule. Maybe it’s not going to every game. Maybe it’s making dinner easier so that you can still enjoy family dinner even with busy schedules.
- The main thing is for kids to become themselves.
Society will tell your kids what to be. Their friends might, and even you might. I know I have had visions of what my kids might be. It shows up in what I want them to wear or do or how I want them to behave. Have you ever said, “Don’t cry. You’re okay,” when you child isn’t feeling OK? Do say, “Just wear this to the wedding” or “Are you wearing that to school?” It’s not easy to let your kids become themselves, but raising kids who can genuinely be themselves is what fuels my motherhood. It played into my decision on where my kids went to school. I’ve had to deal with my own conditioning and upbringing and limiting beliefs. But I keep coming back to something Sil Reynolds says: True dependence leads to true independence. I continue to be guided by this.
If you want your kids to become themselves, if you want more ease in mothering, join us for Easeful Mothering. This year, I found a way to show up for even the hardest moments with ease, and I want this for every mother. It doesn’t have to be a juggling act.
Easeful Motherhood is a practice of providing peace, so that our “children can become themselves.” https://plansimple.com/easeful-motherhood
- Family Dinner
- Parenting Simplified with Kim John Payne
- Correct, Connect, Then Direct with Kim John Payne
- Kids and Spirituality with Trace Bell
- Enjoy Your Child with Michael Thompson
- Navigating Parenting in the Digital Age with Sharon Maxwell and Chelsea Maxwell
- The Art of Self Nurturing by Kelly Grimes
- Nancy Mellon on stories (and more) in Staybasic
- Women Who Run with the Wolves
- Plan Simple Meals
- KonMari Method
- The Amazing Teen Years with Eliza Reynolds
- Mothering with Sil Reynolds
- Mothering and Daughtering the book
- Easeful Motherhood
Doable Changes from this episode:
- 20 SECOND HUGS. Even if you feel like you don’t have time to connect, you can try 20-second hugs. It literally takes 20 seconds at a time. Build them in throughout the day. Check in with kids about being hugged, but be fully present and notice what 20 seconds can do.
- DEFINE QUALITY TIME. Read #8 about quality time. Where are you making quality bigger or more complex than it needs to be? Make a list of 10 simple, quick ways to engage in quality time. Ask your kid for ideas too. (Remember different kids might have different ways or times they like to connect.) Work in that connection each day.
- PRACTICE NOT FIXING. We want to fix things for our kids. Start by noticing and getting curious about your response when your kid tells you about a problem, hurt, or something else you want to “fix.” Let them feel it. Let them reflect their experience to you. Sit through your feeling of wanting to fix. Really listen to your kid with listening eyes or ask a question.