A parenting philosophy of less

In this world of modern parenting, there are certainly plenty of things we “should” be doing for our children — such as providing healthy, home-cooked meals; urging them into the great outdoors for “unstructured play;” and enrolling them in empowering martial arts classes, to name just a few. 

There are also things we most certainly should not be doing — like allowing them to indulge in too much “screen time;” feeding them Spaghetti-Os by the hour; and staging elaborate public spanking rituals in the kindergarten classroom. (In other words, the things that “built character” — and precipitated antidepressant prescriptions — for my generation.)

With all these requirements, it’s only natural that we parents often become little more than service providers. 

After a typical day of preparing various meals, working, enforcing the completion of worksheets, encouraging states of boredom that will surely lead to creative innovation and staring in despair at my List of Things To Do (1: Dispute the property tax assessment that increased our mortgage by $400 a month. 2: Dump Comcast. 3: Schedule all “yearly” exams that have been on hiatus since 2011. Etc.), I often find myself wondering, “Do I even exist?”

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling more like a 24-hour task-robot than an actual human with a purpose in life that extends beyond making enough money to pay the monthly installment-plan medical bills. 

Wherever I look, I witness the anxiety of over-extended parents wondering how everyone else “does it.” (Theory: Most don’t.) 

But visit any parenting-related Facebook group and you’ll find an endless array of well-meaning suggestions for streamlined parenting success: Hire a housecleaner! Order meal delivery kits! Hire a babysitter to drive your kids to their many activities!  

Of course, these things cost money and also come with their own hidden labor costs — finding the housecleaner, negotiating the price, figuring out how to cancel the automatic payments on the meal-kit service that failed to revolutionize your life, etc. 

For this reason, I’ve chosen to embrace a parenting philosophy of less. I’m lowering the bar. I’m trying to get down to brass tacks. 

Case study: The Great Outdoors

Many outdoors-y kid things seem to require so much effort. Whether you’re dragging their skiing equipment half a mile over a sheet of ice to their lesson on “Mount Como” or driving all the way to Stillwater to visit some playground with a teddy bear theme, extreme parent involvement is de rigueur these days.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way. When you need to do something with your kids, try playing this game: “What would a 1970s parent do?”

The answer is almost always, “Very little.” In other words, wordlessly hand your children a ball and send them into the backyard.

Remember, it’s good for them to make their own fun. You’re making them resilient!

Case Study: Food

I care about feeding my kids healthy food. I really do. I want them to eat well. I want them to “try new foods because it might taste GOOO-OOOD!” (Thanks, Daniel Tiger.)

But I don’t need to become a chef about it. I’m so bored of reading judge-y food journalism that proclaims we all “must” learn how to properly roast a chicken or make stock or whip up homemade crust because the frozen kind is “tragic.”

When it comes to making food for your children, I would like to promote the “one thing” rule. Basically, this means every meal should feature “one thing” that’s fresh, homemade or otherwise “healthy.” So for example, you could supplement a sad meal of Chilitos from Zantigo with a salad or a sliced-up apple. Fancy up a grocery store rotisserie chicken and some 90-second-rice-from-a-bag with some roasted broccoli (400 degrees, 15 minutes-ish, with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice). 

Take the time you would’ve spent agonizing over some squash risotto or whatever and plot how you’re gonna stick it to Comcast instead. 

Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.