Essays on Motherhood: On Minimalism & Motherhood
Real Stories About Real Motherhood
This is Part Three of our motherhood series exploring real stories about motherhood and conscious living.
Navigating motherhood with social values and environmental consciousness demands flexibility and forgiveness—as could be said of all things parenting. From the products we bring into our home to the nutrition we offer and the habits we establish, raising our little ones to be responsible and compassionate stewards of this planet requires a daily balance of lofty standards and realistic expectations. This is a glimpse inside one mother’s attempt—and often hysterical failure—to keep all those balls in the air.
Minimalist Parenting Isn’t Simple
It’s all too easy to give way to excess.
We’re sifting through a basket of trains and trucks and all things boy when my one year old son lifts his deep brown eyes to meet mine and signs “more”—the tips of his fingers and thumbs tapping together in rapid succession. “More trucks,” he’s telling me before he’s even old enough for words. His gaze presses against my resolve. More.
That squishy little bundle of joy who could survive on nothing but sweet milk and long snuggles? Turns out he’s long gone. This truck-loving toddler is pushing boundaries and vehicles and balls and patience. He’s running and climbing and learning at an extraordinary rate and it’s truly humbling to watch. But with every new milestone—every first step, first food, first flight—comes a societal expectation that you need more stuff to parent properly. First foods demand pouches and teething rings. Frozen bagels work just fine. First steps demand soft-soled shoes, not too rigid but just enough support. First flights come with a whole host of entertainment accessories that can mostly be lived without. Mostly.
Indulging in the mementos of each milestone is a presumed way to parent better—more engagement, more nutrition, more learning. And it’s not incorrect. I have the soft shoes, but just one pair. I borrowed the pouches, and then promptly returned them. I could have used just one swaddle but indulged in several. I am not immune to the pressure, but I have become acutely aware.
We dig through the bottom of the basket to pull out the magnetic tow truck when he’s grown tired of the excavator. His eyes light up and he musters a sweet high pitched grunt I’ve grown to recognize as his way of saying thanks.
Sometimes more is better. Sometimes we really do need cement mixers when diggers can’t get the job done. But mostly, in my experience, more is just more—more mess to clean up when the day is done, more pieces to pack when we’re on the move, more parts to purge when they’ve been outgrown.
Far from flawless, there is nothing minimalist about my parenting method. Let me be clear about that. On the contrary, this boy of mine is surrounded by more than either of us really need—but still somehow less than I could have easily ended up with.
I’ve found that living with at least a little bit less affords me the chance to prioritize purchases. We say no to a lot and look for better when buying. I work hard to find products that are safe as well as sustainable, simple enough to stimulate the imagination and made well enough to last for more than one child. Ask any parent, and they’ll likely agree that we don’t really know what we’re doing, but I do know he won’t miss what he doesn’t have even though he’s only momentarily amused by what he does.
As quickly as his attention turned from one truck to another he’s reaching now for the paper towel tube from the trash can in the corner. He presses it against his lips and laughs at the sound of his voice reverberating through the cardboard. I take a turn and then we grab a truck and send it rattling through. Turns out the tube from the trash is a perfect racetrack.
Once in a while his needs align perfectly with my values. When I pare down I can parent with more creativity and demand more of his imagination. And at the end of the day when the patience is stretched and the pants are stained, that balance feels just about right.
Kassia Binkowski is a Contributing Editor at The Good Trade and the Founder of One K Creative. She grew up in Madison, WI and traveled her way around the world to Boulder, CO which she now calls home. Nestled against the Rocky Mountains, Kassia supports innovative organizations from Colorado to Kathmandu tell their stories of social change through writing, photography, and design. Kassia is an eternal optimist and forever a backroad wanderer.