I loved this book for both the practical suggestions (backed by both formal research and informal observation) and for its tone.
Since I began reading this book, I’ve made some concrete changes in our home environment, including reducing the number of toys and books my children have easy access to (I put many into a “library” in our basement until I can work up the courage to donate/sell/throw away), reducing the number of scheduled activities I have for my children, and implementing some basic daily routines, most notably the “flute-practice-after-breakfast” routine.
There have been some small but noticeable changes in the way my children go about their days in the weeks since I’ve made these changes. We’ve had fewer arguments about flute practice, and my daughter (age 6.5) has been practicing more regularly and with more joy. She’s even begun initiating flute practice on her own without my even prompting her!
My children, especially my 2yo son, are playing imaginatively with everyday objects more than they were before, making an empty toy bin into a car for the stuffed toys and things like that.
And my daughter has lightened up about the order in which we use the colored plastic cups and flatware. She used to scream at me and my husband if we forgot and gave her a blue cup before the green cup. The order was green, light blue, dark blue, yellow, orange, pink, pink, and woe betide the parent who tried to go out of order. There were no discussions about the cups, and we made no changes directly related to the cups, she just stopped getting angry with us about them. Which has been quite a relief.
Of course, my son has also decided that the toy room is much too neat, so he goes in and up-ends three or four toy bins at a time into the middle of the room. That’s not so cool, but at least it doesn’t take long to pick everything up.
I was already in the habit of simplifying our home, but this book really helped give me the confidence to cut deeper, and to remove toys and books without my children’s input about which we kept and which we got rid of. The books were a real change for me, though. I knew the kids (and I) were somewhat overwhelmed by the number of books on their shelves, but I felt like I just couldn’t get rid of any of them. Books are unequivocally good, right? But once I halved the number of books, they’ve been much more engaged with the ones they have left. And they don’t even seem to notice that any are missing.
One area that I’m going to try to work on a little bit more is verbal clutter. From the book:
“In our era of spin and counterspin, when words are parsed and split, where news stands beside opinion and embraces blogs, meaning is often drowned out. Just as it’s hard to cherish a toy lost in the middle of a mountain of play things, when we say less, our words mean more.”
Although I fear that if I really take that to heart, I might blog a lot less.
The tone of the book was the real refreshing piece, though. Payne clearly delights in childhood and the whimsy of children. His anecdotes and suggestions are peppered with images of children interacting with each other and with adults and the funny and adorable things they do and say. I felt a sense of peace and well-being reading such a sunny view of childhood. Not that Payne isn’t realistic about the struggles of parenting and children’s sometimes not-so-desirable actions, he just doesn’t focus on them. He treats children as human beings to be loved and guided rather than creatures to be trained and manipulated, and “misbehavior” as a sign that something in the child’s environment might do with some changing.
Payne talks about how one of the biggest differences between parenting now and parenting a generation ago is how much data about our children we have available and how many “experts” we have to consult to make sure we’re doing this really big job right. But in this, too, he offers reassurance.
“For all of the measures we now have at our fingertips, by and large children defy them by being both more ‘normal’ and more extraordinary than any scientific measure, or means of quantifying them.”
This rings true to me, and it promotes the freedom we as parents have to love our kids and to let go of worrying that we’re not giving them an “ideal” childhood, whatever that might be.
The only thing that I thought was a little lacking was that Payne is very much focused on two-working-parent homes. As a stay-at-home mom who homeschools, I would have kind of liked a little bit of information directed towards me or that at least reflected my demographic. However, I know I’m in a pretty tiny minority, so I don’t hold it against the author for not including me and my friends. His suggestions are significant and applicable even to those of us who do not see our specific situations in his case studies.