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Ten Experiments in Simple Parenting

June 17, 2009
Mark and Ailsa - the World's Simplest Parents (not)

Mark and Ailsa - the World's Simplest Parents (not)

Four years ago I asked Ailsa, my wife, if we could share our experiences using washable nappies with the wider Breathe network.  Now, only 48 months later, I make good my promise!  In an effort to redeem the situation, I asked if we could include some other experiments we’ve tried.  I hope they inspire / provoke thought.  Please bear in mind that we’re on a journey with all this stuff, and that these are the steps that fit the way we’re made as a couple and how our life is currently shaped.  If you’re a parent, some of this may be no good to you at all, and I’m sure we’d have things to learn from your experiences, too.  One day maybe our three boys (now aged 6, 3 and 1) will be able to say how it all turned out!

1. Washable Nappies

We got into this for mainly financial reasons (apparently it costs something like £1,000  per child to use nappies).  But we were also concerned about throwing so much away.  It’s a worrying thought that one of the few legacies we leave to the world could be a collection of soiled nappies (they can take 100 years to decompose).  Ailsa estimates that our Motherese nappies, which we highly recommend, will have cost us abot £600 for three chldren’s worth.  Even with electricity and water costs, we’ll probably end up having saved over £2,000.  It really is a heck of a lot of washing, but we feel it’s been worth it.

2. Taming the Telly

Ailsa wants the kids to be healthy and active; I am concerned about their imaginations.  So we only allow the TV to be switched on with permission, for about half an hour, 4-5  times a week, and not a channel with commercial adverts (check out an excellent video short on this).  I’m using every tactic I can think of to delay computer games (we’ll keep you posted!).  Our philosophy is not to discount TV, but to limit it and to maximise other things, like creative play…

3. Creative Play

OK, so for two ex-teachers this is an obvious one.  Ailsa really believes in craft activities, walks, gardening, trips to the park, junk modelling, making our own play dough, and so on.  At the same time, we try not to overload the week so that there’s time for ‘creative boredom’ (yes, we think such a thing exists!) and just plain rest. 

4. Simple Parties

Only a couple of experiments so far.  For summer parties we find an enclosed space in a park and organise relays, treasure hunts, songs and games.  We try to discourage expensive gifts, and for a take away party bag, we’ve used things like seeds, homemade cake and things the kids have made during the party.  Again, it’s harder work than just booking somewhere, but it’s much cheaper and for a few years at least it’s gone down really well.

5. Loving Food

This one has nothing to do with me.  Ailsa loves to cook with the boys, so they have a share in what’s made.  We always sit round the kitchen table to eat together.  When things like this are a habit, they don’t feel like hard work at all.

6. Reading

I guess we could put this with creative play.  Reading means time away from the TV, it means encouraging imaginative engagement, and at night it means quality time with mum or dad.

7. Holy Habits

We’re not seeking to raise fanatics, but we do want to sow into our children’s lives a deeper story than the surrounding culture.  Each meal begins with grace (OK, it begins with us being a bit snappy and the kids starting before we’re ready, but grace is part of it).  Every night (nearly) there’s a bible story and always a prayer.  The good samaritan might as well be one of the family.  Over time, we hope we’re planting seeds  of grace that will bear fruit in a generous lifestyle.

8. Modelling Hospitality

We aim to keep the house open to guests, groups and occasional strangers so that we can demonstrate hospitality in action.  Sponsoring a child has also helped the boys to grow in awareness of the needs outside their privileged world. 

9. Family Traditions

We don’t want the highlights of our children’s lives to be TV, theme parks and shopping.  We’re tring to work on family traditions: Baptism Day (complete with video footage, relighting the candle, prayers, presents and songs); Advent (complete with homemade crib scene, Advent wreath and candles again); family time, family treat night, even family songs!  We know friends who do a family Night Walk on the last day of every holiday.  We’d love to hear more ideas.

10. Share

Share is a rule in our house, but it’s also a philosophy.  We’ve been very blessed by the generosity of others, and we try not to be too proud to receive what we’re offered (clothes, toys, etc.).  We’re also trying to share this simpler parenting journey with each other – trying new ideas, laughing at our mistakes – and with friends, too.  The more of us on this journey, the easier it will be, and the better for all our children.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2011 8:25 pm

    Hey I’m loving this site! Makes me and my husband seem more normal when people often raise their eyes about our choices. Thank you for the encouragement re washable nappies, we’ve only got one little one so hats off to you washing for 3!

  2. ria1986 permalink
    February 29, 2012 4:06 pm

    Great ideas! It’s encouraging to know that maybe I’m getting a few things right and getting some new inspiration 🙂 thanks!


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