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Are “minimalist” parents lazy parents?

Bebe Day by DayI’m enjoying the conversation around Pamela Druckerman’s new book, Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting. It’s the followup to the bestseller Bringing Up Bébé, in which she explored the differences between French and American parenting as observed by the differences she noticed between French and American children.

In “What Everyone Can Learn From Lazy French Mothers,” Pamela examines Parisian mothers’ attitudes toward the “hassle” of extracurricular activities. The women she spoke to had no intention of clogging family life with endless driving and events at the cost of homework, free time and even boredom. At first this attitude caused her to bristle. But time and research changed things.

Were these French moms selfishly preserving their own leisure time at the cost of their kids’ development? Several years, and a whole lot of research (and Parisian parenting) later, I feel I can safely say: probably not.

There’s more to her point in the piece (and certainly in her books) and I hope you’ll click over and read the whole post. What it brought up for me, though, is an interesting backlash I’m beginning to sense among modern American parents — at least those on the Internet.

I’m hearing parents refer to their reasonable steps back as “lazy.” Conversely, I’m also noticing parents apologizing for their enthusiastic involvement, as if it brands them as one of those parents.

Obviously, overscheduling and overparenting are on my mind. Christine’s and my book Minimalist Parenting is about how to dial back the anxiety and intensity so many of us feel around parenting these days. But when becoming a minimalist parent inspires shame and guilt, or when doing the opposite creates embarrassment…aren’t we still in a bind?

I have found that the best, healthiest parenting takes confidence. Confidence in my ability to figure out what’s important to my family, confidence in the face of other families’ different choices, and confidence that I can find my way through the cultural pressure to constantly do more.

My parenting confidence took a long time to develop. Oddly enough it got the biggest boost when times were hardest. For years mine was the kid screaming in the grocery aisle or throwing sand at the playground. Mine was the one prompting calls from the principal and raised eyebrows at family gatherings. I learned, after much anguish, that others’ opinions, while often well-meaning, didn’t count as much as my own when it came to parenting.

Things are better now. Things are great. What’s left from those hard years is a feeling of freedom to engage as a parent in a way that feels right for me. When I jump into organizing my daughter’s class Halloween party I’m not worried I look like a helicopter parent…I’m having too much fun to think about it because my daughter and I happen to love Halloween. When I turn down the opportunity to volunteer for a school committee I don’t feel like a “slacker,” I know there are other ways to help that are a better fit for my life.

As Pamela says:

Perhaps our mistake in America isn’t all those tennis lessons. It’s being so focused on outcomes, we’ve forgotten that the quality of the 18 or so years we spend living en famille matters too.

I couldn’t agree more.

Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.

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