Essentialist Parenting

Okay, okay, I know I’m totally guilty of letting my kids wear their pajamas everywhere. Like, even to church on Sunday morning.

But I figure they just want to be comfortable. I don’t blame them. I like to be comfortable, too. (Which explains my crazy love of leggings!)

I used to call it choosing my battles.

I didn’t want to get “into it” with my kids unless it was something that really mattered.

Then I had a brief time where I wondered if maybe it was downright laziness on my part.

“Am I lazy parent because I don’t do XYZ that I see other parents doing? Is there something wrong with me?”

But then it hit me. It’s the minimalist in me on autopilot.

It isn’t laziness. It’s essentialism.

Long-time readers have already read my rundown of the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Basically, essentialism is the idea that you can’t focus on everything – you can only focus the one or two most important things. When you stop saying yes to everything, what you say no to becomes just as important as what you say yes to.

And saying no to the unimportant things, makes the things you say yes to that much more potent in your life. Your energy can be completely focused on them – with laser-intensity.


This may sound like one, big, fabricated self-justifying explanation.

But I think there’s more to it than that.

Rather than waste time and energy arguing with my kids about taking off their jammies, I choose to focus on the larger issues of Community and Generosity.

This is a subtle way of showing my kids (rather than telling) that their character matters more than their attire.

That the Lord focuses on the heart, not outward appearances. And as a family, we definitely focus more on just being present rather than on having ourselves “put together” for church.

We “come as we are” in the most literal sense possible.

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

1 Samuel 16:7

This is modeled by my husband, Josh as well. No matter how much I edit his wardrobe, Josh will find things to wear that drive me crazy.

But at the end of the day, I can let it go because I actually admire his not caring about what he looks like on the outside. He absolutely doesn’t care about people judging him.

I strive to be more like my husband in this way, so why wouldn’t I want to teach my kids to be the same?

We wear our humanness and our imperfections proudly -even at church- because we realize that we’re saved by grace.

We will never measure up by the world’s standards, so we gave up trying.

We no longer chase after those “shiny people,” wanting to be like them. (Thanks for the term, Jenny Lawson!)

Instead, we will march to our own rhythm and be the weirdos that make other people say: “I don’t know what they’re thinking, but they’re probably having more fun….”

And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans pursue all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus, in Matthew 6:28-34

Here Jesus gives us some great examples of things that other people worry about, but his followers don’t need to worry about. And Jesus certainly didn’t care what the “shiny people” thought of him.

(Here’s a little post I wrote about how I think Jesus was the ultimate minimalist.)

Want more examples? I’ve got plenty. There are so many unessential things that I’ve eliminated from our family’s life in order to focus on more important things.

Here’s a few of the things our family no longer does:

Here’s some things we do focus on:

Actions definitely speak louder than words, so we really need to put priorities in their rightful place – our lives!

If we say we believe in simplicity, but we’re leading complicated and stressful lives, then it’s time to evaluate what needs to change.

We owe it to our kids and ourselves to live a life that’s consistent with our values.

I’m no expert, but I’m learning as I go. And I’m embracing the quirks that make my family unique and special.

Because those things that make your family different, are actually your unique family culture. Embrace it. Live it fully.

The things that make my family special aren’t the same things that make your family special. And that’s totally fine! That’s the goal, actually.

But my hope and desire is that you will carefully build a family culture that focuses on the things that are important to you.

Maybe you’re already doing that.

Or maybe it’s time for you to sit down as a family and evaluate the things you spend your money, time, and energy on.

Do they or do they not align with your larger values?

My desire is that one day my kids will look back on their childhood fondly.

I pray that it would be a carefree time of learning, growing, and maturing.

That it would not bogged down by adult fears and problems.

And that the things I choose to focus on today -and the things I don’t- would leave a lifelong impression.

Essentialism is realizing that you can’t do it all, and carefully choosing the things that you do do.

At least this is what I’m telling myself.

Maybe I’m just lazy…

But either way, I’d rather live the simple way than run myself ragged trying to keep up with the Jones’.

What things does your family choose to focus on? What are some things you no longer do, that left you busy but not fulfilled – just running around in circles? What is the legacy you want to pass on to your children? For real, you should write it down! 🙂


Photography by Annie Spratt

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