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Last summer was a lesson in opposites for Lisa Rekstad and her
9-year-old son, Ellis. They spent a week at farm camp out in
Rockford-fresh air, fluffy clouds, open fields and farm animals.
Then the last day, before the Rekstads came back to their Chicago
home, they went to a water park. Screaming kids, flashing lights,
"The experiences are night and day,"
says Rekstad. "One, your mind completely clears. You can hear
the birds, hear the horses neighing. The other ones, you have this
loud thumping music and primary colors gouging out your
This summer, Rekstad says her family has chosen to
simplify and reconnect, applying what she learned from a workshop
on Simplicity Parenting, a movement to help parents cut down on the
stresses of modern life in order to raise happier kids.
Summer is the perfect time to simplify family life, says
Kim John Payne, author of the book, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power
of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure
Most families, he says, look forward to summer as a break
from their frantic schedules, but they find they can't seem to slow
Simplicity Parenting started as an outgrowth of Payne's
work as a family therapist. He saw many kids who were
overwrought-feisty and defiant or sometimes sullen and withdrawn.
He recommended simple changes, such as reducing the number of toys,
creating daily routines and limiting screen time, and was astounded
by how well children responded.
"What's happening for so many kids is that the demands of
the `too much, too soon, too sexy, too young world' is flooding our
kids. It's breaching the levee. It's spilling over into their
inside world," says Payne.
When it comes to summer, Payne says, too many parents
think they have to provide constant entertainment to make their
kids' vacations worthwhile. Instead, he champions the value of
less-less buzz and boom-and more time for catching fireflies,
telling stories and running around barefoot.
"The fever pitch of family life now has become the new
normal," says Payne. "In order to break the pattern of
that, we need summer."
But how can we get off the high-speed train of modern
childhood and reconnect with our kids? Payne recommends starting
off the summer with a family retreat. He suggests going camping,
hiking or canoeing.
But how do you sustain the connectedness and slower pace
you set when you get back?
Payne points to another aspect of Simplicity Parenting:
Setting regular mealtimes, bedtimes and wake-up times.
Another tip? Let your kids get bored. When his own
daughters whine that they're bored, Payne says he gives them a
frown and says, "Oh dear." Within 20
minutes, his girls have found something to do, entertaining
themselves instead of relying on a parent or a screen to keep them
"You've got to be the most boring thing in the room.
Outbore the boredom," says
Susan Bruck has seen this type of creativity in action.
She's a teacher at Chicago's Waldorf School and a Simplicity
Parenting mentor. She recalls summers with her own daughters,
making fairy houses and eating warm raspberries right off the
Bruck says getting out of the house can be fun too, but
parents shouldn't feel pressured to rush around and see everything
a place has to offer.
"Sometimes the most exciting thing at the zoo might not be
the lion's den or that exhibit way over there, but the squirrel
that's climbing up the tree or the ants crawling over the sidewalk
where someone dropped their ice cream on the
ground," says Bruck.
Bruck says the slower pace of summer is a great time to
make new rituals together.
Family rituals make kids feel safe and build lasting
memories, says Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create
Great Rituals for Holidays &
Cox says summer also can be a great time for kids to
choose something they want to learn how to do, like jumping rope,
playing the harmonica or learning a few magic tricks. Get some
books from the library and then spend summer afternoons practicing,
laughing and enjoying their progress. It's not as much about
accomplishing something, as it is finding something to enjoy
"It's seizing the moment. It's making memories by really
living in the moment," says Cox. "What
every human being is doing on this earth is to make meaning out of
the time that they have, and rituals are a way to do
But what if your kids see the proverbial Joneses running
themselves ragged, going from Disney to King's Island, soccer camp
to acrobatics camp, Lincoln Park Zoo to Shedd Aquarium? Will they
resent you and wish they were going, going, going too? Payne says
the answer is, surprisingly, no.
"In three decades of working with parents, I always ask
them one simple question: What is your golden moment from your
childhood?" says Payne. ™Inevitably it's
never about doing more. It's never about racing from activity to
activity. It's never about things that money buys.
"These beautiful memories are not random. It's a simple
formula. It's about time together," says
Lisa Rekstad says her family life has become sweeter since
"It frees us up to do the things we want and be with the
people we want to be with," she
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