Post written by Leo Babauta.
I often get asked how I can do so much while having six kids.
My short answer, and all you really need to know, is my wife Eva is awesome. I couldn’t do half what I do without her.
She is the reason Zen Habits is able to exist. And so if you want parenting advice, you’d be smart to ask her.
She doesn’t, however, have a blog. And so I’ll share some things that we both do that make our jobs as parents easier.
These are Very Important Rules that must never be broken by any Serious Parent … until, of course, you want to break them. The first rule of Rules of Effortless Parenting is that you should always break rules.
Rules of Effortless Parenting
There is really only one rule: Love Them. But you already knew that one, so let’s get into details:
1. Teach kids to be self-sufficient. Our kids started by learning how to pick up after themselves (as 1 and 2 year olds), and later learned how to feed themselves breakfast, brush their teeth and shower and dress themselves, wash dishes and clean up in the kitchen, clean their rooms, do laundry, etc. Our jobs as parents became tons easier, but it does take a little patient teaching in the beginning of each skill.
2. Teach older kids to help with the younger kids. If you have multiple kids, this rule is golden. Our teens can help the little kids with anything. That makes our jobs a lot easier, and the older kids learn responsibility.
3. Teach them to solve problems. This is really the main job of unschooling, which is the philosophy we follow as homeschoolers. Our kids don’t learn facts or even skills. They learn to solve problems on their own. If they know how to do this, they can learn any facts or skills they need to solve their problems. Want to learn how to write a computer program? That’s just another problem that you need to learn how to solve. Want to cook Thai food, or write a blog, or start a business, or build something? Problems that you can solve.
4. Show them how to be passionate. The other main thing you teach unschoolers, besides solving their own problems, is how to be passionate about something. If they know this, they will do work they’re passionate about as adults. How do you teach them this? By modeling it yourself. By doing projects with them where you’re passionate about something. Kids learn an amazing amount by watching and mimicking.
5. Play with them outside, and be active. Spending time with your kids is one of the best ways to show them you love them. Playing with them is one of the best ways to spend time with them. Playing outside shows them how to be active and have fun being active. I also stay active on my own, but I make sure they know what I’m doing, why, and how much fun it is. They have a role model who is healthy and fit, and that will help them for the rest of their lives.
6. Don’t overschedule. Most parents schedule too many classes, sports, parties, activities. We give our kids lots of unstructured, unscheduled time. They have to figure out what to do with that time. That’s an important skill to learn. It also means their lives are less stressed out, as are ours, and they learn a slower pace of life.
7. Don’t dote. I’ve seen lots of parents that dote on everything their kids do, who are worried about every little thing their kid might touch or that might cause a fall. Back off, and give them some space. They need attention, but they also need some time alone to explore, to fall and get back up, to scrape their knees, to figure stuff out on their own. Go do something on your own, and leave your kids alone sometimes.
8. Dance. Because life without dance is dull and not worth living. Play loud music. Go crazy.
9. Read with them, and read in front of them. Kids love books, especially if you read them with them. Here are some of my favorites. If you are a reader yourself, and they see that, this will teach them to love reading too. Reading is one of the best loves you can instill in kids.
10. Be inquisitive. Ask questions about everything, and encourage them to do the same. Kids are naturally inquisitive … they can ask a million questions, because everything is new to them. Learn to see the world through their eyes — it’s amazing. Why the hell IS the sky blue? Why do leaves change color? How does a bird fly? These are brilliant questions, and you should explore them with the kids — don’t just give them answers, but show them how to find out.