A few weekends ago, we had a jam packed Saturday. First, Huddy had a haircut, then he had soccer. During the boys’ naps, I had to make some appetizers for a little party to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. As soon as they woke up, we packed up the car and headed over to a friend’s house for dinner. They were all fun things but it was so stressful. We were late for everything. Hudson and Brooks were cranky. There were many car seat battles. The ride home from dinner was filled with tears and we were all exhausted. It had been so long since we had a packed schedule. I can’t believe this would have been a normal Saturday in pre-pandemic life. How did we survive and why did we insist on doing it all? As we start to emerge from this Covid bubble, I’ll be thinking long and hard about what I want our “free time” to look like going forward.
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When Dr. Christine Koh wrote her minimalist parenting book 8 years ago, little did she know how relevant it would be for all of us today. The pandemic didn’t give us a choice- it forced us all to slow down, look inward, and do less. Now, many parents and families are starting to resurface after an incredibly trying and challenging year. We are trying to navigate how to find the new normal. Dr. Koh’s advice is more relevant now than ever- optimize your time and your life so you’re not feeling so bound to the details and so you can actually live and enjoy the time with your family. Find your level of chaos and crazy and just take it down a notch.
Were you pregnant during your postdoc?
Yes, I was pregnant during my postdoc. It was not an easy situation to be in such a male-dominated environment. When I had my baby, Laurel, she’s now 16, it was not a super working mom, friendly environment. I had to fight for everything. I was on an NIH grant. I believe it allowed for 30 days of leave, so I had to fight for more. I think I got 3 months by the end of it. And then even when I came back, when I needed to do things like pump, I would either need to walk 20 minutes to a mother’s room across campus or I would squat in the bathroom next to the toilet close to the outlet. I mean that wasn’t the only reason I left but certainly kids change you as we all know. So that was a really big part of my decision-making.
How did you make the jump from academia?
I had the privilege of being able to take a little space because of my husband. By the time, I was getting ready to leave my postdoc, it was clear to my husband to that for my health and mental wellness, I needed to leave. So fortunately, he was at a job where he could support us while I got my freelance career off the ground. We had a time where he was shouldering things for the family financially.
It’s important to mention that it was terrifying to take that space and not have a real job- for somebody who’s always had a job. But as soon as I did left the postdoc other opportunities started coming in. I got my first freelance editing contract. And then I had the space to start a graphic design business. And then over the years I’ve just always filled holes and niches that I want to fit or fill and I’ve migrated in that direction. Over the years, I’ve started a couple of podcasts that are both still running. I co-authored a book called Minimalist Parenting and started an apparel company with my husband after the 2016 election that is advocacy oriented and donates to charity. And then my most official job is that I also serve as creative director at a social media for social good agency. So it’s a lot of things but they are all connected by this thread of wanting to help, live better, and be a little less crazy.
What advice do you have for parents on how to address anti-Asian racism?
I think these topics are understandably so complicated and a little scary to address, if it feels out of your comfort zone, or you’re not sure I think the biggest thing is to teach kids about empathy and to help them really understand. One site that I just love for resources for this is called making caring common. It’s out of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and it’s all about super simple exercises to just help kids see themselves, see the differences and the similarities, remember that we’re all humans, and that we all matter. Representation in media is also huge- and not just on a celebratory month or day but all year round. That’s my big wish for education is that centering diverse voices happens all the time and not just at particular times of the year.
I think my biggest piece of advice would be that it’s okay to make mistakes in these conversations. It’s okay to not have all the perfect words and all the answers. I would say this applies to everything from sex ed to conversations about race to anything in between.
How did you get inspired to write a book about minimalist parenting?
Clearly parents want to be doing less and want to be less overwhelmed. The idea for it really came to me through my readers. Anytime I posted on my blog about trying to do things a different way and not get sucked into over-scheduling chaos, I would get a lot of emails from people asking- oh, can we do it that way? I want to do it that way too, but I feel self-conscious- and I realized there should be a whole public dialogue about doing less because clearly, I was not the only person feeling this way.
I just want to underscore for parents who are listening that minimalist parenting is not about getting rid of all your stuff or foregoing toilet paper. It’s just really about tuning into whatever your level of crazy is so that you can figure out how to take it down a notch. There are lots of practical tips but ultimately it’s got to be customized to you. What works for your family? What are your priorities? What do you care about? What do you want to let go of? There are just so many ways we can optimize our time and our lives so we’re just not feeling so bound to the details and so we can actually live and enjoy.
A list of Dr. Christine Koh’s amazing articles and resources:
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Bridget is mom to two little boys, Hudson and Brooks, and a champion of working moms everywhere. NeighborSchools itself was borne out of Bridget’s challenge to find high-quality yet affordable child care, and the realization that so many parents struggle with these same issues every day.