11 ~ Simple Families


"The more people have studied different methods of bringing up children the more they have come to the conclusion that what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is the best after all. All parents do their best job when they have a natural, easy confidence in themselves. Better to make a few mistakes from being natural than to try to do everything letter-perfect out of a feeling of worry."

~ Benjamin Spock


You may decide, having thought about it carefully, that yours is to be a simple life, but what about your family? Do you need to have them agree with you on these things? Perhaps they might have a different idea of simplicity than you or even reject the idea altogether. You may find yourself outnumbered in the simple living vote and have to compromise some of your plans.
Perhaps you are not part of a family unit at this time in your life ~ can you find a partner and build a simple family around you both? Or perhaps the choice for you is to develop a single and simple lifestyle which gives you a pretty free hand.

As you can see, whether on your own or as part of a family group, these are some of the most basic issues surrounding a life of simple living.


Do we take care that commitments outside the home do not encroach upon the time and loving attention the family needs for its health and well-being?

~ North Pacific Yearly Meeting Advices and Queries (Quaker)


Simple Beginnings

Of course the vast majority of us start our lives as part of a family; we have parents, or a parent, and we may have siblings and grandparents and even be part of some greater ‘clan’. Whatever the set up these people are most likely to be part of our lives until they, or we, die. Of course, geographical distance is a factor for many families, but communication and those ‘hidden ties’ mean our families are always with us. The relationships may be close, loving, strained, manipulative or distant; families come in all types and we all have to accept what we find ourselves to be a part of. Our childhood may leave us with a wealth of happy memories or cupboards full of daemons; we have no choice about those things and we cannot change them.

As we grow older, our relationship with our parents changes and sometimes, as we grow into adulthood, our parents become our friends. That’s the way it should happen, but it's not a perfect world and many of us find ourselves at odds with ageing parents, and life for all becomes more difficult. We may have to nurse ageing parents, they may become frail and senile, our finances and energies may become stretched and, on top of all these things, however much we try and try, we never quite get approved of.

Many people experience development into adulthood in a way that parents are unhappy with; they may not like how we look, our sexual orientation, our choice of job, our choice of partner... What can be done? We want to adopt a simple approach to all these questions, so the answer must be some way to reduce the complexity of a relationship that does not break the important ties that hold us together. We must learn to coexist, to give each other space, to allow each other our differences; sometimes we give ground, but on some things we hold fast, we do not surrender our individuality. We need to say that we are different, but that difference is not ‘tie breaking’, we need to stand up for who we are and take whatever criticism comes our way.  Above all we need, in any relationship, to be ourselves.

Elderly Members of the Family

When Charles Dickens was at the height of his popularity, he chose to use his skills as a novelist for the nineteenth century reading middle classes. Nowadays we have many social problems to deal with, but in particular the way that old people are treated. Our society recognizes the worth of those who work, but fails to apply the same value to those who are too old to work. Because ‘productive labour’ is over, elderly people, particularly poor elderly people, are regarded as a ‘problem’ rather than being seen as valued members of society. Governments ignore them, corporations ignore them, and we also ignore them.  Dickens worked hard to highlight some of the social problems of the day. In Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, he exposes the way in which children were treated in Victorian society. He did bring about real social change by bringing a serious social problem into the living room of the nineteenth century.   Contrast this with the Amish who fully integrate the elderly within their families, their communities and with their society as a whole. Perhaps it is because Amish society changes so slowly, that the skills and ‘know how” of the elderly are still relevant and useful.  In modern western culture, the skills of fifteen years ago are often outdated. The Amish look after and nurse their elderly in a way that puts us to shame.  We could learn much from them. If you have elderly members in your family or your community, then consider how they are treated and how you can act to improve their lives.


“These are the days that must happen to you.”

~ Walt Whitman

Simply Going Alone

Many people stay in the family home that they were raised in until their parents die, then they just take over, somehow carrying on the baton of the family into the future. In days past this was a very common thing to do, especially for men who would take on the family farm or the family business when the father died. For women there were always those who married and, effectively, became part of ‘another’ family;  those who remained unmarried often ended up as the carer of ageing parents. Today things are different and the vast majority of women and men leave the parental home and set up for themselves.

For many, setting up for themselves means becoming what the world sees as a ‘single person’; you become defined by the fact that you are not part of a partnership. Some find the ‘single’ life appealing and are in no hurry, if ever, to change it; others start, almost at once, to seek that other person with whom they will build the nucleus of a new family. Above all being single must be considered as fully acceptable, valid and valuable as being with a partner and never as just being ‘unmarried’.

If you are single, do spend time thinking about whether that is the happiest state for you to be in, or whether you are seeking that ‘other person’. When I say ‘consider’ I mean actively consider your options; do not feel obliged to take a partner simply because ‘society’ expects it of you. Loneliness is a considerable burden for any human to have to cope with, so make sure you are not just choosing a partner to avoid being on your own. It may be that you have decided that you positively do want a partner, but it has proved difficult to find a suitable candidate; if this is the case, be sure to make the best of your life as it is.  Do not let your quest overwhelm you and cast a shadow over other aspects of life that may also carry considerable benefits. For thoughts on simple connecting see chapter 8.

Finding a partner

Those of us in relationships can look back and consider how we met our life partner.  We may even look back and consider ourselves very fortunate to have been in the ‘right place at the right time’.
Psychologists have come up with several theories of how we decide that the person we have met is ‘the one’ and it's usually to do with some mental checklist that we carry around in our heads. That check list might have some very simple things to do with physical appearance like ‘blue eyes’ or ‘tall’; it might also have some more esoteric points such as, ‘must like cats’ or ‘must be a reader of Proust’. When we meet any potential partner we simply spend a bit of time checking our list to see if we have a good match. Of course, this ‘list’ is unconscious so we don’t actually start ticking boxes, however, our brains start to do this very quickly. I suppose that if we can tick off a number of physical attributions very quickly, we may have a case of ‘love at first sight’.

In the past, putting yourself in a position where you might meet potential partners was relatively simple; it would have been through church groups or maybe other social organizations. Later, as more women came into the workplace, work became the major source of potential partners. Today things are more difficult; social groups and the workplace may no longer be the places where people meet. What is wrong with computer dating? Nothing as far as I can see; casting a wider net may just help you to find what you seek. If you decide to computer date, then be discreet about who you tell and be very careful about letting your emotions carry you away before you arrange a meeting to see whether the ‘chemistry’ works in the right way. Never assume that the person you are ‘meeting’ on-line is genuinely who they say they are, always take care and never arrange a first meeting away from other people.


“I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest -- blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine.”

― Charlotte Brontë


Different Family Units

We don’t live in the 1950s any more and the word ‘family’ can mean a whole range of different things. All possible combinations and numbers of adults looking after children is fine, and the sex of the parents and the sexuality of the parents does not affect anything as far as I’m concerned. The important thing is that people regard their unit as a family, be that one adult and a child, or five adults and twelve children. These things shouldn’t matter to any of us and simple families are no different. A loving family should be just that and face the world without any need to explain, or justify, why they don’t match the role models from the 1950s. 

Make sure that the children in your family understand that families come in all sorts of different ways, and avoid behaviour that will encourage the development of sexual stereotypes, or the acceptance of sexual stereotypes, in your home.

Simple faithfulness

When you start a relationship with another person you must be faithful.  It is not simple at all to get yourself ‘involved’ with more than one person at a time. Perhaps the relationship will be a short one, but all the same it should be a short and faithful one. If you decide that it is not working out, then you have an ethical duty to close that relationship before moving on. That is the only way!

If you enter a long relationship with someone, perhaps sharing a home, marriage, or civil partnership, then true faithfulness and absolute fidelity are the only way. Don’t put yourself in positions where your commitment to your partner comes to testing.  Do not be flirtatious and do not put yourself into a place of temptation. Infidelity leads only to guilt, pain, mistrust and hurts everyone involved.

Relationships do go wrong.  It is sad, but it happens.  Only when one relationship is closed and the going of separate ways has taken place can you even consider a new partner. If your unfaithfulness has been the cause of broken relationships, perhaps the separation of children from parents, then that will hold with you, and you will be responsible for great unhappiness and hurt.

Simple Sex

Relationships between loving adults results in sex. Sex does not exist in the same way outside that loving relationship.  Sex divorced from love is like eating without hunger. In the last fifty to sixty years, the media has taken over sex and sold us a ‘brand’ that belonged to us anyway. Magazines, newspapers, television and film all sell us the idea that sex is out there to take, as much of it as we want ... and the consequences are always happiness and joy. In reality, sex is limited, both in quantity and variety; most people have lives that are full of work and living and looking after others, and building up the structure of their lives. Sex also can bring problems, relationship issues, unplanned pregnancy, and a range of sexually transmitted diseases, so remember that sex does not come without strings,

Of course sex is a part of our lives, but it is never as big as might be suspected by an alien visiting our planet and thumbing through a pile of magazines at the newsstand or spending an evening in front of the television.  That would present a skewed version of reality.  For many, satisfaction with their sex lives is marred by the belief that everyone else is enjoying more and better sex than they are. The truth is that sex can only ever be a small part of our lives; it may not ‘live up’ to what the movies tell us but it can be a satisfying part of a loving relationship. Let’s not forget that the primary biological function of sex is the production of young.  That’s true for otters, oak trees and okapi, and it’s also true for us.


“It is not your love that sustains the marriage,
but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Many simple people, groups, and individuals have adopted celibacy as a way of life. In the Roman Catholic Church the priesthood, monks and nuns all take vows of chastity and are required to refrain from all sexual activity. The Shakers also, famously, made celibacy an essential requirement of their church, relying on conversion or adoption to increase their numbers.  Celibacy for those not involved in such groups is either a matter of personal choice or, more often, circumstance. Within a loving relationship, celibacy can happen as the result of mutual agreement or because of medical, psychological or other reasons. It might be for a short spell or a long time, but either way a strong relationship can cope with it. Lack of sex need not indicate lack of love, nor lack of caring, nor lack of commitment; it can cause difficulties, but so can many other things. Simple relationships are based on love and trust; they can withstand much and are are a joy to the participants.


When a ‘family unit’ goes from being two people to three or more, it automatically becomes different. After all, the two people at the ‘core’ of the family chose one another, but the children are a result of genetics and we have no choice in the matter of the mix of genes involved at all. Children do respond well to a simple environment and pretty much accept the life that is offered to them as the norm.  It is only when other children whom they know reveal details of their lives that comparisons take place. It is not uncommon for people to find that they only feel truly ‘adult’ when they become parents and all of a sudden things like free time become something you have to plan for.

Children need to feel happy and secure within the family; they must be able to look upon their home
as a place of absolute safety and trust. Children are individuals and many will have traits and characteristics that the parents will not have expected.  However, whatever they may be like, love, safety and trust are their birthright.

If you don’t have children you may strongly overestimate the effect that your genes will have on that child. True, they will inherit some things from you ~ indeed, some children seem to be clones of one or other parent, but for the most part, your child will be a unique individual who is carrying with them the genetic information from not just the two parents, but from those who came before you since humans first evolved. You have no idea what your children will be like, and you have no real idea of what kind of adults they will become until quite late in their childhood.


“Do you recognise the needs and gifts of each member of your family and household, not forgetting your own? Try to make your home a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, where all who live or visit may find the peace and refreshment of God’s presence.”

Quakers in Britain Advices and Queries


The Guidance of Children

The word ‘discipline’ has a nasty feel to it for many; perhaps they think of it as being the same as ‘punishment’ or ‘restraint’, so I use the word ‘guidance’ to avoid that negative connotation. Children are young and will do things that are very dangerous, very disruptive or very unkind to others. It is up to the adults who look after them to guide them in a way of avoiding danger, being in harmony with the others in the household and community and being kind and thoughtful towards others.

Eventually the child will, as we all do, develop a self regulatory process for these things, but that comes with time. By now, some parents will be ready with anecdotal references as to how ‘good’ their children are, while others will quietly ponder why they have had problems with their children. I think it is very important not to judge others, nor to blame parenting on what might be due to any number of reasons. If you are a parent of children who constantly present you with behavioural problems, then don’t spend time blaming yourself, just work hard at trying to turn things around.
Children are all different and, even within a family, personality differences will exist; we should make allowances for these differences, but insist on a level of cooperation with others that makes for a peaceable family existence. Don’t be draconian with your children, but do expect the following;

(PS some of these will not become issues until the teenage years, and if you are lucky, never!)
  • No violence to other family members
  •  No verbal abuse, name calling or bullying of other family members
  •  No ‘inappropriate’ intimacy with other family members
  •  No mistreatment of animals
  • No disrespectful comments or behaviour to others outside the family
  •  Not showing respect for other people’s property and privacy
  • Not showing respect for the ‘house rules’ about ‘cussing’, discussing inappropriate things with younger children, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography etc.
  • Stealing within or without the home.
  • Deliberate or careless damage to household items or the belongings of others
  • Lying to attain what is not rightly theirs or to defer blame
  • Lack of consideration towards others by means of excess noise or behaviour
  • Not sharing in the chores of the household as appropriate by age
  • Taking full part in family mealtimes and other things which are considered the norm
  • Observing other rules to do with technology in the home and its use
  • Observing family rules about what time to come home, time for bed etc.

The problems come when these rules are deliberately ignored, or tested to straining. Obviously, any adult in the family cannot use the ‘forbidden’ list above to sanction the poor behaviour of children. You cannot hit, name call, or damage property if that’s the kind of behaviour that is considered unacceptable! You have to develop a subtle but varied range of sanctions that might include removal for an agreed time of a privilege; the ‘making good’ by doing tasks, repairing, restoring etc. damage to goods or property should be paid for in some way. Remove free time and replace it with some tiresome activity. Withholding of ‘treats’, but never the withholding of love, affection or time. Avoid losing your temper with children or imposing any sanctions that could be considered cruel or hurtful in any way. If they have done wrong, they should be aware of it, but also be very aware that it is the wrongdoing that is under discussion and not them nor your love for them.

Always keep at the front of your mind that a child’s first lessons in justice, conflict resolution, and non-violence happen in the home; also remember that your child will discover for themselves the power of protest and passive resistance – and that’s how it should be.

Arguments and Aggression

(C) K and R Lovegrove

People living in the same house will argue and, from time to time, those arguments will become ‘aggressive’. By that term I mean that things will be said not to prove a point but to hurt the other person. It would be nice to think that in a simple household these things will not happen, but that’s not facing up to the reality. The important thing is how to avoid these situations and how to get over them once they occur.

Not getting into arguments may involve a whole range of techniques, but these are a few;

  • Allow others to occasionally ‘let off steam’ without challenging them
  • Avoid doing things that can be seen as ‘irritating’ to the other person at difficult times; pre-menstrual days, times of stress, when they, or you are hungry, tired etc.
  • If possible, take yourself away from the ‘field of conflict’ before things go wrong
  • Agree to differ
  • Agree to postpone a conversation until later
Things to remember in an argument;
  • This is a person you care for, don’t say things to hurt them
  • Don’t bring up past arguments
  • Don’t use the argument as an opportunity to bring up unrelated topics
  • Don’t get aggressive with doors, plates or other items for dramatic effect
  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘I can’t talk about this now let’s talk later
  • Don’t involve others
Things to try after an argument;
  • Say sorry
  • Show that you understand the other person's position
  • Be kind and never victorious
  • Sleep on it
  • (An Amish device) Agree to keep out of each other’s way for an hour or two, but don’t do this without agreeing or it will look like sulking
  •  Don’t sulk
  • Don’t punish yourself or the other person
How to avoid arguments in the first place
  • Be kind
  • Be considerate
  • Allow people to be different
  • Face your addictions and bad habits and deal with them
  • Be true and faithful to your partner
  • Be truthful
  • Be honest about your finances
  • Try to be patient
  • Try to keep a good temper
  • Count to ten before you say anything
  •  If you have issues with your partner/child/parent try to find ‘good times’ to discuss them
  • Don’t rehearse confrontations in your head ~ they don’t work out like that
  • Consider that you may be mistaken
  • Recognise when people are vulnerable and leave them alone
Schooling or Unschooling?

(C) Tim L Walker

Children need to learn so much. Some things are learned from other family members such as language, a good relationship with food and how to get help when you need it. Practical skills like getting dressed, working basic things in the home and respecting others are all valuable lessons which may take some time to get right. The importance of music, nursery rhymes, simple folk tales and stories is immense; in this way children are inducted into the culture of the family and of the greater mass of people around them.

When it comes to more formal education; ‘Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic’ a choice has to be made. Should these be delivered in the home via the parents or by professional teachers in a school?
In some nations of Europe, home-schooling is illegal. But in most of the world, it is a choice open to parents. The decision to homeschool may come for a number of reasons; unhappiness with the pervading culture of the available school, special needs of the child that cannot be satisfactorily delivered by the school, fear of bullying or social rejection, religious views or simply a strong belief in home-schooling as the right thing to do. For parents, several things are important.  Perhaps the most important of these is the sharing of resources, information and support with others working in the same way (see Chapter 8). Also, you need to ‘buy in’ what you cannot provide; this may involve you getting tuition in music, languages, art or whatever skills you are not competent in yourself.
If you do choose to send your children to school, rather than home educate, then make certain that the school is one you are happy with. If for any reason you find yourself dissatisfied then fully consider the option set out above. Changing schools continuously to find ‘the perfect one’ is, in my opinion, pointless and damaging.

Even if you chose not to educate at home, don’t assume that your child's education is not your full responsibility. Look for the gaps in the syllabus offered by the school and, if you can, fill them yourself. This is particularly important if a language that is in the heritage of the family is not taught at school ~ teach it yourself! Above all other things remember that the spiritual development of your child is in your hands; work hard to keep this out of the grasp of others who may have a very different outlook on the world than yourself, but always remember to give your child the freedom to make up their own mind.

The ‘Happy’ Family

Tolstoy in  Anna Karenina would have us believe that ‘happy’ families are of one kind. I generally would never disagree with Tolstoy, but on this occasion, I must put forward the theory that all families are different, irrespective of the level of happiness or unhappiness that embraces them. The following list encompasses the things that a simple family should be aiming for in their lives every day! A family should aim to create an environment where;

  •  everyone is treasured as an individual
  • all individuals are loved
  • individuals are allowed space
  • individual development is supported
  • cooperation is the mode of operation
  • work is shared
  • spiritual unity is sought, but allowances are made for different approaches.
  • arguments are few and short
  • arguments never develop into long term ‘warfare’
  • the elderly are respected and cherished
  • the young are nurtured by all
  • harmony is seen as the norm

I could on, but you can add to the list for yourself. The important thing, in fact the most important message, is that you need to keep working on these things forever! You are not going to wake up one morning and find all these things ‘sorted’, but you will wake up every morning with renewed determination to make these things work!

In the Jewish tradition, redemption only comes from the continuous ‘Mitzvahs’ or good deeds ~ the seeds of our own redemption are locked deep inside us all along! To all of us, Jewish or not, the message is simple, pure and so beautiful ~ in answer to the question ‘what can I do today’ the answer will always be ‘what you did yesterday, but try and do it better’. Your family life may get closer to your ideals if you remember this each morning and at the close of each day.


"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


·         Work hard to maintain a good relationship with your parents

·         Consider your attitude to the elderly

·         Consider your attitude to children

·         Work hard at nurturing your relationships

·         Consider ‘singleness’ a worthy alternative to being part of a couple
·         Keep sex in perspective as part of your life, but one of many parts

·         Understand that celibacy may also be part of your life

·         Maintain simple faithfulness in your relationships

·         Always be fair in your guidance of children

·         Never let cruelty be any part of family life

·         Consider how best to encourage individuality within your family structure

·         Ensure that each member of your family has the ‘space’ to develop

·         Consider home-schooling/unschooling for your children

·         Consider joining a community as an alternative to family life


An insightful and thoughtful look at how we treat children in the family.

Benjamin Spock, Robert Needlman  Baby and Child Care 9th edition  Gallerey 2012 

It may be one of the longest serving books on baby and childcare, but its 'common sense' approach and lack of overall philosophical  'approach' makes it the first choice for parents.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...