Written by guest contributor Renee Tougas of FIMBY.
Change is a part of life. We give our children an amazing tool when we teach them to adapt to change.
Sometimes we undergo a personal or family transformation that calls for major upheaval in our lives. Mom or Dad takes a pay cut to have more time with the family. You downsize your belongings and house to live debt-free. You choose to adopt a child, rescuing them from poverty and extreme suffering.
Life-changing beliefs and convictions call for life-changing decisions.
In just three short months our own family will be trading our current life for another one. We are leaving our home and moving out of the country. Downsizing our belongings and living with family for a season. And then making home again in a province where we don’t speak the dominant language.
You can read the whole story here at FIMBY. It’s safe to say, there’s a lot of upheaval in our family life right now.
Photo by Renee Tougas
We are making this move during a stage of parenting where our children are not just tag-alongs.
Our children are eleven, ten and nine, well beyond the years of “pack the crib, toddler beds, and toy bins.” In order to maintain a peaceful, happy and contented home we need them on-board with our plans.
You might not be making huge life altering decisions right now; you might just want to live more simply and with greater intention.
Whether you want to cut out stressful extracurricular activities, de-cluttter the kid’s rooms, or are just trying to eat dinner together every night as a family, if you have children past toddlerhood you need everyone’s participation to be successful.
Here are the techniques we have used to help our children embrace lifestyle changes, both big and small.
The most important piece in helping children embrace a major lifestyle change is to communicate your overall family mission. As they get older, it is even better if they help craft that vision.
Before your family embarks on any significant changes (homeschooling, downsizing, moving, adoption, etc.) you need to clearly communicate to your children why you are doing this.
“What’s in it for me?”
Let’s be honest, everybody asks this question — children especially.
There are two parts to answering this:
1. Immediate and tangible rewards
There should be immediate and tangible rewards for your children as you make major lifestyle changes.
In our case, we need to downsize our household possessions. There have been rewards along the way for our children as they have let go of things. A family experience, treats or purchasing one special toy in exchange for a bin of less desirable toys are a few examples.
2. Long-term, individual growth
This point is especially important for older children.
One goal of large-scale family change is to help everyone reach their personal potential.
The change should encourage the development of your children’s gifts and skills, and maximize how they can uniquely contribute to your family’s mission.
Photo by Renee Tougas
For example, let’s say your family is about to embark on a more back-to-basics, homesteading lifestyle. If age appropriate, your children’s interests and talents should be a part of the decision making for how to build your home, what animals to raise, and what crops to plant.
If your children know you are in their corner, that your goal is to help them develop, they are more likely to come on-board.
Be the Primary Influence
I’m the first to admit I think it would be hard for our family to make our upcoming change if our children were going to school and had strong attachments to peers.
As it is, we homeschool (because of the freedom it gives) and are able to determine our own family culture because of that. Our intention is not to withdraw from interactions with other people. We truly value forming relationships outside our family.
However, as the parents, we want to be the dominant influence in our children’s lives during their formative years. Not their peers, school, sports teams, or even church.
The time will come when they will spread their wings and make choices for themselves about where to live, what to eat, what to buy and how to worship. But in their younger years, we are responsible for those choices.
This doesn’t mean you have to homeschool — but the stronger your influence on your children, the more likely they are to embrace a family lifestyle change.
Photo by Renee Tougas
Find a supportive community
Being part of a community of people with similar values is so helpful when making big life changes. Especially when those changes take you further outside the mainstream culture.
We all want to feel like we belong, and children are no different.
For years our family has invested a lot of our time in pursuing outdoor adventures together. It’s part of our mission. We hike most every weekend and backpack also, but haven’t found many families around us who do the same.
However, we recently met a family who enjoys these same pursuits and went winter camping together. The adults had a great time, but our children LOVED it, having fun and connecting with other kids like them.
Photo by Renee Tougas
Nothing replaces a rock solid family foundation, but finding community makes new experiences and transitions easier and more enjoyable.
Be inspiring and enthusiastic
It’s fine and dandy if one of your family goals is to live more simply, but if there is no joy in doing so don’t expect the kids to embrace your philosophy.
Your life should be enriched with better family time, deeper relationships and more joyful living because of the changes you’re making.
For example, if your family decides to pay down debt, your own attitude should be inspiring to your children. Be realistic — it may take some time to win them over to a new way of doing things, like cutting back expenses to save more money.
Encourage them with your own enthusiasm.
Making big changes that mark your family as different than the norm is easier when your children are too young to know the difference.
Some people think “Oh, these baby years are so hard, let’s just wait till the kids are sleeping through the night, out of diapers, fill-in-the-blank before we make any major changes.”
I say, go for it now. This is the ideal age. If your dream is to become vegetarians, live like “Little House on The Prairie,” or sell most of your belongings to live overseas, do it now while your children are little and you won’t have to go through most of what I’ve shared above!
Has your family made any big lifestyle changes? What techniques do you recommend to help children with change?