Personally, I was motivated to start this project and it’s inevitable next step - the ubiquitous podcast - when Vanessa and I lived in Texas after our divorce. Every day, I had about 45-60 minutes of driving time in the car. After a few months of music and news - I began listening only to podcasts .
One of the podcasts that happened to resonate with me at that time was “The Minimalists.” And it is a kind of emotional Minimalism that is the subject of my attention at present - in light of Vanessa's last post.
Vanessa wrote about spring cleaning and cooperation around our son’s “stuff.” From my perspective, what I think is at work there is clearly not a material minimalism (as overcompensating parents we both struggle with that - and there are way too many jerseys and hoodies and shorts to keep track of unfortunately). But, what is at work is an equally relevant and important form of minimalism: the psychological variety. Which we will come to shortly.
Over the last 20 plus years, I’ve personally found great benefit and enrichment in meditation. As a corollary of that, my bookshelves have swelled with many good and not so good books about Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy. And one of the central concepts that is most interesting conceptually but difficult to address personally is the role of “attachment.” The notion being that a lot of our suffering is caused by our attachments to things, people, ideas, feelings, etc.
So what does a minimalism podcast and my sitting on a mat while looking (but not looking) at a wall and trying not to think have to do with parenting or with Felix's clothing? A lot I think.
In divorce, we see clients fight over kid’s clothes, equipment, photos, mementos, and games. We also see these parents fight pitched battles over camps and vacations and college and hockey.
In our unorthodox pair of homes, we attempt, however imperfectly, to remove our own attachments relative to material items or expenses for our son. I can’t speak for the particular philosophy that Vanessa brings to it, but mine is determinedly grounded in understanding the dangers of attachment. And the attachments at work around the clothes and expenses are really the attachments we have to: owning, purchasing, getting credit, being generous, etc. Indeed, if we really drill down - those attachments are really about very fundamental emotions, fears and feelings that are about so much other than the socks and sweaters.
Whenever I personally buy our son that new FCB jersey or PS4 game, I always make sure he thanks Vanessa. And she does the same. Whether it is dinner, movies, vacations or a summer camp, our son exists in a world where he is not keeping track of who bought what, let alone in which house things should be. He is not running that child-of-divorce tally board in his head that forces a kid to begin to associate money and things with each of his parents in a binary way and begin to draw conclusions from that - conclusions that lead to nothing good or productive.
The additional benefit of operating in the way we do is that this system is profoundly helpful to us as parents. I don’t worry or think about where the jersey that “I” bought with “my” money is. Instead, I register only that my son has something he likes and I just let him like it and use it and benefit from it - regardless of any other considerations.
I may have physically purchased the jersey. But Vanessa physically purchased the dinner we went to afterwards. In what regard and for what reason are the particular financial details of that at all relevant to our son or to ourselves? None - I would suggest. She just as easily could have bought the jersey and I the dinner.
When there is a free flow of “things” and an open approach to their purchase and use - you are not getting attached. Not getting attached to a “this is mine” mentality of credit-taking and score-keeping. It is easy to become fixated on that binary. My house. Hers. My money. Hers. My things. Hers. But your kid knows only two parents and he or she loves them both. Your child doesn’t really want or need the binary thing and isn’t interested in your attachments - he has his own. And why go and make it all more fraught for him by adding confounding and confusing variables? Don’t do it. To the extent you can - just let it be.
P.S. Have a happy Passover or Easter this weekend - if you celebrate it. If you don't - then have a good weekend. Spring is here, Loyola is in the Final Four, and the White Sox started the season strong (admittedly it was one game). Things are looking good in Chicago as we come out of winter.
Regards - Brendan