Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is It "Unfair" to Force This Life on our Kids?

Adults are adults.  We can choose for ourselves how to live.  But, kids are game-changers.  As parents, we make choices all the time on behalf of the kids God has entrusted to our care. 

It's not a stretch to say that our family lives differently than some others in a few key ways.  For example, we have no television.  We have no game systems.  We produce our own milk, cheese, eggs, veggies, and more, and it's often hard work that the kids are sometimes in on.  Let's be clear:  our children did not choose this way of life for themselves.  Is it ethical for us to choose it for them?

As anyone who follows me on Pinterest is by now well aware, I've become obsessed with Tiny Homes.  I can probably trace this interest back to time spent camping as a child.  I was amazed by how my grandparents camper could compress all the necessary kitchen appliances into such a tiny space.  And, the way my brother's bed in our pop-up camper transformed into our breakfast table with bench seating in time for breakfast was just awesome.  So, as I've considered how many square feet our own family of 5 could be comfortable living in, these ethical questions arise again.  Is it ethical for me to require my children to downsize and live a smaller lifestyle than the one to which they are accustomed? 

Children are all so different.  Hands down, it's Girl 1 who bucks up against our simpler lifestyle most, and I don't think it's just that she's the oldest.  While Girl 2 and Little Boy could be happy outdoors for hours on end, especially if there's dirt or water or (joy of all joys) a combination of the two to be played with, Girl 1 will eventually tire of it.  She likes her Barbies.  She likes her air to be conditioned.  She likes her iPod.  She likes her lotions and bubble bath.  Her bedroom is handily the largest one in the house, and it overflows with STUFF.  She prefers her bread and cheese "from the store."  She likes time alone in her bedroom to read, dance, write.  So, since I'm pretty sure the other two would be happy living in a tent in the backyard, it's mostly Girl 1 that I consider when I ask myself these questions on ethics.

How much space do we really need?  Do the kids each need their own bedrooms?  How many bathrooms could we get away with?   Would the kids be happy living in a smaller space?

Girl 2 and Little Boy are constantly underfoot, spending little to no time in their bedrooms.  And, most of the time, that's the way I like it.  I sometimes joke to John that we have this nice-sized house but all congregate and actually live in about 1,000 square feet of it.  There are, in fact,  many ways in which I think we'd be pretty good at living small.  As is infrequently the case in houses the size of ours, we only make use of one common living area.  We eat together.  We do homework in one common space, the girls sitting side-by-side on stools.  We love to spend time outdoors.  We like each other.   The kids (for the most part) can't get enough of each other.  As our resident housekeeper, I prefer things uncluttered.  Our Hurricane Katrina experience predisposes us to a loose connection to 'things."  The kids are pretty good about sharing things (for example, their shared iPad.  I think it's proven to be an excellent lesson in shared ownership.  I mean, really, how many things do our kids really have joint ownership of these days?  Sure, one child may have to share his possessions with another sibling, but ultimately most things "belong" to just one kid.  Our kids have really handled this unusual situation very well.) 
I recently came across an article on The Tiny Life that posed the question, "Is It Ethical to Raise a Child in a Tiny House?"  The article is interesting, but what I loved most was the response of reader Jason Blum:

My wife and I are raising four children in 1000 square feet – maybe not a tiny house, but certainly smaller and anyway, the size of the average home in 1950 and even a bit on the large side 50 years before that.
I am asked on almost a daily basis when we’ll be moving into something larger and I always politely blame the real estate market and change the subject.
But the truth is:
1) 1000 square feet can be thoroughly picked-up, laundered and vacuumed in a morning, instead of consuming your entire weekend.
2) In a small house, you can’t go days on end without seeing your kids because they’re down in the rec room playing xbox.
3) The kids are, or should be, outdoors anyway – home is just a place to eat, clean, read and sleep.
4) You’re going to have to get rid of your crap sooner or later. And if you do it later, you’re less likely to properly re/freecycle it. If you can make “crap-management” a small part of your daily routine, it never gets overwhelming and you’re more likely to value what you have, or find good homes for what you no longer need.
5) Or the best approach to “crap-management” is of course the finely-tuned crap-detector your small home will inspire in you. Everyone does this: they fill whatever space they have with crap. If you can’t spare the space in the first place, you’re forced to approach your acquisitions much more thoughtfully. This is a tremendously important life-skill I want my kids to learn.
6) In a smaller home, your kids have more opportunities to experience the family’s ecological footprint. In larger homes, the destination of the central vacuum or the distant rumbling of HVAC are all just abstract mysteries and lend to the illusion that earth’s resources are infinite.
7) Close quarters provide more stimulation, which makes it easier to resist the lure of television, for which there hopefully isn’t any space anyway.
8) A smaller home reinforces the lesson that over-consumption is a more urgent problem than over-population.
9) A smaller home in America is actually pretty average or even large by the standards of most of the rest of the world.
10) In a smaller home, children get to witness the parents navigate all the above – they get to see for themselves how critical moderation is to sustainable living.

Well said, Jason.  What say you?


  1. While I don't love to live "on top" of my family, I don't really want a huge house. My feeling is that if it doesn't fit in the house we have, we either don't need it or we need to get rid of something else. I think sharing a room is great. I never had to do it as a kid and thankfully I had an awesome college roommate share with (wink wink), but I think the benefits are many. In fact, I know family with 7 kids who live in a 3 bedroom house. The parents have a room, the boys have a room, and the girls have a room. When they added on, they added another family room instead of more bedroom space. So, when it comes to subjecting our kids to downsizing, etc. I think it's more about teaching them to store up their treasures in heaven. Sometimes life is inconvenient, but it's not always about our comfort on earth. When we serve the Lord we have to sacrifice and by sacrificing personal space, we are freeing up our money (that would have been spent on a larger house and more stuff), time, energy, etc. to serve God and others. You're modeling those things for your kids and, though, they may not always like it, they're learning important life lessons. And thus ends the longest comment ever.

  2. I love this post and Emmy's comment! The post made me think and Emmy's comment was very well said.