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What might we learn from this Japanese philosophy to strengthen our parenting skills?

Being a parent these days can be hard. There are so many things to consider. We all want to do the right thing by our children and their lives are so different than our own childhood was. We need all the help we can get. That being said, I believe that one of the best things we can do is to give ourselves grace and recognize that we’re going to screw up at times. It’s a great way to model that same mindset for our children. After all, they want to please us and if they know that we will love them unconditionally, they are more likely to do the hard work that only they can do to become resilient, capable, and thriving adults.

I recently read the book Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton. While this is not a parenting book, I believe that the philosophy espoused in Wabi Sabi can provide a helpful framework for us to become better at the art of parenthood. Wabi Sabi is a philosophy that is based on simplicity, impermanence, and imperfection. It is an underlying thread of Japanese life and culture. It is a mindset that espouses appreciation of the messiness and imperfection of life and encourages simplicity. Wabi Sabi encourages appreciation for the transient nature of life and recognition of the natural world around us as it moves through the many changes, sometimes subtle, of the seasons. The philosophy, therefore, encourages acceptance of change, of who we are, and that there is beauty in imperfection. This extends to reframing failures as opportunities to learn and that there is no complete or perfect learning.

This is such a beautiful framework for us to consider in our role as parents. Giving children the support and space they need to discover their talents as they try new activities, sometimes with success and sometimes without, helps them build greater confidence as learners. Most of us have probably heard this referred to as a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset is the antithesis of a perfectionist mindset and accepts that we build mental muscle through trying new things, recognizing that through continuous trial we gain the experience to build on and try more difficult things. Wabi Sabi teaches us that learning is never finished.

I would like to offer my thoughts on three ways that we can benefit from the philosophy of Wabi Sabi in our parenting:

Observe Nature: Take your children on nature walks at least four times a year, ideally more so that you can observe the subtle changes to the natural world on the cusp of each seasonal change as well as in the height of each season. Talk with your children about what you observe in changes of light, color, leaves, wind, sound, temperature, and humidity. Look for signs of weathering and marks of antiquity. This is the “Sabi” part of Wabi Sabi that acknowledges the beauty in the passage of time.

Embrace Simplicity: Commit a day (or more) to decluttering your home or a portion of your home with your children. Consider donating what no longer serves you. Acknowledge the abundance of your life and appreciate how rich our lives are compared to those of others with less resources. The “Wabi” part of Wabi Sabi shows us that what we have already is enough and that we are surrounded by everyday riches.

Try Something New That Isn’t Easy: Wabi Sabi teaches us to approach learning and failure in a healthier way. The way we can really grow the most is when we attempt something that is hard and it doesn’t go easily. Failure opens up opportunities for greater learning, for honoring imperfection, and cultivating humility.

While there are likely many more ways we might embrace Wabi Sabi as part of our parenting practice, these three ways will likely open up great opportunities to build new connections and conversations with our children that benefit their development as learners and strengthen our skillset as parents.

In partnership for the education of your children,

Adrianne Finley Odell
Head of School