At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

Keep life simple and family close

I’ve always felt this in my gut, but I’ve learned with keen certainty lately that things we think matter actually don’t matter at all. And not only do they not matter, but they pull our thoughts, attention, and emotions away from the parts of life that do matter.

My dad used to tell me about kids of his generation getting one toy for Christmas and playing with it all year. When they got bored with that toy, they went outside and found something fun or mischievous to get into. Toys were sort of like an afterthought for children of the 1950s. 

Our boys have decided they like sleeping in the bunk beds we have in our older son’s room. They call it the Boy Cave. We’re hoping to convert the other room into a playroom/office. As I try to sort through the two rooms to establish some organization, I’m in shock at the number of toys we have in the house. 

Interestingly, despite all of the toys, the boys still have a few favorites that get pulled out and played with more than others. To me that says we don’t need all of this stuff and it’s time to clean house. We’re working on sorting them into “keep” and “donate” piles. If the toy hasn’t been played with in months, it’s getting donated. 

A couple of weeks ago, my sister sent me a Huffington Post article titled “Are Today’s Parents Getting the Raw Deal” by writer Rhonda Stephens. On the surface, the piece is comical, but on a deeper level, it’s troubling. Stephens discusses how many kids today are overindulged, either with material items or with parents who are scared to punish them. While today’s parents think they are doing a good job, the troubling matter is children may not be developing the problem-solving skills, resilience, and patience needed to thrive and be successful in today’s world. Stephens compares herself and others her age to her parents’ generation. 

In one section, she states:

“At some point in the last 25 years, the tide shifted and the parents started getting the marginal cars and the cheap clothes while the kids live like rock stars. We spend enormous amounts of money on private instruction, the best sports gear money can buy, and adhere to crazy competition schedules. 

I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve bought the $300 baseball bats with money that should have been invested in a retirement account, traveled from many an AAU basketball game, or travel baseball game, to a dance competition in the course of one day, and failed to even consider why. 

Remember Hank Aaron? He didn’t need a $300 bat to be great. Your kid isn’t going pro and neither is mine, but you are going to retire one day — and dumpster-diving isn’t for the elderly.”

The article really made me think. While it’s obviously important our children feel safe and loved, they don’t truly need a bunch of nice stuff, nor do they need schedules that would drive any adult insane. Our older son began swimming with the Smoky Mountain Aquatic Club this summer and he loves it, but I’m determined not to break the bank or overwhelm the entire family because of it. I still want some of our Saturdays to be spent hiking, camping, or traveling. But we’ll see. I may be eating my words in a few years. 

A recent life event most poignantly highlighted what’s important in this world. My sister’s father-in-law passed away on July 29. While he wasn’t immediate family to me, we knew him well, and he was one of those individuals you don’t forget. He was kind, charismatic, wise, godly, and always had a sparkle in his eye and a laugh in his heart. After losing his parents to tragedy when he was very young, he never again took life for granted. 

Family was always number one priority to him. Growing up, it was his brother and sister. The three of them essentially raised themselves. After that, he fell in love with his high school sweetheart who eventually became his wife of 47 years. The pair raised two amazing boys, one of whom is my brother-in-law. Most recently, three grandchildren joined the family, including my two nieces, Kate and Maddie. 

Before he passed away, he wrote something called, “My Blessings.” It’s a letter to his family and friends with messages from the man who meant so much to them. In the section to my sister and his other daughter-in-law, he wrote:

“Daughters-in-law, Meg and Savannah, I love you and thank you for being such great wives to our boys and caring for Mac, Maddie, and Kate. It makes me happy to see smiles on your faces when you are with your husbands. Keep life simple and family close.”

I’ve cried a lot with my sister and the family for the loss of a wonderful person who was truly salt of the earth. Despite the tears, I was inspired when I read his blessings. Inspired to let go of the material things, busy-ness, stress over work, and all the other “stuff” that’s clogging my life. Inspired to leave memories for my boys that include me being mindful, grateful, and present with them. 

As always seems to be the case in life, parenting is about balance. On one hand, I don’t want my children to rule the roost and drain our bank account, but on the other, I want them to know they are my everything and I couldn’t possibly love them more. At the end of the day, if I follow the advice of a wise man, all be well.  

So remember friends, keep life simple and family close.

(Susanna Barbee is a writer who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Go to top