Living the Dream: Psychologist and Blogger Suzita Cochran
Suzita Cochran is a mother of three from Boulder, Colorado. Her decision to choose a “time over money” lifestyle came from her work in the field of psychology, where she learned in-depth what children need to thrive. She writes a parenting and child development blog called Play. Fight. Repeat. and has also contributed several posts to the New Dream website.
What does “the good life” mean to you? And how did you come to this vision?
I came to my vision of the good life after training as a clinical psychologist. When I was learning about child and family therapy, then working with children recovering from abuse and adapting to adoption, I regularly thought about what kids need to thrive, and what isn’t working for many families today.
Soon after having my third child, I stopped seeing clients—for the time being. On the other hand, sometimes I say that now I have three clients 24/7 and a fourth depending on my husband’s day at work. For this period of our lives, my husband and I have chosen time over money. I love Juliet Schor’s term “time wealth.” When it comes to time, our family is fairly wealthy.
My kids are now 15, 13, and 10. I still view things through the lens of a psychologist, and it’s been illuminating to observe what childhood in my area looks like via the lives of my kids and their friends. I keep up with many of the latest parenting and child development books, only now I get to try the suggestions out on my kids! I started a blog titled Play. Fight. Repeat. in order to reflect on and share my successes and failures with various parenting strategies. I also write about my efforts to give my kids the less-obvious skills that they will need in their generation, such as persistence, emotional intelligence, listening to others, and the ability to fail.
Parenting is humbling, and I try to own up to that in my blog. The home of a child psychologist looks no different than anyone else’s: no better, no neater. Sometimes the best we can do is laugh or apologize (or both) as we wade through.
To me, the good life includes:
1. Balance: It seems balance is everyone’s #1 element of a good life, but that’s because it’s so true! When I go to yoga, I can tell how balanced my week is by how solid or shaky I am in balancing poses.
2. Connection with others: People are social creatures. Research is showing us what our intuition already understood: that regular connection with others makes us happier and healthier. However, I try to be deliberate about the connections I bring into my life. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to notice the people around me who energize me.
3. Flow: Flow is losing oneself in a meaningful activity, not merely grabbing 15 minutes for a project here and there. To get to flow, I need a generous amount of time to paint, read, or write. In flow I connect with my creative self, and truly lose track of time. A while back I wrote about watching from my kitchen window as one of my kids completely lost himself in play in the backyard. I got swept into his experience by simply observing it.
4. Downtime: This is my secret weapon. Secret, because so many of us have forgotten that downtime is often when our big ideas come. From the outside it might look like idleness, or in my life, often like busywork. If I had a dime, though, for all the times I’d solved a problem while hanging laundry! To be honest, it’s still an effort for me to schedule daily downtime, but I am motivated when I read about super-creative, intuitive types. People who think outside the box almost always have ample downtime in their lives.
5. Exercise: It’s the cheapest antidepressant, even before you consider all the other benefits. I have times during the week when I exercise with friends, and other slots for solo exercise. I use these for my gratitude practice (another New Year’s resolution), which I’m finding to be really helpful. (Just don’t ask me how last year’s resolution to meditate every day went!)
What’s one thing you enjoy most about your lifestyle?
I adore the flexibility and space in my life right now. When something arises in our family that needs addressing, I have time to consider creative solutions or work through the issue in whatever way needed. I must say, however, that coming from graduate school rife with exams and research papers, then into my work as a psychologist, it took me about two years to move from an outcome-orientation to the process-focused style of living that full-time parenting demands.
Is there anything at all about your life these days that you really wish you could change or improve?
I wish there were more people in my day-to-day life living the downshifted lifestyle that we’ve chosen. This is why I enjoy spending time on New Dream’s website!
Tell us a little about the work you do.
These days I support our family, but differently (and sometimes less visibly) than when I was drawing a regular paycheck. My work now is discovering ways to spend less money while maintaining or even bettering our quality of life. I find it equally rewarding.
The work I do includes noticing what brings joy, challenge, or flow to my family and finding the means to cultivate it. For example, my sons have taken To-Shin Do, a self-defense-oriented martial art, for the past two years. They’ve enjoyed it. The part of me that’s on the anxious end of the parenting spectrum loves that they are gaining skills in self-defense, but it’s expensive for us. We recently realized we wouldn’t be able to both save for a summer vacation and pay for To-Shin Do. In a family meeting on the issue, both boys declared To-Shin Do a high priority and definitely wanted to continue. I helped them generate a list of jobs they could do in exchange for partial scholarships, and then draft an email to the director with their proposal.
Now my sons each work at the front desk for two hours per week in exchange for a scholarship. I love this win/win result, which I suppose is a definition of bartering. Sometimes my work focuses more on how to sustain an effort. Turns out my younger son, at 13, felt a bit overwhelmed working with customers. He and I have role played, practiced, and memorized various aspects of his new position. Though it’s taken him longer to get comfortable with front desk work than his older brother, he’s been learning some useful life skills along with way like persistence and frustration tolerance. (I suppose I have too!)
My most recent money-saving endeavor is learning everything I can about college scholarships and grants. My oldest began high school this year, and while he is learning the ropes of a new school, I’ve been taking advantage of the various talks offered on paying for college. I’ve still got a lot more learning to do, but I figure if this effort ends up saving us 10, 20, or even 30 thousand dollars (with each of three kids), that’s not unlike making that money in a part-time job. Only this “job” allows me to keep my time flexibility during these parenting years.
Another current effort is turning the ideas in my Play. Fight. Repeat. blog into a book, the theme of which would be helping kids and families learn the concept of enough within today’s overflowing-with-options-and-items world.
Describe the ways that you are involved in your community.
I volunteer in my daughter’s elementary school library weekly. Once a week, my daughter and I volunteer with the cats at our local Humane Society while my husband takes my sons to do volunteer bike maintenance for a local biking non-profit. I also volunteer at my 13 year-old’s middle school with his theater productions. This led to a recent thought: everyone should spend a little time in a middle school each year, if only to remember how far we’ve come! Our family also does yard work for seniors as a way to help them stay in their homes as long as possible.
We are also lucky to live in a close-knit neighborhood. You wouldn’t know to look at it (just a lot of 1960s smallish ranch-style homes), but inside these houses is a mix of people who know and look out for each other. For this reason, much of my regular community involvement occurs in my immediate neighborhood. My kids have a neighborhood services business, so we often literally watch over people’s homes when they are out of town.
We all look out for each other in other ways too. In last year’s Colorado floods, neighbors passed around (via listserv) everything from pumps, to wet-vacs, to fans, to information on alleviating mold. Similar to the concept of time wealth, I suppose I could call this a wealth of connections.
For many, your lifestyle is considered “outside the mainstream.” Does this present any challenges, and if so, how do you deal with them?
Describing my life to friends or family members who are far away is difficult, since much of what I spend my time doing isn’t easy to see. It’s easier to see the money you’ve made than the money you’ve kept from spending. I have noticed, however, that when I talk to retirees about my life, they tend to be the most supportive and enthusiastic.
An additional area which is challenging is child-related. We are raising our kids in a town with many pockets of financial wealth. It often takes resourcefulness to make sure our kids can connect with their friends in ways that are financially feasible for us. For example, we do more cross-country skiing and snow shoeing than downhill skiing in the winter. Some days, it does simply feel like we say "no" to our kids a lot. We remind ourselves, though, that if we’d chosen money over time, we’d be saying "no" to a host of things that are much more valuable to us right now.
Please describe any new skills or hobbies that you’re really excited about or that you would love to learn if you had the time and resources.
We bought 11 chickens a year ago, basically in an attempt to keep our growing kids in food. Plus, I’ve always wanted to try raising chickens. I recommend it!
My younger son wants to build a tiny house and take it to college with him when the time comes. I’ve been showing him videos from the "tiny house" movement and we recently saw the film Tiny: A Story About Living Small. I hope to help him with this enterprise.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
An older friend whose kids are grown recently said about the work of parenting I do, “You know you are not just doing this for your kids, you’re also doing it for your grandkids and their kids as well.”