Friday, August 23, 2013

Learning About Rhythms

We just finished moving for the second time in a year (the third time in three years, come to that). This wasn't a dramatic or difficult move, in many ways: we moved only 13 miles, most of our stuff was still packed from the last move, and we had access to a car to be able to make several trips over a few days. On the other hand, this was our first time moving with two kids, one of whom is now old enough to notice and care (and who inconveniently developed a low-grade fever just in time for moving day). This move, though a wonderfully positive one in many ways, threw all four of us off our game. Naps were skipped, meals refused, uncharacteristic tantrums thrown. Now that we are mercifully settling anew into a household and family routine, I've been thinking about the importance of rhythms for family (and indeed, any) life.

Let's be clear: I am not your meal plan, nap schedule, laundry day kind of mama by nature. Oh, no. Nor is my husband the dinner-on-the-table-when-I-get-home-from-work kind of guy. We often do things in a way that he terms "organic" and I call "waiting until something absolutely, undeniably, unavoidably needs to be done right now, or preferably until someone else does it."

But that being said, I am learning. First of all, because young children have a way of forcing even the most laissez-faire into some kind of schedule. And second, because based on the efforts I have made to this end, rhythms and routines, while intimidating on the surface, really do make life easier for parents and calmer for kids.

Routines and predictability are so important for young kids because really, they are just figuring out this big, confusing world over which they have no control. In The Baby Book, Dr. Sears talks about toddlers' need for a feeling of mastery over their environment, and how seemingly small changes may elicit extreme reactions from them.

Imagine, if you will, that you've been at a new job for six weeks, and you are just starting to feel comfortable. Then one day, you arrive at work to find that all of the offices have been rearranged without warning. You can't find your own office, let alone your colleagues'. The next day, they've moved the offices back to normal, but the coffee maker is now on the opposite side of the building. The day after that, you're issued a completely new procedures manual, and all of your work has been changed, effective immediately. I think any of us might throw a tantrum at this point.

This approximates how a toddler might feel when rules, schedules, and surroundings are changed on a regular basis. Obviously, kids enjoy seeing and doing new things, going to new places. But the novelty must be set against the safe and secure backdrop of an environment they have mastered.

And whether we admit it or not, adults also need a home base from which to branch out, try new things, meet new people, and create.

That explains a bit of my motivation behind developing family rhythms. Now here are some of the home routines I'm working to develop.

  • Getting up before my kids - The day goes much more smoothly when I have even a bit of time to take care of myself before the kids call. This also necessitates going to bed at a decent hour. Ahem.
  • Plenty of unstructured time - Every moment doesn't need to be full of appointments and play dates. Kids need time to just play and even be bored sometimes: they can develop wonderful abilities to entertain themselves and be imaginative if we are not constantly entertaining them!
  • "Full" days and "empty" days - Weekends tend to be busy for us, so I try to leave Mondays open for time at home to relax and regroup, as well as catch up on any household chores from the weekend. On "empty" days, a trip to the park or grocery store may be all that we "do."
  • Meal routine - This is an idea I got from Simplicity Parenting. The goal is not to eat only the same seven meals, over and over, but for dinner each day to have a theme: Monday is rice night, Tuesday pasta night, Wednesday soup night, and so on. It sounds intimidating at first, but in reality, it makes planning and cooking each night so easy. What's for dinner? Well, what night is it? The details can change, of course, so you can still serve a wide variety of foods. This routine should also help the habitually picky eater to know what to expect and settle into it.
  • Chores routine - A work in progress for me. I got inspiration for this idea (though it's obviously not a new concept) from Large Family Logistics - though ours is by no means a large family, I figure I have a lot to learn about efficiency from larger families. The book suggests making Monday laundry day, Tuesday kitchen day, Wednesday office day... you get the idea. When I tried this in earnest, my house was spotless without a whole lot of effort. I had only one child, and I still fell out of the routine after a few weeks, but like the meals routine, a concept that sounds overly strict can actually be quite freeing (if you stick with it).  There is no need to decide each day what needs to be done around the house, and in addition, nothing ever gets very dirty if you clean it at least once a week.  Right now, I am trying to decide which of her "days" work best for me, in order to integrate those into our existing routines.
I hope you might find some ideas here to make your own family routine a bit more predictable and just a bit calmer for everyone involved (especially you). 

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