I need routine. I need to know what to do and when to do it otherwise my week with three young children and work can become so haphazard that we end up in a frenzy on Sunday night or Monday morning excavating Mount Laundry for clean clothes, negotiating a hazardous path through a minefield of household debris on the floor, no food prep done for the week, bills unpaid, important documents lost … and don’t talk to me about cleaning toilets.
Routine is an important and essential part of my family life, but I like things to flow as well. I do hate being tied to a strict time frame with no room for wiggle. Life is not fun when it is ruled by the clock, and lived according the number of responsibilities one must take care of by a certain time. I want to be able to float through my mornings not worrying about what I achieved by when … but still getting everything done – and without stress. This feels like a clash of values because as a mother there is always stuff that has to be done – and with children around it almost always has to be done NOW! Plus with children there is also the spontaneous factor. You just never know what is going to happen next and sometimes you have to drop everything – what happens to your routine then?
If I just did what I felt like (and sometimes I do) I would do no more than make a cup of tea, allow the children to dress themselves by fishing through the remains of Mount Laundry (that usually suffers a landslide and starts creeping over the basket and down the hallway), suggest the children forage in the fridge for breakfast while I read my book and then rush around for tuck shop money before school begins. I can’t do that every day. I also want to savour and enjoy my days, particularly while my children are so little. This is the time of life to value and remember because as I grow older I am pretty sure I will have oodles of time to savour the moment but by then my children will be older too and their delightful years as youngsters will be a vague memory of the past.
So where is the middle ground? How to balance our need for routine and our desire for freedom?
In Waldorf circles this balance is known as RHYTHM, the process of flowing between what has to be done and what we create and enjoy in the meantime. Rhythm is a heartbeat, it is our breathing room, it is the music and creative flow of our day and it is another expression of ‘work is play’. Here are six reasons why I value rhythm in my family life.
1. Rhythm is the flow of movement from one thing to another, and in terms of creating a rhythm that works for the family it is the order of events that is important. Naturally there will always be a place for routine. I have to get out the door by 8am on school days with children who are fed, dressed, wearing shoes, with lunches, hats and all they need for the day. So there are things that need to be done and schedules that need to be kept in a day, but even this can flow in a predictable manner, and this flow is what gets us out the door (with a mumma who is conscious of the time)
2. Rhythm honours what is important – Rhythm is concerned about your priorities. First things first! Some things have to be done: meals, shopping, housework. Some things need to be done to keep us healthy: exercise, down time. Some things are important because they feed our soul: creative work, hobbies, play time – all those things which call to our soul expression. All of this is important and needs a natural place within the daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal rhythm. I can’t get everything done all in one day. I could try to do a little of everything every single day, but then every day I would be cooking, cleaning, washing, gardening, shopping, writing, crafting, exercising, studying … and when do I spend time with my family? Or have time for myself? No I prefer to find a time for everything within the week … and let the daily rhythm flow around only the most essential points of the day: meals, work/school and bed time. The rest fits into our weekly rhythm – or the monthly one if you flow with seasons too.
3. Rhythm is predictable and safe – knowing what comes next is one of the most important things for children. When I was teaching and running my family day care I always enjoyed watching the children find solace in our rhythm. Sometimes they would tell me all the things we do in a day – in the right order – and then sigh with happiness when I confirmed they had it right. I loved watching 2 year olds instantly take their plate to the bowl of soapy water for washing after lunch, and then go to read a book while the others finished eating, without being asked to. A little song about rest time and they’d go and make their beds. I’m not saying they all slept, but still I never even had to tell them it is rest time (unless it was an off day, and we all get those from time to time!)
I find security in predictability too. It speaks to my personal need to pre-plan the big things, have time to mull over what I am going to do next, to plan my time and sort out my priorities. One thing at a time. For children, knowing that one thing happens before or after another means that you’ll encounter less arguments merely because that is the way it is always done. Any more disagreements can be countered creatively with a story, humour and imagination and if that doesn’t work it is time to look at finding another time for that particular event, reviewing the rhythm altogether or start asking what is really happening here? And this leads us to point 4.
4. Rhythm balances everyone’s needs – Here I am talking about individual energy levels, personal interests, family values and health requirements. A good rhythm makes time for everyone. My eldest and my youngest wake at the crack of dawn and my middle child would sleep until school starts if given the opportunity. The morning rhythm is the same for her as it is for the others but they are likely to be dressed and ready first. So long as she know what happens next she can get organised in time (with a little patience and support from me).
5. Rhythm highlights our health. If predictability in rhythm is important does this mean that children in a rhythm won’t cope with spontaneity or suddenly changed plans? Not at all, unless their needs are such that predictability means the difference between health and high stress, such as very sensitive children, children recovering from illness or children on the autistic spectrum. Otherwise you’ll find that children who are used to a usual way of doing things will welcome the odd surprise with delight and great flexibility.
Rhythm flows in a way that supports all your needs – thus it should support your family’s health. Your rhythm can speed up or slow down from time to time, just so long as it DOES return to a rhythmic, predictable state before stress becomes a factor. If your life commitments become too rigid or too full then the rhythmical nature doesn’t flow and becomes frantic. This is not living in a space of good health. This introduces stress which will impact on children’s growth and development, not to mention their happiness. Arguments, headaches, stomach aches, nervous illnesses and defiance will start popping up in a family that lives a frantic existence zooming from one thing to another without adequate rest.
Likewise, it can work the other way: a daily or weekly rhythm that has no responsibilities, no time frames, no predictability will also not support good health. There needs to be just enough predictability, with room for just enough flexibility to keep a healthy family moving along together in harmony. One may say that living with no schedule is living intuitively. I challenge this. Nobody can live a healthy life without purpose. Rhythm celebrates our unique purpose, stops us drifting and encourages us to stay connected to our more natural rhythms and seasons, stay intuitive to our needs and take the time to do what needs to be done, and still have time to do what we feel.
6. Rhythm has room for wiggle. Had a bad night’s sleep? Baby thrown up all over you just after you got dressed? Been sick for a week? Have an assignment due? Your rhythm should have enough wiggle room to shift things about. As I mentioned earlier rhythm is about flowing with time rather than fighting with time. There is always time for everything that is important right now. And if there isn’t? How important is it really? Could you ask for help or delegate some tasks?
Rhythm gives us time and flow and room to wiggle. It helps us to focus on our health and safety. It brings security and organisation into our lives, especially for our children. And if we can’t fit it in by ourselves it is time to ask for help … and that is ok too.
So how do we put this rhythm together? That is another post. Coming soon …
This article is also posted at Sacred Essence – where the Sacred Moments of Effective Parenting is celebrated.