Room for Wiggle: 6 reasons you need rhythm in your family life

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.

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Parenting: The Celebration of Transformation

060I was an early childhood teacher before I became a parent. It now seems like a previous existence! I entered family life with a background of theory about small children, years of classroom experience, and just a little knowledge about babies … and was to quickly find out that theory is all very well, classroom experience is only useful in the classroom, and the little I did know about babies still equated to knowing nothing at all. I will never forget the day our midwife made her last post-natal visit: I was gripped with fear and overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for this little tiny person my body had produced (what do you mean this is your last visit?) I just couldn’t fathom the idea that she thought we’d be fine. She smiled, and gave me a kiss … and left. I looked at our brand new son and thought that being a mummy is easier with the baby on the inside!

I was stunned at how much I had to learn – from scratch. Breastfeeding was harder than I thought it would be. Sleeping was a mystery. Teething was distressing. Fevers were frightening.  Food and decisions about health care were whole other issues!  I felt overwhelmed by all the advice that people shared with me, out of the goodness of their heart, and a little confused at the vast array of parenting styles and methods to choose from.

Despite feeling so unprepared, my husband and I still must have had some form of composure about us: our little guy was a ‘good’ baby who didn’t cry too much, a cute little thing who smiled at everyone and an inquisitive chap who was interested in everything (and therefore got up to quite a bit of mischief). The first year of his life was full of life lessons for all of us. It was wonderful and exhausting all at once. In reality we were as fine as any other new parents – stumbling along and finding our way in our re-defined relationship as a family of three. We had a go at every idea in the book (and devoured every book in the library), and then threw it all out the window and just went with what ‘worked’. We breastfed, didn’t use a dummy, co-slept, wore him in a sling. We used NVC and baby sign language. We used natural cloth nappies, and had a go at Elimination Communication. We did baby-led weaning and fed him only home-cooked meals.

Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Our son knew what he wanted, we knew what we wanted, and it took some experimentation and some occasional compromising from each of us, to find a happy medium.

I have often marvelled at the bravery of the first child for being the ‘guinea pig’. They open wide the doors of parenthood and thrust us through them, willing or not! They are the trailblazers who will grow up and move on to the next developmental challenge before we feel that we have really mastered the last one. They test our patience, our creativity, our energy levels, our values and our relationships. They make us wake up to ourselves! I have found that parenting has been the single most effective way to learn how to listen to my own ‘truth’. I have learned more about myself on this journey than any amount of personal development I may have done before my first birth!

I have my favourite parenting books, and my favourite parenting ‘experts’ but I do not rely on them for all the answers. Since becoming a parent, I now interact with families socially through playgroups, mothers groups and women’s groups. I have shared my experiences and learned from my friends as they travel their own parenting journeys beside me. I have learned enough to believe that nobody can claim to have all the answers, because we only know for sure about our own experience with our own families, and all the rest is theory until it ‘clicks’ with you. I am inspired and interested in finding out more about what will enhance my understanding of my children, and thus our family life. It is exciting when we become our own teachers, and are forgiving of our mistakes.

Parenting has empowered me as a woman, a mother, a wife and a teacher, and I have learned that:

– parenting involves acknowledgement of the value of pain as a teacher (frustration, tiredness, disappointment and worry!),

– whichever way we parent it needs to come from the place of our own truth and intuition,

– parenting is a journey of discovery and learning, but is most inspiring when we keep looking and keep learning, rather than searching for THE answer, and

– for parenting to ‘improve’, it should be regarded as a sacred celebration of transformation.

We can get bogged down in the day-to-day elements of parenting and family life. I have found in my journey that the thing that keeps me going is to celebrate (daily) the sacred, the beautiful, the funny, the quirky, and the clever, but also to not overlook the ugly, the scary, the annoying, the angry and the frustrating. All these moments cycle in and out of focus but are ever-present in our parenting.

Written by and Copyright to Jennifer McCormack, May 2010

First published by Kindred at www.kindredcommunity.com

Please do not reproduce without my permission

All I Want for Christmas …

… is to keep things simple.

Christmas is waaaaay out of control.

I ventured into a shopping centre today for non-Christmas items and even though it is only the 1st of December and it was 9am the shops were packed and people were charging about all over the place looking for their perfect Christmas gift. The air was tingling with stress and excitement (but mostly stress). Every year I cringe when the Christmas madness begins, and of course the Christmas season starts in September and like total suckers we get caught up in the hype.

I really resent the stress that I feel every year at Christmas. Having to buy or make presents for people takes time and money and for me, both of those are in short supply to begin with. I have always made a point of giving our children only one gift each, and two years ago I vowed not to buy any more toys (and I have stuck to it!).  I just cannot enjoy Christmas with the stress that comes with having to think of presents: finding either the money and time to buy them or the materials and time to  make them is equally stressful when everyone is trying to go shopping at once, catch up with each other at lunches, dinners and parties. It is a mad time of year and for a good reason it is called the silly season. Why would I want to contribute to it by running about trying to get things crossed off my Christmas list? I am busy at the best of times with three children. I just don’t feel inclined to give myself any extra stress by stretching myself further.

I cannot give every person I know a present at Christmas. I certainly can’t afford to and neither do I want to. Last year I made family members a gift each (they all got cloth bags) but this year I don’t think I’ll even be able to manage that. My time is precious to me, so the very act of making and giving a present is a gift in itself that I would assume people would appreciate.

Christmas is NOT about presents or hype or Santa. Christmas began with the miracle birth of a special baby. That is what we are celebrating: the gift of family and love and hope and the blessings we HAVE (not the blessings we WANT). So if I give a gift because I feel obliged to, that gift is not doing anyone any favours, and neither does it make me feel good. I could give gift cards to organisations that use the money for people who need basic things for everyday living, and at the moment that appears to be my best option – because NOT giving gifts and just sending my heart-felt blessing doesn’t seem to be an option.

Now don’t get me wrong: I am not a Scrooge. I am not being stingy with my time and money. I LOVE Christmas! I love Christmas for the stories. I can just drink in all the beautiful Christmas stories! I love it for the community celebrations, for the daggy christmas lights on people’s houses, for the carols, for the fun in decorating and transforming our house into a sparkling wonderland. I love it for the magic and wonder of Father Christmas (not Santa!) that never leaves me. I love it for the opportunity to gather with loved ones and share food and enjoy relaxing together. That is wonderful enough!

I love Christmas for the sentiment of gift-giving but the sentiment rapidly tranforms into resentment when it is a week before Christmas and I still haven’t found or made a present for all my special people. Some years have passed when I’ve gone to bed on Christmas night in absolute relief that it is all over for another year. Now that just isn’t fun! Why can’t we just enjoy the day together without so many expectations?

Last year we got it right: our Christmas was fabulous: a no fuss breakfast at the beach followed by a relaxed and minimalist present opening at home … and an afternoon nap.

So all I want for Christmas is the memory of an extraordinarily joyful day … relaxed and happy and simple.



It’s in the blood …

This is my Great Grandfather James Hebblethwaite. He was born in England in 1857, was self-educated through scholarships and eventually emigrated to Tasmania for his health, accepting a teaching position at the Friend’s School in Hobart, Tasmania, as Principal  of Queen’s College, Latrobe (1899) and became a priest of the Church of England (1904). In 1986 he published his first book of poetry, Verses. He was vicar of George Town, Swansea and the D’entrecasteaux Channel until 1916 when he retired, and he continued to write poetry. He has a few published books, which I am slowly collecting (they are hard to find!) and I just love his poetry.

I don’t think he contributed much in terms of great Australian poetry, although he was noted in the book Tasmania’s Literary Landmarks, and he is included as an exemplary Australian poet of his time. His poetry was very British, but I suspect as an emigrant his heart was still captivated by the history, folk-lore and landscapes of England. Tasmania, I believe, is very similar in climate and beauty to England, and his poetry certainly is very whimsical, almost longing of the folk-beauty of the Old Country.

You can tell when you read his poems that he was an intelligent, astute man, but also dreamy and soft around the edges. I read that he never neglected his duties, nor his work as a parish clergyman, but I can also easily imagine him sitting down to a task and then becoming distracted by a beautiful thought for several moments. Something I can relate to 🙂 I think his Muse visited him regularly, and I feel close to him when I read his poetry, although I never met him. He died in 1921.

His only son, my grandfather Hugh (Charles Hugh Hebblethwaite), I loved dearly. My Grandad, like the Rev James, was a man of many intellectual gifts, but also one of practical applications. He learned so many varied skills in his lifetime, but never overlooked the artistic and creative. We all have at least one of his watercolours in our house. The ones I chose were a set he painted of the Remarkable Cave down by Port Arthur. Each  painting, looking back through the cave to the view of the other painting. I look at these paintings and remember my Grandad pointing out the type of rock he had painted, its qualities, where it is generally found and how it was formed (I can’t remember now!).

I knew him as a softly (but correctly) spoken man who pursued all aspects of his interests: the scientific, literary, historical and the mathematical were equally important for him in his pursuits of the creative. He had a fabulous sense of humour – the one thing that I REALLY remember him teaching me, is the latin caveat emptor, or ‘buyer beware’! Funny what sticks in your mind. My Grandma, his wife, was very much the same: intellectually, creatively, practically and was also another wonderful and humourous storyteller. To her I honour her skills in fibre craft (embroidery, spinning and knitting). Her embroidery is exquisite and she contributed to a piece by the Launceston Embroiderers Guild that is now hanging in Parliament House. On one of my last visits to see them when they were BOTH alive, my Grandad tried to teach me how to spin yarn on his home-made spinning wheel. At the time my Auntie had goats on her farm, and between the three of them they had a little market business going: my Auntie would care for and clip the goats, my Grandad would spin the wool, together he and Grandma would wash and dye it, then Grandma would knit it into garments. I was impressed to say the least – but he never could teach me to spin!

These skills, of course, all contributed to the making of their children, my Dad and his two brothers and one sister. Dad is another who is interested in delving into all aspects of an idea, and pursuing the idea for its own merit – practical or otherwise, although having said this Dad is a very practical man and the vast majority of his ideas come to functional and aesthetic fruition, but like my Great-Grandfather I suspect the Muse leads him astray from time to time! He and Mum see things through together. Like Grandad and Grandma they love the planning as much as the application. The vision as much as the doing. The research as much as the enjoyment of the finished product. My brother and I have grown up surrounded by books on every topic. We’ve grown up surrounded by long-term projects of all sorts. Great ideas and interesting conversations. In my brother and I, and in our own new families of young children (7 grandchildren for our mum and dad between us when this little bubba is born!), I see the same qualities developing.

Today, reading through my Great-Grandfather James’ book of poetry, Meadow and Bush, I felt at home. I could feel my family in my blood and I felt a belonging to a tribe of people who are interested in life and love contributing to it. I felt deeply connected to a man I had never met, but who I know is a part of me, and a part of my children. He will reveal himself in some way to them in their lifetime.

Inventing the good!

Parenting isn’t simple and straight forward anymore. How you raise your children may not be the ONLY factor in how they behave and develop! It isn’t simply a matter of thinking about strong boundaries and good morals, of teaching manners, going to bed on time and limiting junk food. It is much more complicated than that! And it may be that you might spend your child’s whole childhood figuring out what makes them tick, only to work out that it could be something that you can do nothing about.

What an exhausting thought. There are just too many things to consider now.

Food – even if you feed your child good nutritious food, and very little unhealthy snacks or sweets, your child could still have an allergy or a sensitivity to food. These days children are developing reactions to wheat, gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, nightshades, salicylates, and other chemicals that are found naturally in fruit and vegetables! And even though we may make the choice to  eat healthy foods, our foods have still be grown in soils that are so depleted in nutrients that very little is transferred to benefit the food, and to top it all off it is protected by pesticides, herbicides, growth treatments, preservatives and then stored for months on end before it even hits the shelves in our supermarkets, looking as if they were picked this morning. …. and don’t get me started on food additives!

All these things DO have an effect on children’s behaviour, their growth, their ability to think clearly and rationally, their emotional development and ability to socialise. Even if it is a flow-on effect from reactions to one of the things listed above, or from having a depleted immune system because of toxic over load.

And then there are environmental considerations – step outside in the morning and suck in the fumes of your own and your neighbours cars as we all head off to work and school. I don’t even want to know what kind of nasties are in the air I breathe. I hear people talk all the time about how different and relaxing it feels in the country, or at the beach, or in the mountains …. that will be the lack of air pollution!

Then there are the chemicals in our drinking water, the chemicals on our clothes (ever wondered why some new clothes have a distinctive smell?) , the chemicals in our rivers and creeks that run off from businesses and homes (the very same water that gets used to water crops for food that we eat), chemicals in the plastic we use every day, chemicals we clean our homes with … and what about electromagnetic radiation? THAT is everywhere!

I heard recently that the stamps you use for your creative stamping and scrap booking should not be cleaned with baby wipes because it deteriorates the rubber. If it deteriorates the rubber what is it doing to the delicate skin of our babies’ bottoms? (I have always preferred to use wet washers instead of wipes).

We live in a polluted world, and yet we live in a society that freaks about germs and won’t let children hurt themselves! We are happy to breathe toxic fumes but we hothouse our kids and sterilize our homes with bleaches and god forbid we pick up a cracker that has fallen on the floor and give it back to our baby. I don’t get it. I’m ok about germs, because I can make a choice about that, and some exposure to germs is actually a good thing in supporting our health! But I can’t make a choice about my greater environment and that is so frustrating. There is very little we can do about it except make conscious and well researched decisions for our own family so that our children can grow up to reach the potential they are entitled to.

Within my abilities, my budget and my energy levels I try to make choices for myself and my family that will give the greatest support for our immune systems, and our development. Sure there are still lots of things I do that contribute to pollution – I use energy and drive a car, I have plastics in my kitchen. Some chemicals in my garage. But even these I try to reduce where I can – it saves money too! I am not perfect, but I do try. I clean my home with vinegar. I love my new soap nuts! I buy organic when I can afford it. I see health practitioners who know our bodies and can give us the advice and support that is right for us. I don’t knowingly support companies that are involved in unethical practices and pollution. Where I can I support my local community. I hold myself responsible for my decisions and my contribution to the health of the world.

I’m sure it never used to be this complicated! It gets overwhelming when you think about all the things that affect us – but I read this morning about a scientific researcher who discovered that many of the receipts we are given after our purchases are coated in BPA – a highly toxic chemical. His research organization “is dedicated to not preaching about the bad but about diligently trying to invent the good,” he says. I like that attitude.

I am trying to invent the good in my own family. My children are lovely children. They are kind and creative, respectful (within the boundaries of their development!) and they are friendly and polite. They generally have good control over their own actions, and are considerate of others and these days they rarely get sick. Ok yes – they kids and still have their tantrums, still are learning about social niceties and caring, they are experimenting with rudeness and they do annoy each other from time to time … but overall they are pretty darn good. A lot of this has had to do with our parenting (which has been influenced by our own wonderful parents as well as our own research and intuition) but I am pretty sure a lot of what makes our family so happy and healthy is the awareness we carry about what makes us healthy human beings, and striving to do our best to support that. I know I sound a bit magnanimous … but yes! … I am giving myself a pat on the back!

There is too much to worry about, so I’m concerning myself with what makes us healthy and happy instead.