Creating Family Rhythm: Planning for Needs

What do I REALLY NEED?

We recently posted about Room for Wiggle: 6 reasons you need rhythm in your family life. It’s not an article about the colourful Australian children’s performing group (although they do indeed bring rhythm into the lives of many families!), rather it is about living a rhythmic lifestyle together as a family: allowing room for the important things, meeting family and individual needs, and having breathing room to have time for play and keep stress at bay. The Room for Wiggle article sung the praises of rhythm, but it didn’t say how to do it.

So this article is about how I BEGIN creating rhythm in my family home.  I can only write about this from my perspective, so this article is not intended to give advice, it is offered in the spirit of sharing experience. For me, creative a rhythm is not just a process of drawing up 7 columns to the week and filling in the spaces!! That’s a sure way to create something that looks wonderful but may not be practical – or realistic. Before I even get to drawing up columns (and I do love a well-planned week!) I think about how I can best use my time and energy, because when it comes down to it, it is MY time I am planning here.

What are MY needs?

It’s no accident that this question is first. Whenever I review our rhythm I become aware of how essential I am as a parent to all parts of our day and week. This discussion on needs is the core component to our Effective Parenting Weekends.  How can I possibly meet the needs of others if my own are not being met first?

I have to consider what I need to feel like a complete, functioning adult who can make rational decisions and approach life with joy because if these needs are not being met then any planned rhythm that follows will naturally try to adjust itself, regardless of what I try to put in place. If my week is scheduled around meeting only the needs of others then eventually I will experience burn-out … expending a lot of energy upon others takes its toll. So I ask myself:

How do I naturally move through my day?

When do I need rest in my day and in my week?

When do I feel my most energetic?

What are MY interests?

What do I really need to keep myself healthy and joyful?

What are my FAMILY’S needs?

Each person in our family is individual with a unique set of needs in terms of age, health, interests and energy. This is an opportunity  to consider each person in my family and spend some time connecting to them, identifying what they really need to be healthy, happy and live harmoniously together. How often do we devote time to really sitting in thoughtful love about our family members? Spend time in meditation, drawing, writing – and BEING with each one – enjoy this process!

Now I look at my lists again – how does this feel? Do I need to simplify even more? Are we over scheduling? How do our needs as individuals weigh up against our needs as a family? Are my expectations of my family members appropriate and realistic? Do we need to have a family conversation (in an age appropriate way) about how we can meet everyone’s needs together? (Again, I have to admit, Effective Parenting has some wonderful ideas about how to do this!)

What are the OTHER priorities? 

Now we think about what else HAS to be done. There are some parts of my week that involve non-negotiable commitments. For me, these are things like school, work and regular weekly commitments such as playgroup.

After these come the sorts of things that have to be done to keep my household running: thing like cooking/grocery shopping/laundry/gardening/cleaning/ paying bills/ filling the car with petrol …

Even if these things are not all my responsibility, they still need to have a place in the week so that they happen. Trying to leave these things out is another reason why constructed rhythms may fall apart. I have to make time for the essentials (even if I do not want to).

Being Realistic

At this point, after listing all the things that have to happen I sometimes begin to start feeling overwhelmed! It is another wonderful opportunity (life is FULL of wonderful opportunities!) to consider what is REALLY important in MY life. Can I possibly manage all this on my own? I may need to have a think about how these things happen in my home, and whose responsibility they are. Perhaps it is time to begin teaching the children some new household skills, have a conversation with other adults in the household about roles and responsibilities, or ask for (or employ) outside help from others.

If none of these are an option for the moment it may be time to review some personal expectations. This is also a wonderful opportunity to consider my values! Keeping it simple, I ask again: What is really important? Are some of these essential parts to my week perhaps not so essential? Do I notice a clash of values between what I believe, what I want, and what I do? We have created an entire section dedicated to needs and values in Effective Parenting, and I have drawn on this work in my parenting many times since.

Putting it all together

I’ll continue this discussion about creating rhythm in another post – one where I talk about moving naturally within a daily, weekly and seasonal flow. This is the fun bit – and the bit I always want to skip to first … but it never works properly for me without doing this reflection first. When we are living in conflict with our needs we are living in stress. The wonderful thing about living with rhythm is the opportunities (there’s that words again) which present for us to get to know ourselves better!

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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.

How Bread-Making can Teach Inner Strength

Bread-baking seems to be one of the familiar and reliable activities you will find in waldorf/steiner kindergartens and playgroups. With rhythmic kneading of dough to a soothing melody sung by adults and children, this time is looked forward to and enjoyed by all.

I had second thoughts about including bread-making time in my playgroup. First of all we were initially meeting in parks so baking was impossible. Secondly, once we did find a venue with a kitchen, there are many more people around now who have wheat or gluten intolerance. As for myself, I eat grain-free, and even though I and a few others in the group do not eat the bread I decided to include bread-making. Not to test our will-power, but to strengthen it! Like a lot of the activities we do with children, it is about the PROCESS. Everyone can participate and there are enough bread-eaters in the group to take care of the rolls that are left over.

Making bread from scratch helps children understand that food is not magic. It doesn’t just appear or grow in the shops. There are not many items around now where children are able to see or participate in the full manufacturing process. We buy our bread in bags, drink our milk from cartons, slice our cheese from yellow plastic-wrapped blocks. Bread comes in an expected shape, size and colour. Children, being creatures of habit, may become suspicious when their food looks different to their expectations … unless they are often offered a wide variety of foods or have participated in the process of making it. Having children help you make basic food items from scratch will not only increase their interest in eating it, but also help them to gain some great skills in the kitchen and be on the way to learning some healthy habits surrounding food. I’ll never forget watching Jaimie Oliver’s demonstration of how commercial chicken nuggets were made. Ironically though, even though the children he was doing this exercise with were fully grossed out – they still chose to eat the commercial nuggets because they had no connection to food as a source of nourishment.

Ideally we would mix the dough up together in our playgroup, let it rest and watch it rise (my favourite part), then pat it down and knead it and roll it before making it into buns and baking it. We have a short session each week: 2 hours in which we fit quite a lot of interesting things in, so I bring the dough in already made and risen, and the children and parents help to knead it, roll it and shape it.

The other ideal would be for children to be able to feel what it is like to knead the whole or at least half of the full dough mixture. Our group has lots of really little children so we roll out little balls of dough for them, but there is quite a lot of strength involved to squash it down and smooth it out, fold it over and start again. Imagine all the muscles in your child’s arms, chest and fingers that are being exercised. There is the benefit also of learning how to start a task and bring it to completion – and here I am talking about developing a child’s inner strength. Inner strength (known as the “Will” in waldorf/steiner circles) is the ability to persevere. Developing a child’s inner strength also develops their resilience, their sense of helpfulness and empathy, and it helps them to develop good habits such as goal setting and positive thinking.

Can a child learn all this just from kneading a ball of bread dough? No, of course not, but it is the process and the practice that count. Finding as many ways as possible to bring wholesome, healthy and helpful tasks to your children to help them develop their outer and inner strength is thoroughly recommended. It means children participate with their head, heart and hands in the household tasks:

  • (HEAD) Children learn about the origin of food and household items, how to make them, repair them, clean them, maybe how these items work;
  • (HEART) Children help to nourish and care for the family and their home;
  • (HANDS) Children learn how to bring a task to completion without complaining, and to know their own limits so they can genuinely learn what it feels like when they are tired. They use their bodies for work and play in an active, engaged and purposeful way.

It changes the experience of eating bread, doesn’t it?

Beyond the bread – It also means that adults need to be doing these sorts of tasks too, so that children can learn from imitating how it is done. Very young children are excellent at imitating worthy tasks and will happily help you do anything, within their own capacity, around the house. My one year old knows how to sweep with a dust-pan and broom, and will go and get a cloth by herself to wipe up her spills. She knows instinctively that a rolled-up length of bubblewrap must be rolled back and forth! She has learned this from watching me make felt so often at home. My four-year old still enjoys mopping and cleaning with me. My seven-year old prefers to do tougher jobs in the garden – but only if I or his Dad are with him to keep him company, to help him with the tricky bits and to teach him side-by-side as we work together. I’m not saying that all chores and cooking are met with cries of delight. They ARE children and we do still have the daily groans about making beds and brushing teeth, but having adults working purposefully and positively around them certainly helps.

Back to the bread though – there are many reasons to include it in a playgroup or a kindy session. When I first began working in a steiner school I made bread only because the kindy had always made bread. I think it is really important to know the reasons why things are done otherwise you are not bringing a sense of purpose and clarity to the task. You are also not being honest to the children you are working with – unless you are doing the task for the pure joy of doing it. That is a valid reason too 🙂 I do it so that parents can participate in the joy of completing a great task with their child – from start to finish – and enjoy the end product together too. When parents bring purposefulness and joy to the tasks they do with their children then children participate with purposefulness and joy.  That’s why we make bread – and also because it is a gorgeous way to end our group by sitting in the dappled sunshine together on some picnic rugs, munching on our freshly made bread rolls.

At playgroup, every bread roll is unique! (It helps to recognise who made which roll!)