Do you live with rhythm in your home? I didn’t because I didn’t even know what that meant. After I learned about it and started to really implement it, my family and my life had been completely transformed. Here is the story of how it all started…
I was brought up in a home that did not have much structure. We had meals at mealtimes but not always together, especially breakfast, it was often eaten standing up and completely rushed. A lot of times packing it with me to eat on route to school or an event. Sunday church was the only thing that was non negotiable. Other than that, most family activities were off the cuff. Of course I did not see anything wrong with this picture. I turned out “fine”, as most people have.
My adult life before kids were just things that happen to me and all decisions were based on the result of how comfortable I would or would not be. No one would realize and see how self indulgent one is until you become a parent, no matter how giving you think you have been. Don’t feel bad about this if you don’t have kids. It is only natural that you would want to be good yourself.
Parenthood will bring out the dark stuff, from the inside out. What you do with these feelings/emotions/realizations and whether you want to learn from it is entirely part of your path. To me it is a choice, you either choose to ignore/bury it or you face it head on. If you choose to face it then it will probably be the most uncomfortable, self inflicted hard core (pun intended) decision you would have to make. The worse part is, there are so many layers and once you go in, it is hard to come out unscathed. The layers are extremely overwhelming. It takes courage and guts to face this darkness. To me, this is actually THE hardest part about parenting – dealing with your own crap.
Most new parents talk about how hard it is to take care of highly emotional infant/toddler set, about how to deal with their tantrums, asking around for tricks and tips on discipline, seeking for the best methods to getting them to sleep through the night…the list goes on. The truth is, when your kids are “acting out”, it is actually them asking you to look into yourself. And if you want things to change, you have to change yourself first. In the world of kids, words are cheap especially in the early years. I have learned that one has to model the behaviour you want your kids to have. THAT to me is why parenting is not easy, the smelly diapers and the tantrums do not come close to the difficulty of inner work.
There is light at the end of this blog post/tunnel. I worked hard on my own crap and I got rewarded. Let me tell you how it happened. Lets get back to the topic of rhythm.
From the beginning of my parenting journey, I thrived on the attachment parenting philosophy of how to be attuned and keeping close awareness of your child’s needs. I was that mother who “wore” her baby everywhere. First slings then wraps and then the Ergo carrier. The used McClaren stroller we purchased via craigslist the day before he arrived collected dust. I was into keeping my baby close to my body as much as I can and as close to my face and head as I can. He and I definitely bonded. I was happy and he was happy (so I thought). I was breastfeeding on demand and I was okay with him needing to feed throughout the night (and day). He could sleep when he falls asleep and eat when I sensed he was hungry. I would prepare meals for him first, feed him and then think about what we’d eat AFTER he falls asleep – a lot of times that is after 10pm. This baby-led lifestyle was working for us – so I thought. I remember even commenting to myself on how “rigid” this mother was when I learned that she would put her 6 month old to nap and sleep for the night everyday at the same time. I remember thinking: “Kids would sleep when they are tired.”
Wow, did I have something to learn. Enters my own unhealthy connection to sleep. I grew up not having a set time to sleep. I was allowed to sleep as late as I wanted throughout my childhood (a lot of times, pass 11pm). I never recall on having to nap or being asked if I needed one. I slept because I was exhausted, not because it was bedtime. I was always tired during the day and would crash out in the library on a desk while trying to do homework after school. As a result, when I got older I had insomnia and would stay up two days or more in a row during exam times throughout university. I did not know how to self regulate. That was my normal. Yeah.
Here I am, totally “handling” my sleep-deprived life like a pro. As this lifestyle continued, I was starting to fall apart and not realize it. I would have trouble keeping up with housework, I couldn’t take a shower without thinking that I would wake the baby up, I was also working part-time. I thought I had a handle on it. I thought this stressful, surviving-by-a-thread mode was normal and that was what parenting a young child is like. I accepted it and both my husband and I were game for the challenge. Until one day I came across the Waldorf School and their child development philosophies while researching for schooling around my community.
Enters a WHOLE NEW WORLD. Total and absolute epiphany. What an eye opening experience. This was the first time I had encountered the words rhythm, home and family in the same sentence. Rudolf Steiner? Who is that?! (I’ll have to take a rain check on the elaboration of Mr. Steiner. What I have learned from his philosophies are many a blog posts to come. Stay tuned. In the meantime, here is the link to his wiki world to make it easier for you know now )
From the moment I “walked-in” to this new-to-me world of Waldorf Education and its philosophies on child development, I knew I had found something I can really sink my teeth into. No one, and I mean NO ONE I knew throughout my diverse life experiences had ever talked to me about the existence of this philosophy. It felt like I was censored from it my whole life and all of a sudden the curtain was lifted. Eyes wide open I went in head first into the deep end of this fascinating new pool. I may as well have just discovered a new planet.
I am a really fast learner. I’m even faster if I feel a fire in my belly about something. Well, my stomach was burning alright. I only had to read a few of books and articles out of the milieu of teachings for me to change our family’s way of life 180 degrees. Of course I have the best partner who was in complete support to this new research and was so on-board with trying anything new if it has to do with improving our family life. So we went out there, worked our butts off in making changes within ourselves and got us some rhythm in our home. Here is what it looks like (please keep in mind that we have pre-school age kids, this will change as they grow of course) :
- 7am: We have an epic un-rushed breakfast before father goes to work. When I said epic, i mean we all eat together sitting down, with table set, no cereal in a bowl of milk but instead fresh fruits, yogurt, eggs cooked in different ways in different seasons, sometimes bacon or sausages and toast. On weekends and special occasions we take it even slower and grander, doing pancakes or french toast etc.
- 8:30am: After breakfast activity (for the ages from infant to around 6/7) consist in the form of a walk around the neighbourhood visiting cats, saying hi to the postman, chatting with neighbours, pick berries and throw rocks in the river or a short hike in the forest, then back home for a bit of circle time – singing, stories and snacks then free uninstructed play while I prepare lunch.
- 11:45am: Lunch time happens in the same time frame everyday, again together, no matter where we are.
- 12:30pm: 2 to 3 hours of nap/quiet time in a room where there is a bed – no sleeping in the stroller, in the car seat or in a carrier.
- 3pm: After nap activity would be similar to after breakfast and 2 days out of a week, we make get in the car and go explore somewhere a bit further.
- 6pm: Dinner time happens in around the same time frame, and dad would do everything in his power to be present for this meal – even meaning having to work a bit in the evening.
- 6:45pm: Bath, story and a song – for the first 3 years we didn’t even read books. We would all lay in bed in the dark and tell stories that would pertain to our boys’ day/life.
- 7:30pm: Lights out.
So this is what the basics framework of what our rhythm looks like. Of course it gets flexed with the ebb and flows of the seasons and developmental milestones. In general, everyday of our lives now looks more or less like this ever since I’ve discovered this way of organizing our days, yes even on weekends!
It may seem boring or its just a time schedule if you look at it at face value but the kind of discipline and creativity it takes to sustain this EVERYDAY takes a lot of hard work, especially when you have never experienced this throughout your life. We have been at this for over 3.5 years now and we are constantly refining the details and making it even better.
Every since we got rhythm, both my husband and I been rewarded with quality “me and us” time every night starting from 7:30pm. The boys sleeps through the night. I get to have a bonus 2 hours of quiet uninterrupted time in the middle of my day where I can recharge. But the real reward is how the kids are. They both feel secure and joyful knowing their day is predictable, they are well rested therefore able to absorb new things with much focus and ease, well feed with regular timed meals and snacks to keep energy levels even-keeled, the pro list is very long. Ultimately they are genuinely happy, physically thriving and has an overall great sense of peace about them.
What I really want to say to all the struggling, sleep deprived parents out there, is that you CAN keep your sanity, have time for yourself and your relationships even with very young children in your home. Two years ago when our second boy came into our lives and into this developed rhythm of ours, his ability to self-regulate from the very beginning never cease to amaze us. So yes, you can have rhythm in your home from day one.
I strongly urge all families to try this out. There are lots of trails and errors that we’ve worked through and ironed out throughout this journey and we know with every developmental change, there will be a new shift in the details of our rhythm. I will be writing more on these shifts and changes in many posts to come for if I can inspire one family to develop a peaceful fulfilling home life, I would be more than happy to share our stories.
To learn more about how to set rhythm in your home, here are some great resources to dig deeper into:
Carrie, one of my biggest parenting inspiration from The Parenting Passageway, has many many amazing insightful posts on this topic, this one is a good one to start with: Eight facets of a family culture: Rhythm (Part One).
Helle Heckmann, renowned Waldorf Kindergarden teacher and author of books like Slow Parenting wrote an in-depth and detailed article on how to create rhythm in the home. It is called Daily Rhythm at Home and its Lifelong Relevance.
These two articles alone will open the door wide into looking at parenting from a different perspective than what we are mostly exposed these days. It is truly inspiring to know that there are such great resources out there and I feel so grateful to have stumbled onto this for it has changed my life significantly and continuing to do so.
Please feel free to leave a comment or sent me and email if you want to discuss more about this, especially if you are thinking of making this change.
With much warmth and love,
Our simple yet epic breakfast