Summer often has this laid back, endless feel to it. Days on the beach. Potlucks. Guests visiting from out of town. Grilling out. Homemade icecream. Naptimes linger. Bedtime creeps later and later. Days stretch on when we spend very little time at home. We all relish in the sunshine, a rare treat in the Pacific Northwest. But, towards the end of the summer, we feel the days get shorter, the air a bit cooler, and we know the rain will return as it always does. And in a way, I welcome it. It has been a wonderful summer. But I am ready for a return to a more consistent rhythm, structure, and time at home.
This year all of my children and I are staying home from school. In planning for this upcoming fall, I realize how much I have relied on the school year to anchor our home life. Our family rhythm has had its foundation in my work and my children’s experience at school, along with nap/ bedtime and meal times. But I have been excited this summer to plan for our fall family rhythm with the same intention, preparation, and consciousness as I have planned for my early childhood classes over the years.
I have thought, meditated, made charts, bought materials, organized my house, simplified… obsessed about our family rhythm for the past month or more. And it is has been satisfying to come up with a plan that takes into account not only my children’s needs, but also the needs of myself and my husband. There is time in the morning for both me and my husband to exercise. I have my and the children’s chores all laid out, so that the house gets cleaned over the week, instead of forcing it to be done all at once. I have three days in a row when we don’t leave the house at all – a great gift for me with three young children. But that is balanced with weekly adventures and time to play with friends. There are times that are the same every day during the week, like rest time, family walks and dinner. And the weekends offer more freedom from rhythm and openness for spontaneity. I made a weekly dinner menu, which makes grocery shopping, defrosting, and meal preparation easier. And I plan to change the menu monthly or seasonally, to keep things a bit more interesting. There is time for me to do my own work away from my family – just a few hours of consulting and volunteering. And also a time each week for me and my husband to go out together. I have poured so much intention and detail into the plan.
I have made a commitment to follow the plan exactly for 30 days. I know that reality dictates flexibility, but I also know that for me it is important to be consistent for at least a month to change habits and create lasting change. It is a rhythm – not a schedule – so I don’t feel pressure to follow the clock exactly. If we start rest time at 1:00pm one day and 1:30 the next day, I consider that a success, as long as my children are not melting down from exhaustion. It is the form and the flow of the day that I am interested in creating for my family.
Today was the first day of our new family rhythm.
It was really sweet. The day seemed to flow very easily. There were moments of great energy and movement, but also times where I able to be present with my children – to just be with them. My favorite part of the day was taking a walk this morning. My plan was to walk down to our neighbor’s house and look at their horses. But my children wanted to go up the hill to see if another neighbor was home. And I knew right away that it was a moment to just follow their lead. We walked slowly up the steep hill – looking at slugs, picking up rocks, watching planes fly overhead. My oldest son is scared of dogs and started worrying about seeing our neighbor’s dogs. He asked to turn around and go home. And I said we could. He stopped and said he just wanted to hold my hand. So, we held hands and walked further up the hill. Then, he let go and continued on his way. A few minutes later, he came back and held my hand again. He told me that he was worried just a little bit about the dogs, just enough to hold my hand, but not enough to turn around. We finally made it to the neighbor’s house and no one was home. But all of my children were happy and knew we could call ahead another day and visit with them. We started our walk back home, stopping to see our neighbor’s ducks and chickens on the way. I felt such freedom in time and attention. I felt present with my children – knowing that there was time set aside for all my chores and other tasks and that being with my children was my only priority at the moment. It was truly lovely.
My husband joined us for our nightly family walk and we had a nice dinner. But afterwards we had a bit of a disagreement. It should have been a little fight, a simple frustration, but I found myself getting more and more upset. We were able to apologize and move on to the children’s bedtime. Even after our children were in bed, I was left wondering why I had felt so upset in that moment.
And part of it, I realize, is I have put a lot of expectations on myself and our new family rhythm. My new rhythm is the answer to me finally being a great mother, a great wife, and a great housekeeper. It is how I am going to care for all of my needs and make sure the needs of my husband and children are also met each day. It is going to allow my children to get along with each other better and provide more harmony in our home. And yet, on the first day of this magic solution, my husband and I fight – surely a sign that something is not working. I am still not the perfect mother or the perfect wife. Damn.
So, I realize I need to add something else to my rhythm – or take something away, depending on your perspective. I need to recognize and remove these unfair expectations that I still hold for myself. (I really thought I was done with those!) And I need to add a daily reminder of what I am working towards:
- Making time each week to be present, loving, and available to my children, my husband, and myself – NOT becoming the perfect mother or wife
- Being able to care for the home in a way that feels manageable, practical and allows for involvement with my children – NOT keeping a perfectly clean house
- Placing value in the needs of everyone and our family as a group, knowing that there may be times when someone’s individual needs may not be met and other times when they will be prioritized – NOT meeting all the needs of everyone at all times
- Developing more patience and conscious response to conflict — NOT having no arguments in our home
I am still excited to implement this new rhythm. And seeing all the gifts that it will bring for me and my family. I realize that the true gifts will come in time – when all of my planning and preparation take root and my family’s daily rhythm is not something that I have to refer to on a piece of paper, but something that we all inherently know.
It has been a couple weeks since I first started writing this post. I am finding a new sense of time – a slower pace that better suits me and my young children, but doesn’t allow for speedy blog post writing. I am enjoying the moments with my children where I am able to be fully present and available. I am noticing how they are beginning to become more engaged in their own work and play when I am doing my chores – or come and help me with my tasks. I am observing them in their activities, in their relationships with one another, in how they imitate me and my husband in every turn. I am enjoying this new study of the young child – of my own young children. What lessons I have in store from such amazing and beautiful teachers!