Rhythm for working parents

A mother recently wrote this comment:

We are a young family; one 1-1/2 year old son. I have been going stir crazy for the last year feeling so stuck in the proverbial rat race of life. My New Year Resolution was to develop stronger spirituality in daily life, develop more meaningfulness and awareness as well as simplicity. Your entire blog has been inspiring. I have been thinking about my family’s rhythm and its chaos!!! I want so much to incorporate more family time into our days and more breathing room but I have no idea how. My husband and I both work full time. We don’t get home until 6pm during the week and are back out the door at 7am the next morning. It doesn’t leave us much time to calmly do cooking, chores, family time and sleep. Do you have any suggestions for those who cannot be home much due to work and who may still be struggling to balance responsibilities with self-care time?

I wanted to share my reply for others who may be struggling with this same question:

It is often challenging to find rhythm in a society that expects us to do more and to do it faster. This frenzy is unhealthy for us all — but especially for young children. Your task is to find anchor points for your child at home where life slows down and becomes predictable so that your family can deeply connect and be present with one another.

Below I have asked some questions and offered some suggestions on bringing rhythm into your home. The first three questions are broad and you may not feel they are things you can easily change. If so, file them away to consider another day. Towards the end I offer some more practical suggestions you can make right away. When thinking about your family’s specific weekly schedule —

What do you and your husband do for a living? What are your work schedules? Do they allow for self-care time while you are away — like a long lunch or breaks? How long is your commute?

I wonder if there are changes that you could make that would allow for the two of you to set your schedules so that your child is only in childcare 6 – 8 hours/ day. For example, some parents have a staggered work schedule so that one leaves early in the morning and is home earlier and the other leaves later and comes home later. I know that this would be a huge change for your family and not feel possible right now. But having your child home more during the week would make it easier to create a rhythm for your family.

How much time does your child spend in the car?

This is another area that may feel hard to change. But commute time can take away opportunities for a young child to move and play freely. If your child spends a lot of time in the car, it may be helpful to consider an in-home childcare provider or a daycare that is close by your home (versus close to work.)  See comment below for another perspective.

Who cares for your child when you and your husband are at work? Do they keep to a predictable rhythm with lots of time for play and 1:1 care giving routines?

At this age “enrichment” is not necessary. It is most important that a child has space and time to play and explore his environment and care giving time that allows loving and secure relationships with his care providers.

I know that these first three questions are big — and potentially hard to feel that you have control over them or could easily change them. But there are other things, too, that can help bring rhythm into your home right now.

  • I suggest finding out when your child eats meals/ snacks and takes naps during the weekday. And follow those times on the weekends to maintain a regular rhythm throughout the week. These will become anchor points for him.

  • I would see if it is possible for your child eat dinner in his childcare setting. (This would depend on who is providing care for your child and if they are open to this idea.  Additional compensation may be needed.)  Another possibility would be to have an easy dinner available for your child to eat in the car or a simple dinner waiting at home.  When you get home at 6pm or as soon as dinner is finished, start a calm bedtime routine with your child that includes quality family time like reading a story as well as brushing teeth, maybe a bath, and getting on pjs. Have your child in bed by 7pm.
  • Use the time after your child is in bed to enjoy a relaxed dinner with your husband and talk about your day (if you haven’t had dinner yet.) Allow this to be a time you are present and care for each other through listening and connection.
  • Set out everything needed for the next day before you go to bed at night including what your child will wear, his diaper bag or anything else he needs, your lunches/ snacks if you are taking them with you, etc.
  • Have a weekly breakfast menu that stays the same. For example, Monday: Eggs and toast, Tuesday: Oatmeal, Wednesday: Yogurt and fruit, etc. This will become a predictable rhythm for your son and help him to “feel” into the week. Saturday morning could be pancakes or something else special that signals it is the weekend and more time for the family to be together.
  • Think about your morning routine so that it doesn’t feel rushed. You may not have that much time together but you can find ways to create timeless moments. For example: Everyone could sit down for breakfast together at 6:15am. You could light a candle and say a verse before anyone takes a bite. (At this age, it would help to wait to put the food on the table until after the verse.) Then enjoy breakfast and this homeopathic dose of family time in the morning.

  • If your child travels to a childcare setting, be sure to leave enough time to get in the the car. This is a transition for you — but an activity in itself for your child. Allow time for your child to help with each step of getting in the car and buckling up. This will honor his growing competency and independence. And offer more time for connection between you.
  • During the weekends, stay home as much as possible. You may be tempted to want to go and do special activities to make up for missed time during the week. But what your child wants and truly needs is time to slow down. Be home, make meals or bake together (your child can help even at this age!), be consistent with nap times, care for your home, have lots of time for your child to play (and enjoy observing those moments)…
  • Try not to have any media at this age. Save watching movies and working on the computer for when your child is asleep.
  • Schedule predictable time each weekend for you to leave the house to run errands and have some self-care activities. This should be the same time each week. Your husband can maintain the rhythm at home for your son while you are gone. And offer predictable time each weekend for your husband to do the same thing.

This is such a long response.  Take time to go through all these suggestions and don’t feel stress to change everything right away. You are wanting simplicity and less chaos. Make changes slowly so that they have time to be incorporated into your home life.  Your son is very young — it is a busy time regardless of your work schedule.  So take it easy on yourself.  You are doing the best you can and there is a lot of time to make adjustments.

If you haven’t already, please read the last part of this blog post: https://deepbreathofparenting.com/2012/11/16/losing-control/  The love you have for your child, just even asking these questions, is an incredible and essential gift to him.  Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and reach out.

Are you working with this same question for your family?  What are things you have found to help bring rhythm into the home when both parents work long hours?
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6 thoughts on “Rhythm for working parents

  1. Thank you again for another thoughtful and thought provoking post, but I have to disagree on one point. I don’t think car rides are necessarily hard on all kids. I think the transition in and out of the car is, but once you are in the length doesn’t seem to matter for my daughter or if anything she would prefer at least 30min, so she can settle into being in the car and prepare for the transition out of the car. If it is shorter, then she is often not yet ready to leave the car. The car for her is a safe place to read or talk/play quietly or share a story with me. We call our car our gallant steed Little Red.

    • Holly, thank you for reading and commenting on my post. It’s true that some children enjoy being in the car. I should edit the post to clarify that my concern is riding in cars takes away a young child’s freedom to move and play during that time. (Not that they can’t move or play in a car seat — but not with the same freedom as when they are in open space.) It is not to say that there is a set maximum time that a child should be in a car and clearly every parent has to weigh all the options to decide what is best for his/ her child. But I just wanted to suggest that there are alternatives to having your child be in the car just because you have a long commute to work.

      I appreciate your comment because it shows how each of these points are just suggestions and truly parents have to find what is best for their own child(ren.) It is lovely that you and your child have found ways to create such a sweet and nurturing time for her in the car.

  2. I very rarely comment on blog posts, but I just stop myself here. I feel like there are a few helpful suggestions for this Mom, but I feel like it sort of missed the mark. When my oldest was this age, I was pregnant, working full-time, and home alone with my little one while my husband was in college at night. Now, as a mom of teenagers, I can tell you that the chaos doesn’t change all that much. What can change is your mindset about the rush. I feel rushed and frazzled when I’m more focused on where I’m going or what’s coming next, rather than the present moment. For example, if all I can focus on is getting dinner on the table during my 45-minute commute home, I walk in the door stressed and hurried. Instead, I try hard to make that time feel more fulfilling, be it singing along with the radio, listening to an audio book, or just trying to appreciate the beautiful sights along the way. When I had a kid with me for the commute, we talked about the color of that big truck that passed or the clouds in the sky. We were interacting. The time wasn’t wasted, we were connecting.

    I would also strongly advise against anything that leads to parents and their kids not eating dinner together. It’s the perfect opportunity for everyone to be together as one. If one parents plays with the little one, or at least keeps an eye on them, while the other cooks, you can come together for a nice meal as one. That time teaches them so much! They learn valuable life skills like using utensils, table manners, etc. while eating with their parents.

    I could go on and on with real life examples. It’s a struggle, it always will be. But, it’s all about finding a routine in your life that works for you all and recognizing that there’s no such thing as a moment wasted. If you can shift your mindset to focus only on where you are at that time, notice things all around you that you appreciate, and recognize that what some perceive as chores can also be quality time, you’ll notice that the chaos feels much more valuable.

    • I appreciate you taking the time to read my post and comment. I started this blog as a way of supporting myself and others through this incredible, wonderful, and challenging path of parenting. I don’t pretend to have all the answers and, truly, it is often hard to post my new writings. I feel humble and know that no one blog post is complete. Each one is flawed and there is always more to add or change.

      But I expose myself and hope that I encourage parents along the way with the suggestions that resonate for them — and, most importantly, to listen deeply to their own inner wisdom on what is right for their family. I think the suggestions you made above are really lovely and hope that they will inspire other parents to recognize that slowing down is as much an inner attitude as an outer rhythm.

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