“One can ascend to higher development only by bringing rhythm and repetition into one’s life. Rhythm holds sway in all nature.” Rudolph Steiner
For those of us who stay home with small children, the pattern is widely the same. We wake up – often suddenly, violently, with a child in our face – and it instantly begins. Our boots hit the hard, flat floor and it’s give, give, give, serve, serve, serve, output, output, output all day and, often, all night long. The needs are relentless. The pressures are all-consuming. Where Threshold was once a place we occasionally reached, it is now the place we live.
If you look closely at society, you’ll see our culture is based on this kind of output mentality entirely. We wake up and it’s game on. We’re told to lean in. We’re told to go big or go home. We’re told to hustle. God, are we told to hustle.
Produce. Earn. Compete. Gain. Achieve. Grow. More. Bigger. Better. Work. Work. Work harder.
Our culture asks us: Are you further ahead than you were yesterday? KEEP MOVING, HONEY PUFF.
We are asked what we did today as if to do is evidence of a life lived; “I do, therefore I am” — to misquote René Descartes.
This output mentality in both our parenting and in our greater society translates into more more more but unfortunately it does not mean more. No one can run a sprint forever. And if you look around, you’ll see a lot of sick, exhausted, angry people who have lost touch with what it even means to take a breath. They’ve lost touch with themselves and their spirit completely. I was one of them.
When we live without listening to the timing of things, when we live and work in twenty-four-hour shifts without rest – we are on war time, mobilized for battle. Yes, we are strong and capable people, we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember: No living thing lives like this. There are greater rhythms, seasons and hormonal cycles and sunsets and moonrises and great movements of seas and stars. We are part of the creation story, subject to all its laws and rhythms.
As an introverted mother in an extraverted world, this cultural problem is something I am incredibly conscious of and something I very mindfully work to counter. I think drowning out the noise of the world telling us to do, be and have more is a rebellious act; listening to that whisper of our spirit which always knows what’s good for us, a dying art.
It’s true: Our society places such little value on restful pursuits, brushing them off as unproductive, nonsensical, useless. Honestly, it’s no surprise the majority of us are burn-out, anxious, depressed and wired. We chase our tails all day long and so many of our habits and activities are mindless and unhealthy. It takes deliberate intention to live another way, something we don’t learn until we grow old or sick, whichever comes first.
All this is to say that I’ve been experimenting with creating an intentional daily rhythm for a while now and I thought sharing it could be great use to help you find more meaning, joy, peace and order to your days. I got into Whole Family Rhythms a year ago, and after reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, I found myself more and more drawn to the idea of shaping an intentional approach to our days, instead of mindlessly floundering through it, waiting for a gasp of air in the form of a wine glass at the end of the day once the kids had gone to bed. No, I didn’t want to live that any more. I didn’t want to wake up and launch straight into Output, Output, Output all day long, being controlled by the world’s demands instead of my own ideals, finally collapsing at night on the couch having yelled at my kids, too tired to even do the things I valued like reading to them.
Instead, I worked to craft a deliberate, intentional way to structure my day which continuously flowed between Output and Input, Output and Input, over and over again each and every day. And honestly, the rhythm it created made the entire world of difference in our home and family life. Rhythms create harmony; anyone who has ever heard music can appreciate this.
“With simplification through rhythm, we can bring an infusion of inspiration to our daily lives; set a tone that honors our families’ needs before the world’s demands. Allow our hopes for our children to outweigh our fears. Realign our lives with our dreams for our family, and our hopes for what childhood could and should be.” – Kim John Payne from Simplicity Parenting
So, if you could benefit from this exercise, grab a pen and paper and let’s nut out how to reshape your days so you’re not a tired, screaming lunatic by the end of it!
Developing a daily rhythm
Step One: ESTABLISH WHAT IS OUTPUT AND WHAT IS INPUT FOR YOU
This all begins with a clear understanding of who you are and what your needs are. Are you an extrovert? Are you an introvert? What do you love to do to recharge? In what daily activities do you expend energy? This will obviously be different for everyone. I am an introvert, so output for me (where I expend energy) is engaging with people, talking, being around stimulation and noise, etc. Input for me (where I replenish energy) is with music, reading, writing, nature, pottering around my home cleaning and freshening spaces, and basically time spent being solitary and self-reflective. I need a lot of quiet time and that’s just who I am. Joel is an extrovert and he gains energy by being around people, so his version of recharging looks different to mine. Pop him in a house all day and tell him to read a pile of books and rearrange the furniture and he’d curl up and die. Me though? That’s my kind of heaven. The key here is to simply know yourself and allow the truth of what you need to be the guiding force to your rhythm of output to input, input to output.
HOMEWORK: Think about your daily life and write down what you consider is input, that is, what activities recharge you, or what you consider “energy boost time”, so you can later insert them into certain segments of your day.
Step Two: ESTABLISH WHAT IS OUTPUT AND INPUT FOR YOUR CHILDREN
Likewise, you need to have a clear understanding of who your child is and what their needs are, so you can incorporate all those differing factors into your family’s daily and weekly rhythms. Is your child extroverted and do they thrive when given a lot of playdates and social activities? Or are they introverted and function best when given ample time to craft and paint and play on their own? Are they highly active and outdoorsy or do they like home best? What do they love to do? What are their limits? For my family, Billy is an extrovert and could play and engage with other people all day every day and there would be no crashes or fall outs. Similarly, while he does like quiet home play like lego and magnatiles, he doesn’t thrive when doing it alone, constantly needing to engage and make it a shared experience. Ella however, though highly social, absolutely needs regular moments of quiet and alone-time to recalibrate herself, often taking herself off to her room for space when she’s had enough, otherwise she can become completely overwhelmed by continually processing her environment and we’d see tears and fall outs of exhaustion by the end of the day, as we often do by the end of a school week. She’ll often say, “I just need quiet time!” if Billy is at her bedroom door hounding her for something.
HOMEWORK: Think about your child/ren and write down what their needs are, and what they would consider output vs input. This will help you later insert differing needs into your weekly rhythms that might change slightly day-to-day.
Step Three: LIST WHAT YOU VALUE AS A FAMILY
This is a hugely important step, and something that gives the rhythm of your day the most structure. I always think back to the quote: How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives. The simple, repeated, daily habits we partake in end up being our weeks, our months, our years, and our lives. We have to schedule in what is most important or we’ll never make them a habit or include them in our lives. One of the top values of what childhood I want my children to have is one rich with reading. However, I was so burn-out and angry by the end of the day that I never read to them, which further compounded my bad feelings because I wasn’t living a life aligned with my values. It is true that we must craft our days, instead of them running us.
In our home, what we value as a family the most is as follows:
- creativity and art
- connecting with nature and being outside
- good food
- respecting our spaces and keeping calm and tidy environments
- family game time, and
- imaginative open-ended play
As a result, part of our daily rhythm ended up including story time at certain periods of the day, along with time for meal planning, a weekly hike or trip to the ocean, and our art time in the mornings, all based on what we valued and what we wanted our days and therefore our lives to be based upon. Again, this will be different for everybody.
HOMEWORK: Write out at least 5 things you value as a family. This will help you know what to insert into different segments of your day, in order to craft a daily life of living aligned with what you value.
Step Four: IDENTIFY YOUR DAILY PROBLEM AREAS
Now, identify your daily problem areas and find substitutes or solutions to them. For example, we have an extremely long commute to and from school and it was causing lots of strain and stress. Likewise, those hours between 4-6 pm of dealing with an overtired school girl and that general witching hour phase of cranky children while also having to get a meal on the table was hell. Grocery shopping with the kids was also a point of major problems. Billy constantly asking me for food all day. The repetitive questions of “Can we watch something?”. The list goes on, and I outlined some solutions to all of them. For example, I increased our school run enjoyment with lots of audio books and children’s music and car games. I changed the witching-hour-dinner prep by meal planning and then prepping for dinner in the morning when I could actually enjoy the process, or using a slow cooker on the busy days. That 4-6pm time slot instead became Outside Free Play, and I’d be in the garden while the kids collected worms or jumped on the trampoline or played with the neighbourhood kids, and the fresh outdoor air totally soothed all the cranky moods and it ended up being one of my more enjoyable parts of the day.
HOMEWORK: Think about your day and where you struggle the most. Come up with some substitutes or solutions for making it less stressful and more enjoyable.
COMPILING YOUR DAILY RHyTHM
Now that you’ve got a basic idea of the needs and values of your family, where you struggle, and the basic time blocks of the day, we can start putting together your rhythm. Think about your day’s blocks of time, and work to alternate input and output throughout the day, being careful to insert things throughout the day that are based on your family’s value list.
Here is ours, crafted carefully to balance Output with Input: (Obviously school holidays are a different rhythm to this – we adapt accordingly, but this is what we follow for our usual day-to-day life.)
OUR DAILY RHyTHM
6 – 7:30 am: Breakfast, making lunches (make a lunchbox up for Billy, too, so he can grab from the fridge throughout the day when he’s hungry: GAME CHANGER to the constant “I’m hungry’s” throughout the day), generally getting everyone fed and dressed and bags packed and organised and out the door. (OUTPUT)
7:30 – 9am: School drop-off car time. The kids know this is Mummy Quiet Time, and they listen to audiobooks or kids music while I zone out and think about creative projects, film and photography ideas, or sometimes we’ll put on music I love which totally feeds my soul for the morning and sets the tone for the day. Georgie sleeps at this time. (INPUT)
9 am: Return home. Use food to transition. I make myself a nourishing breakfast, Billy usually grabs his lunchbox for a little snack.
9 – 10:30 am: Free Play Time. This is time that Billy knows to play on his own with lego or puzzles or his trains or whatever interests him, and he’s happy to do so because he knows that afterwards we come together again for engaged play time. I use this time to organise for the day; make beds, pop washing on, burn oils, unstack the dishwasher, do cleaning and generally create a peaceful home environment. I don’t parent here and the quiet home tasks are meditative for me and I find them nourishing and soothing. (INPUT)
10:30 – 12 midday: Engaged Play Time. Here we do a combination of art like painting or beeswax modelling (Billy only likes to do crafts for 15-20 minutes or so), playing games like Uno, Memory, Charades and Dominos, and playing together with his lego, MagnaTiles, or building blocks. We also have story time here and we’ll read maybe 3 or 4 books together. I am completely present during this time, having good and refreshed energy reserves so I can fully engage with my kids, and here there are no phones, no emailing, just 100% play. Georgie is happy enough alongside us. (OUTPUT)
12 Midday: Screen + Rest Time. Georgie sleeps around this time, and I need the quiet time to check and reply to emails, edit photos and do work, make myself another nourishing meal, veg out in front of Instagram for a while, prep for dinner or just do something nurturing for myself like reading. Billy spends this time watching a movie or using some educational apps we have on the iPad. (INPUT)
1:30 – 2:30 pm: Garden Time. After Georgie wakes, everyone heads outside and we spend this time watering, pruning, checking for chicken eggs, planting flowers, etc. We might go on the trampoline and hang out washing, but it’s outside time in the fresh air. (OUTPUT)
2:30 – 4pm: School pick up. Again, I use the car trip as down time. Billy and Georgie both sleep, and Ella will usually have a little nap once we’re on our way home so I love this time for silence, to think, to play music that nourishes me. (INPUT)
4 – 6pm: Outside Play. We head straight outside when we get home, as it’s the best way I’ve found to pass those cranky afternoon hours with my children. We do more gardening, have an afternoon snack, the neighbourhood kids come over and play in the backyard, and it’s when everyone lets off their last bit of steam for the day. Here, I do something minimal for dinner to add to the prep I’ve already done for the day, so by 6pm at the latest, everyone is at the dinner table eating a nourishing, balanced, home-made meal. (OUTPUT)
6 – 7:30pm: Bath, Wind-Down Time, Bed. This is when everything gets wound right down. I dim the lights, burn relaxing oils, the kids do quiet activities like reading or drawing while I’m busy with Georgie or cleaning up from dinner. We usually play a family game or two, but depending on the day, they might watch a show or two of PJ Masks or some current favourite, but that’s usually only if my hands are completely caught up with Georgie and I can’t be with them to read them stories or play some family games. Generally, Joel doesn’t get home until after they have gone to bed so it can be a bit of a juggle for me. (OUTPUT)
7:30pm: BEDTIME, ME-Time! This is when I read, write, take a long bath, watch a movie with Joel, generally decompress from the day. I treasure this time completely. (INPUT)
On the weekends, we make time for the other parts of our family’s values, and it will be spent:
- Doing one family thing in nature, either a couple of hours at the beach, or a hike somewhere
- I menu plan and do a few freezer meals or some baking for the week ahead so we are eating healthy, nourishing food
- We spend time seeing extended family and friends
- We do our market haul and grocery shop
- Or if we feel we need it, we stay home and work on home and garden projects
So there you have it! Our general daily rhythm. This is, of course, flexible and is often varied here and there with weekly play dates and activities I lock in for Billy’s extraverted needs, or an afternoon dinner and bath combo one day a week at a friend’s house to share solidarity, but the general idea is to flow with the input and output of your day and to have in place a rough guide to fall upon to help direct your energies.
My children definitely thrive off this structure – they know what is coming and their energies are balanced and not too stretched, and also it stops the continual “Can we watch a show? Can we play with the neighbours?” questions which were driving me crazy. They know which part of the day is for that, and they know the boundaries and what I’ll say if they want something outside of those boundaries. It takes the constant pressure off me and everyone is happier and centred for it.
If you have never thought about drawing yourself a rough daily rhythm, I encourage you to trial it for a while and experiment with its benefit on your family life. From my personal experience, I find it absolutely crucial in creating peace and joy in our lives. And what is particularly important to remember is that when mum goes downhill, so does everybody in the family. You are number one. Guard and protect your own care mercilessly.
“The magic of rhythms is in the process, not the particulars”. Kim John Payne