Family rhythms can be both life-giving and also a source of stress and frustration, depending on our mindset. This week we'll apply our "hold it loosely" perspective to how we create a graceful family rhythm
When I first had my daughter, I was lost in a sea of adoration and joy. Even in the midst of her whining and crying moments, even when I was exasperated at her lack of sleep, I had an underlying current of peace running through my veins.
If you’ve been following Mothering by Faith for a while, that opening might have surprised you a bit. I’ve not been shy in sharing my struggles with the pull to continual productivity and my addiction to hurry. But, for some reason, that blessed 6 weeks of knowing my daughter put those efforts of striving on pause.
But then, as would be to expected from a daughter with my genes, at just a couple of months old, my daughter began showing signs that she was ready for schedule and structure. I genuinely believe this to be a kindness from God, because though I essentially have a college degree in the care of babies and children, the thought of a family rhythm for myself and my baby was the farthest thing from my mind in those early days.
Research shows the benefit of having a family rhythm for everyone in the home, especially the kids. For babies, routines and rhythms can help regulate sleep-wake-eat cycles, establish familiarity of caregiving, and bolster their need for reassurance that the world is safe.
For mothers of new babies, rhythms can fill in the gaps of monotony, and reinvigorate a sense of purpose. More practically, moms who establish some daily rhythm in their lives have been shown to have healthier nutrition habits, calmer moods, and one study even showed that schedules have the potential to prolong the breastfeeding journey.
Older kids find confidence and feelings of safety in a predictable family rhythm, which opens their minds and hearts to play and explore their world with creativity-an essential piece of development for pre-adolescent children.
There’s no question that having a family rhythm can be lifegiving. But, as usual, there’s a flipside to consider.
Remember my old self? That grasping, striving, hurry-addicted girl? Yeah, she came back with a vengeance once I emerged from my immediate postpartum haze of adoration. My internal self got one whiff of a family rhythm and translated it as “strict schedule.”
It got weird, y’all. Each day became an obsessive attempt to manipulate my day, focusing on when things were supposed to happen, and grasping at our family rhythm as though it were our only chance for survival.
Sabbath became difficult as I demanded my baby stay adherent to our family rhythm without deviation. I would despair as she (and her brother who quickly joined us) would protest naps, push bedtime, wake up early… Any disruption in the day was cause for tears, frustration, irritability.
I will concede that much of my emotional response to disruptions in my day were likely prompted by the perfect blend of postpartum hormones, challenging personal life circumstances, and of course the isolation brought on by the global pandemic.
But, as a therapist, friend, and fellow mama, I also know that I am not alone in my efforts to grasp and strive at the perfect family rhythm.
We’ve been talking this month about the beautiful phrase I received from my study on Ecclesiastes: Hold it loosely. This mindset has value in our decision making about the things that matter to us, like we discussed last week. And next week we’ll chat about its implications in our conversations and relationships with people.
But this week, let’s chat about how to create a family rhythm, and then hold it loosely.
First, decide on the non-negotiables
The first step in mindfully creating a family rhythm is to decide on the non-negotiables for that day.
Sometimes this might be doing the dishes, other days there might be a work deadline you have to meet.
Personally, I have some days where this category is blank, especially on my Sabbath days. But, in real life there are typically things that will have to get done either because of commitments you’ve made to other people, the needs of yourself or your children, or simply for the benefit of your home not succumbing to the laundry-dish monster that threatens to overtake every free surface of your home.
Then, set the landmarks
I’ve talked before about landmarks, but this is truly the hallmark of having a family rhythm that avoids being “grasp-y” and keeps this practice a “rhythm” instead of a “schedule.”
Landmarks are the pillars of your day that can act as reset moments in your family rhythm. If you have young children, landmarks are probably marked by eating and sleeping habits like mealtimes, snack times, or nap and bedtimes.
For older children, you may need to create landmarks in your family rhythm rather than them being marked by circadian rhythms like younger children. This might be establishing a regular “rest time” where everyone spends a specified amount of time alone. It may also look like establishing a regular “togetherness” time where the family comes together over a snack or cup of something hot to talk about the day. My favorite motherhood-guru Sally Clarkson talks often about her teatimes with her kiddos that were so lifegiving in their family rhythm.
Your landmarks can be day, week, or month-specific, but I encourage you to set some. Pay attention to the natural flow of your children’s days. Are they more active at certain parts of the day? Is there a time that generally they wind down to a slower pace?
You might also pay attention to natural transitions in your day. Kids coming home from school, mealtimes, getting ready to do the next thing. These are all places where establishing a regular landmark can be so helpful in your family rhythm.
Your family rhythm will only survive as much as you are willing to stick to it. It takes intentionality to break our habit of hurry or our habit of disorganization.
This is not a call to shame or guilt when your family rhythm goes sideways, or when you take a break for a couple of weeks because of sickness, hormonal needs, or just crazy life circumstance.
This is simply an invitation to use your capacity and agency as a daughter of God to recognize the benefit of your family rhythm and so, to live it. Lean into the reminder that our innate design is to bear the image of the creative and ordered God of the Universe.
Remember that his initial call for us as humanity is to “rule over and subdue” the earth. In other words, God invites humanity to continue his creative work by bringing order and beauty into our little corners of creation.
For us mamas, what better place to enact this agency than within and for the benefit of our family?
Now, instead of grasping and striving at the perfect family rhythm, your next invitation is to simply be present. Keep that rhythm in your open-palm and bring it with you throughout your day. Be present with your kids knowing that your landmarks will come. You can release your striving at getting all of the things done, because you’ve established a few non-negotiables and placed them mindfully within your family rhythm.
Play, laugh, enjoy the children and days God has given you.
Let the family rhythm you’ve created cradle you in– bolstered by the love of God– and cease striving in your days under the sun.
Finally, shift as needed.
We all know there will be days that go sideways. Children won’t sleep, cars will break down, husbands will work late, moms will be tired.
The benefit of creating a family rhythm is that it’s not a rigid schedule that bosses you and your family around, ignoring the needs of the people in front of you. It’s flexible, rhythmic, alive.
A family rhythm allows for shifting and reorganizing based on what gets placed in front of you. That shift can happen, because your landmarks remind you that there will be an opportunity to reset, re-evaluate, and get your day back on track when you’re ready.
When we grasp too tightly at our rigid schedules for the day, we invite frustration at ourselves or our kids for being human and needing rest or reprieve from the weariness of the days. But, when we hold our family rhythms loosely, we are provided with a comforting framework that moves and breathes with our real and daily lives.