Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Simplifying: Rhythm and Predictability

This week's simplification efforts are in the rhythm and predictability department (for more about my project to implement Kim John Payne's Simplicity Parenting in my life, see here). I have to admit that this is the third book I have read that addresses the concept of “rhythm” in daily life, but I still do not entirely get the concept. For instance, what is the difference between rhythm, routine and schedule? Apparently, it's somewhat analogous to musical rhythm, with highs, lows, pauses and repetition? Maybe? I'm not very musical, so maybe that's why I don't immediately connect with the metaphor; I'm also not good at applying abstract concepts to real life. Please feel free to chime in in the comments with your interpretation of what rhythm means for you.

We do have some routines, or things we repeat daily, that may qualify as rhythm. We've eaten dinner at the table as a family ever since M was a tiny baby and his little diaper butt bounced up and down in time with the theme song of King of the Hill that C and I watched while eating dinner, and we realized that maybe it was time to move the evening meal from the couch to the table. Family dinner often involves kids whining about having to “do everything” (i.e., set the table), hopping up and running around, trying to read or play with toys and, usually, at least one person getting spoon-fed by their mother. But we're all there, and all together.

Payne suggests lighting a candle and having a moment of silence. We've had a candle on our table for some months now, but I usually forgot to light it. Now I light it every night (though sometimes don't remember until halfway through dinner) and we close our eyes and have a moment of silence to “Thank the farmer and the gardener and the cook and thank Mother Earth and Father Sun.” The first several days all three boys made as much noise as possible during the “moment of silence,” but now we're getting in a few seconds of quiet, and they've started a tradition of saying what they “took a picture of” (i.e., “pictured”) during their moment. I'd love to copy this idea for little blessing cards and a card holder, but for now our little thanks works for us.

Payne does say that if rhythm is not possible in your life, then at least insert predictability. He suggests talking to kids about changes in their schedules or upcoming events at bed time so that they can process the new ideas in their sleep. This is a totally new idea for me. I have always just made plans and then sprung them on my children as we're about to go out the door, “We're going to the beach, guys, c'mon!” I suppose I wanted to save myself the trauma if plans changed, or leave myself an out in case I changed my mind. Then it got to the point that they would complain and agitate so much about having to leave the house, that I would save our plans until the last minute, just so I could listen to the complaints for the shortest period of time possible.

However, I'm willing to give almost anything a try, so a few weeks ago, I announced at dinner on Friday, that we would be attending the local wool fair—The Fiber Frolic—on Sunday. I braced for the complaints, the “I don't want to go's,” but they were not forthcoming. Sunday morning, after I gave up on waiting for the rain to stop, I announced it was time to go, and everyone piled in the car, willingly and cheerfully. Amazing.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to last Friday. It was E and Z's first day back at daycare after a year at Montessori school. C and I started our new routine of him dropping them off in the morning, me picking them up in the evening. We didn't mention this routine to the kids, though, and as soon as I got to daycare, both E and Z started crying and wailing, “I want Papa to pick us up!” E threw his hat at me and hit me in the eye. Even though I had both dropped them off and picked them up for the last ten months at school, they were still programmed to expect their dad to pick them up at daycare as he did a year ago (and to scream and cry if I dared try to pick them up). That night at bedtime we talked about how Papa would drop them off in the morning from now on, and I would pick them up. They moaned and complained a bit more. I reminded them again Sunday night and Monday, I braced for the worst, but arrived at daycare to find three reasonably cheerful children ready to hop in the car and go home with Mom, and every day after that all week.

How do you bring rhythm and predictability into your life?


  1. you've got it, i think. 'rhythm' as i interpret it means there's room for 'flow' and a bit of variance. like we always eat breakfast lunch and dinner is enough of a rhythm. and always saying thanks at the meal is lovely (when we're remembering). i'm also totally with you too on the prep v. change of plans - i think you were right about avoiding tantrums sometimes. and the prep is decidedly helpful, but if things do change, i mean WHEN things change unexpectedly, it is harder. i try just repeating 'we were going to the beach, but not we're going to the park because ...' even that little bit helps. sounds like you've already had this awareness and bringing some of it in a little more is working for you too!

  2. yes, rhythm is about replacing potential anxieties of what will happen next with the known and filling in those transition times with sweetness like a song, a kiss, a quote etc :)

  3. I'm trying to find a new rhythm around all the moving boxes. It's slow and I'm impatient, but I know it will come. There are few constants in our day, but one of them is a quiet time that occurs when my youngest naps. Then the three older kids go upstairs to either read or play board games and I have time to myself ... to read, to drink a cup of tea, to write. It's a chance to breathe, to exhale and remember that nothing is permanent, neither chaos nor calm.

  4. Interesting. I think some kids thrive on spontenaity and others on routine and predictability.
    For my kids, it's a little of both but routines have been super helpful in some areas like bedtimes and naps.

    We've been saying our "thankfuls" (one or two things we're thankful for before eating) and then thanking the cook (that cook would be me, not a hired cook) and this seems to have improved our meals tremendously. We all start eating at the same time, instead of them finishing up as I finally sit down to eat.
    Glad to hear you've seen benefits already!

  5. I know we need more gentle rhythm in our lives, but we really suck at keeping it up. I keep trying, though.


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