by Anjelica Malone
As we head into each new season of life—the start of a new school year, the first day of a job, or the initial weeks home with our new baby, we are told that routines are the best way to keep all the balls in the air and keep from missing a beat. But oftentimes we realize that what we initially thought was a stress-relieving plan becomes an inflexible contract.
That workout we planned to make happen at 5am comes and goes due to a long sleepless night of toddler cries and night feedings; a busy work week leaves us exhausted and we just can’t muster the energy to make that meal prep idea we saw on Pinterest come to life, and that “fail-proof” sleep training method we were told about creates more fatigue. But there is an alternative.
While setting and sticking with goals is important, we must also give ourselves a bit more grace and room to make changes when things aren’t working as we intended them to. Instead of subscribing to a specific parenting style, sleep training method, or workout schedule; try embracing a technique of rhythm over routine.
Rhythms are a way of finding a natural flow and ease within the necessities of life. They leave room for modification and remove the guilt around not “achieving” that breastfeeding, postpartum weight loss, or work project goal. They take into account your well-being, ability to cope with stress, & family dynamics.
When I’ve shared this idea with first time parent PEPS groups, I’m often met with questioning eyes, but comments that suggest a hesitant agreement. “This all sounds great, but how do we go about making this actually happen?”
Here’s what I suggest:
- Think seasons vs. long-term. A huge sigh of relief is let out among the parents at the when I remind them that whatever hurdle they’re facing today—finding the right childcare provider, separation anxiety, pumping while at work, etc., won’t last forever. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and see the current struggle as a never-ceasing trap. We can begin to believe that if we don’t immediately start that college savings fund or find the right nanny now, then we’ll never get it done and completely fail our children. But the seasons of our life are ever-changing, there will be a moment in the near future where you’ll have time to make calls uninterrupted and sit down and interview candidates, it just may happen during a less hurried season of life. It’s ok to make choices that work for this season, but require adjusting in the future.
- Prioritize instead of time manage. Date nights with your partner, home cooked meals, yoga 3x times a week, a friend’s wedding, your child’s classmate’s birthday party. You name it and they all seem to demand a spot on your calendar. Instead of trying to squeeze in everything, take a moment at the start of each new season and list three things that are most important to your household—family time, extracurricular activities, faith-based activities, date nights, exercise, etc. and prioritize those things whenever a new request comes in. Holding only a few sacred things close means they actually get your full attention. Remember, seasons, something that is not a priority now can easily move to the top of the list in a few months. Also, be willing to reprioritize events should they begin to cause a strain on more important things to you and your family. The trick to “doing it all”, is saying “no” to more things than you say, “yes”. There’s no guilt in doing what’s best for your wellbeing. Be honest about your priorities with yourself and those around you — coworkers, friends, family, and supervisor. People can better respect your boundaries when they are clear about what they are.
- Incorporate supportive systems. Though it can seem tempting to do it all yourself, it’s simply not possible. Finding resources that can be pre-scheduled and require little upkeep, are great assets to maintaining your family’s needs. It may also relieve some of the burden of home upkeep. I encourage families to find a meal or grocery delivery service to help make food preparation easy during the busy seasons of life. They are especially beneficial during the first days back to school, once both parents return to work after maternity/paternity leave, or while one partner is away on a trip. Hiring a cleaning service to come in once or twice a month to tackle the floors and bathrooms can also be a wonderful convenience. Pre-scheduling months in advance therapy sessions and quarterly time off from work are beneficial ways to keep from neglecting the family’s emotional well-being also. We can sometimes get so wrapped up in the day-to-day grind that we forget to take time off and work on family matters.
- Leave room for rest. It’s not uncommon to find small windows of time in our schedule and try to fill them with a last minute errand or chore. Instead, use this time to reset mentally and physically. This may mean shutting off social media and phone notifications for a bit. It’s a great time to journal, meditate, color or call up a friend you haven’t connected with in awhile. Doing things that fill you up and spur a bit of creativity can give a second wind for the rest of the day’s responsibilities. They also teach us the ability to find natural respite in our busy lives.
As we start this new school year and fall season, seek out ways to incorporate healthy rhythms in your daily life. Embrace flow and consider saying “no” to more things than you say “yes” to. Continually evaluate your current season of life and stress load, making adjustments where needed. Remember, routines simply focus on checked boxes and a sense of people pleasing, while rhythms meld obligations with mental and physical wellness.
About the Author
Anjelica Malone is the author of Milk Boss 101: The Modern Breastfeeding Journal and Guide. She is also a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor, birth and postpartum doula, and a Childbirth Educator serving women in the Seattle area, where she lives with her husband, two Little Women, and their mini-dachshund, Aoki. Visit www.AnjelicaMalone.com to book her services or read her blog, A Global Tribe of Women, which focus on encouraging women to embrace their passions and equipping them to navigate motherhood in the way that’s most natural to them. Instagram: @AnjelicaMalone