It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day mundane, the busyness, the expectations and so on. Before we know it, the week has passed and the weekend has arrived. We might spend Saturday as a family, before spending Sunday preparing for the week ahead. What if I told you that it doesn’t have to be this way? It is OK to slow down. To say no. To free up some space in the calendar, and as a result free up some time in your life to live.

I’ve been there. My daughter was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when she was 23 months old. We knew something was going on for her much earlier, and from about 18 months old our typical week consisted of appointments – doctors, naturopaths, nutritionists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, speech therapists, NIS therapy. This was on top of the expectations that I felt as a mother – to do swimming lessons, and baby sensory class. To have play dates and outings every day. To create rich activities at home, whilst also maintaining a household.

Needless to say, by the time Miss F was 20 months old, and Master H was born – I was done. Totally burnt out. Overloaded. I started to look into a rhythm and routine that worked for us. One that catered to Miss F’s needs – but gave the middle finger to society expectation. My kids were my bubble and we were going to do what worked for us. I think when your children are young, your family rhythm is likely to change often – as they grow, their needs change. But once you’re in the flow of putting your family rhythm first, it comes naturally to adapt it as needed.

A Slower Family Rhythm: White space in a calendar is OK!
A white notebook used as a daily diary to list things that need to be done.
A Slower Family Rhythm: White space in a calendar is OK!

What is a family rhythm?

Humans are creatures of habit. We do things the same way each day – and each day is really a bunch of patterns that we repeat. Whether it’s our morning routine – how we get up, shower, dress, have breakfast then follow the same route to work, or it’s our weekend plans – visiting friends or family and doing a family outing. We pay our bills the same time each month, do our groceries the same time each week, from the same place. We work in cycles.

Habit can easily become routine. But that’s not to say that routine is the same as rhythm. I see routine as doing those tasks that are expected of us, and doing them on auto pilot. Rhythm differs because the way we choose to spend our time is based on what we value. Yes, I can hear you: “But I still have to get up for work,” and absolutely, you may have to. But how you choose to spend your time either side of it – is your rhythm.

Consider:
What does your day look like?
What do you do when you first get home from work?
What is your night time routine?
How do you spend Saturdays?
What do you do on a Sunday?
What does your activity and the things you engage in, tell you about what’s important to you? Does it align with your values?

Rhythms are different from schedules. A schedule reminds me of a checklist that dictates what needs to be done and when. Where as a rhythm allows for breathing room. It bends and shapes according to the seasons, the stages of life, to our needs. 

A Rhythm is:
Based around anchor points (e.g. nap times, time of day, work, school etc)
Flexible
Inclusive to the whole family’s needs
Predictable
Natural
Dynamic and adaptable
A rhythm is not:
A schedule
Rigid
Enforced
Stressful
A Family Rhythm Is and Is Not

The Benefits of having a Rhythm

There are so many benefits to having a family rhythm and living minimally. As we’ve talked about, we are creatures of habit, so having a predictability about life is reassuring and familiar. This is especially true for children; moving through each day with some idea of knowing what is coming next allows them to feel secure and stable. 

Rhythms support our need for ebb and flow. There’s time for expending our energy, then time to recharge. This not only supports our children to stay balanced, but also us as parents. Building in quiet times into our daily rhythm allows everyone a chance to catch their breath and recharge in a way that suits them. This is all part of minimalistic and slow, simple living.

While there is predictability, there is no expectation of timing. Yes, you may do certain things in the morning – but if your toddler is unwell, or your baby had a wakeful night, there is no obligation to get things done. A rhythm allows for breathing room, it flows and shapes around the needs of everyone in your family. Even if you have two or more kids, it works; maybe your toddler is used to a walk in nature each morning, but baby had a rough night. A schedule would mean waiting until a set time for them to nap – having a cranky baby while trying to keep your toddler happy. An outing probably wouldn’t work too well, right? A rhythm would say – ok, baby had a bad night, the world isn’t ending. Nature will likely perk us all up. So let’s head out, and baby can come in the wrap and have a little snooze if needed. 

How to Create a Slower Rhythm

Determine your Non-Negotiables
Look at your week and note down if you have set obligations – these could be work, school, extracurricular activities or classes that you partake in. You could also think about if there are certain days in which you run errands, do the grocery shop and so on. Let these become anchor points, in which your rhythm flows around.

Finding Balance
Your rhythm should feel natural. It will likely consist of things that recharge you and things that use your energy. This will look different for each family. When we’re recharging we might be spending time in nature, having quiet time at home, replenishing our energy and resources. On the opposite, taking part in activities such as play dates, excursions, social activities and so on, use up our energy. To feel balanced, we need to find what combination works for our family – some thrive off being out and about, whereas others, like my family, need the quiet down time to refuel.

Consider your Rechargers and your Expenders
To find your balance – start to consider what things you do throughout the day give you energy, and what things use it up. How can you build each of these into your day? I find it helpful to think of things in pairs – an outing or excursion, followed by quiet time at home. Some experiences will both recharge and expend, it just depends on the makeup of your family and everyone’s needs. 

What do you need to get done?
Obviously to keep a household running there are certain chores and tasks that we need to get done. Many people will build their rhythm around this – however, I prefer to approach our rhythm in the opposite way. We prioritise: getting out into nature in the morning, and quiet afternoons. I fit in chores when my children are playing independently – this is mostly first thing in the morning before we head out, or in the afternoon following nap time. It’s taken a while but I have a balance of not trying to achieve too much – a load of washing in the morning before we go out, sometimes I bake while the kids eat breakfast, other times I cook dinner at lunch time and reheat it later. I just fit it into the flow of the day. And if I can’t, well no one died from not vacuuming haha!

Change Your Mindset
Tuning into your family rhythm may result in you realising that you need to slow down. That doing 4 scheduled activities, plus play dates, plus socialising, plus chores is just too much in one week. There is this odd societal expectation that being busy is better and this is no different for motherhood. Except, it’s false. It’s 100% OK to have white space on your calendar. It is 100% OK to say no to invitations. It is 100% OK to spend entire days at home. Whatever works to nourish you and your children’s souls, is what is OK for you to do. 

Things to be Mindful of when Creating a Rhythm

Rhythms will change as our needs do. It doesn’t have to be a stressful thing if we can allow it to happen naturally. However, if you find yourself wondering why things aren’t flowing as smoothly as possible – here’s some things to be mindful of:

  1. What do you need to do so that your home functions in the way that you want it to?
    This is often a mindset thing. You may need a clean and tidy house to feel relaxed, absolutely reasonable. But, what is reasonable and realistic for the stage your family is at right now? With toddlers, it won’t be clean and tidy all the time. Learn to feel comfortable in the uncomfortable. You could always consider changing up the physical spaces so that the kids mess is contained to one room i.e having a play room.
  2. Is there enough open space?
    Are things getting busier? Are things creeping back in? Make sure you have left enough white space on the calendar, so there is room to breathe. Room to flow. Room to change as things are needed. You can always fill the space on any given day if that’s what you are called to do!
  3. What is valued in your family life right now?
    Is what you’re filling your days with reflective of what you value? Have your toddlers grown into preschoolers and suddenly they desire more independence? Maybe it’s summer so beach trips and being in nature is calling you? Make sure you’re checking in with what stage your family is in and what is valued right now.
  4. Surrender.
    Sometimes things just don’t go well. It might be a moment within a day, or a whole day itself. Heck, it could even be a week or more depending on what’s going on. Allow yourself to surrender to what’s happening – even if you need to be in survival mode for a while, that is OK! Take it back to basics. Connect, recharge and let life flow.

Have you considered creating a family rhythm? What would you start with?

Related:

Discovering the Magic of a Family Rhythm

It’s True, Kids Can Be Minimalists Too!

6 Benefits to Being a Minimalist Family

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A graphic saying: A slower family rhythm - how to make your own. Image shows a young girl reading a book.
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