Amid the wealth of family schedules, routines and practices, I’ve found that the best daily schedule with kids is not a schedule at all. Read on to learn how to build a consistent daily rhythm as a stay at home mom.
From the moment you have a baby, people make sure to tell you: “kids need routine.” As a new mom, fresh out of the corporate workplace, I was certainly used to following schedules and I quickly found myself desperate for some structure. Longing for something familiar within my new role, I scoured Pinterest for ideas, suggestions, and templates for “daily routine for infants” or “schedule for stay at home moms”. Once I found a format I thought I could follow it was time to put it to the test. Sure enough, my days felt less like they were dragging on and on, and slightly more like the ordered way of life I was used to. And yeah, my kid seemed to fall in line pretty easily too.
Fast forward 20 months to when I had my second child. Life with a newborn and a toddler left me grasping for as much predictability as I could get. So I clung to my routines like a safety floatation device. While it’s true that my kiddos and I functioned best with some form of consistency, a schedule is only as good as it is followed. And unfortunately for me, the weight of trying to unerringly fit myself and two little humans into those routines was too heavy to bear.
The Problem with Schedules
The problem was that the rigidity of a schedule was hard for me to stick to. Instead of being a useful tool, it became another area of judgment and guilt in a season already plagued with those things. Then there were the weekends, when my husband was home, which were completely unstructured and left me feeling lost as to how to move through the day.
I used to beat up on myself for starting a routine or organization method only to have completely abandoned and forgotten it 6 months later. What I’ve finally learned is that my need to change things up is completely natural. We are creatures of cyclical nature (especially women). The passage of time, the movement of the natural world, even our solar system flows in cycles. Nothing keeps the same rhythm all of the time without end. (Oh, except machines. Machines do that… forever until they break down…). So why should we expect ourselves to operate without change?
Daily Rhythm over Schedule
Over the years, I tweaked and adjusted our routines as life seasons changed. Then one day, I ran into the concept of Waldorf education, where I learned about daily rhythms or “flows”. This instantly felt more sustainable for me, as it allowed room for shifts and changes. It turns out, thinking of things in this way made all the difference.
A schedule, as mentioned earlier, is rigid and unchanging. It doesn’t bend or fluctuate with the shifting of seasons. A rhythm, on the other hand moves fluidly to fit with our changing needs.
Waldorfy.com, a site dedicated to exploring Waldorf education, says:
For the whole family, a daily rhythm at home creates a sense of balance and peace.
Believe me when I say I am on a constant search for things that help improve my sense of balance and peace.
Read more about the benefits of a rhythm for children here.
How I Created a Daily Rhythm
In reading more about this concept of daily rhythm, I learned to think about different segments of the day as times for “breathing in” and “breathing out”. Times for expansion and contraction, for spending energy and replenishing it. Sounds amazing, right?! From there, I considered what my ideal day looked like and what kind of flow it followed. Since I love themes and words, I gave each portion of the day a name. Here is what I came up with:
RESET (wake-up – 9:30am): From the moment I wake up I allow myself to move slowly and tune in. This time includes stretching, reading or journaling, and making tea. After walking my oldest to the bus stop, I eat breakfast, reset the kitchen, connect with my husband, and get ready for the day.
ACTIVATE (9:30am-12:30pm): This is when my get-stuff-done energy is the highest. I’m wrapping up chores and getting work done (household or otherwise). My girls play – often high energy with music, dancing, and probably some squealing. Once their chores have been completed, I allow screens.
REFRESH (12:30-3:30pm): After lunch, we all have quiet time. Screens are off and I typically make my way outside to work in the yard or just read on the front porch (or by a window, if the weather isn’t great). My little ones end up following my lead and coming up with ways to play together outside – until the toddler gets cranky and I put her down for a nap. Every now and then, mama takes a nap here too. This segment ends when it’s time for my oldest to get home from school.
CREATE/PLAN* (3:30 – 6:30pm): After some refreshing time outdoors or resting, I’m often feeling a flow of creative energy. That might be content creating or planning something fun for myself or the family. Since this is homework time for the kiddos, we’re all at the table working or coloring together. I wrap up this portion of the day by prepping dinner.
GATHER/CELEBRATE (6:30-8:30pm): This is the time when my spouse comes home and we eat dinner together as a family. I’ll be honest, I’ve got room for improvement on treating this part of the day as a celebration, but we truly observe this as time together. The kids are excited to see their dad and he often plays and swings them around. All around, there is much joy in the house… and even more noise. Sometimes I’ll duck away for a few minutes to escape overstimulation. 😉 But truly, this is the culmination of the day. Work is done. My loved ones are together. Ideally after dinner we have “Family Clean-up Time” and then the kids burn off their energy before bedtime.
REFLECT & REST (8:30pm – bed) We’ve intentionally made this a time of winding down for the entire household. The lights are turned down to signal the active part of the day is done. My spouse begins the bedtime routine and I wrap up any final tidying up. (We decided to stop cleaning after the kids are in bed!) Now, once they are down and quiet – which sometimes takes a while – we can relax and spend the rest of the evening as we choose before going to bed.
*Note: In writing this, I noticed that -despite my hopes- what I thought would be a time of restful planning more often than not turned out leaving me more drained. The truth is the second half of the day has much more outward-going energy (exhale) not much time for replenishing (inhale). If you’re reading this I imagine that to be the case for you as well. No wonder we’re so irritated or, at best exhausted, by the time the kids are in bed. But recognizing this has shown me an area where I can focus my intention. Even just acknowledging that “there is not a natural time for rest here” has made a difference. As a result, if I need a break during this time I give myself permission to actively step away and take one.
This is where I am today. It’s a far improvement from where I’ve been in the past with more room for growth. A work in progress – much like being human. But because I think of this daily rhythm as a flexible structure, I’m not stressed that it isn’t perfect. Heck, after 6 years and 3 kids, I finally feel like I’ve gotten my family into a regular flow. My kids know when it’s time for certain activities, and we rarely have drama around transitions. Best of all, when there are special circumstances or breaks that disrupt our normal rhythm, we are able to easily and naturally shift back into the flow.
The greatest benefit I’ve found in moving to a daily rhythm is setting aside a time of “breathing in” at the start of each day. I am my best on days when I can start slowly and check in with what I needed. Yet simply knowing that did not make it a reality. Most of the time, I was waking up and immediately attending to the needs of others. Since creating this daily rhythm, these slow starts have become my norm, rather than the exception. Highly recommend! You can download my template for free using the form below.
What do you think? What things, when you take time to do them daily, help you be your best self? Would thinking about schedules in this way improve the way you move through the day? Or do you already have a great system in place? How do you make time for “breathing in” throughout your day (especially in the second half)? Please share your thoughts and tips in the comments.