Observe the rhythms of your family life
Today I want you to observe the rhythms of your family life.
What is rhythm?
The word “rhythm” is used a lot in Waldorf circles. It usually refers to the pattern that we set for our days and weeks - the breathing in, breathing out, and comfortable repetition of our activities. The rhythm of the day is very important for preschoolers so we will be coming back to it many times in this series (so far if you’ve been following along we’ve worked with rhythm by setting aside time for play, bedtime, and meals). But the concept of rhythm is really much bigger and broader than that.
Rhythm is a compelling force in nature. Rhythm is all around and within you: The ocean waves, the phases of the moon, the rising and setting sun, the life cycle of a bird or frog, the turning of the seasons, your own monthly cycles, sleeping and waking, and heartbeat and breath. An erratic heartbeat is extremely dangerous. Your breath must continue to go out and in. There’s no denying the need for rhythm in the heart and lungs.
When a baby is born, his first task is to bring order and rhythm to his body. Being close to mother helps the newborn to regulate heart rate and breathing, and rhythmic sucking calms his whole system. Parents can help the baby come into internal rhythm by providing external rhythms. We hold, rock, bounce, shush, sing, and turn off the lights when it’s time to sleep. These simple ways that we take care of babies help the newborn learn to self-regulate.
Babies learn to distinguish night and day fairly quickly (we hope!) and in the first few months fall into the pattern of napping twice a day, then down to one nap in the toddler years, and then dropping that last nap. And as parents we have usually experienced the chaos and challenge that ensues when our child is dropping a nap. The child gets out of rhythm and we feel it in a lot of ways, right?
We feel a direct consequence when the sleeping and waking rhythms are disturbed for anyone in the family. But what we don’t always notice is that there are many other elements of the day that will feel more calm, stable, and peaceful if we bring them into rhythm as well.
It takes a lot of effort, almost an intense concentration, to bring our lives into rhythm. But once we do that rhythm sustains our family life. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Grey’s Anatomy, but the image that comes to mind is all those doctors working so hard to bring an arrested heart back to motion. They are pouring all their effort and concentration into getting that heart to pump….and then as soon as a regular rhythm starts bleeping on the monitor, they all stand back and sigh with relief. The rhythm of the heart can take it from there.
It’s difficult to comprehend the size of the miracle that a heart even knows how to beat at just the right rate.
In the same way, bringing family life into rhythm can involve some time of real effort and focus. It helps to start by eliminating all the unnecessary busyness and activity so there is time to just be at home together (see this post on slow family life if you missed it).
It also helps to start by noticing the rhythms that are already there, guiding your days behind the scenes. What are the things that you do every day? Does your child always wake at a certain time, is there a particular flow to getting ready for the day, do you sit down to dinner at a certain time, does your partner leave for work and come home again, do you set aside a time for yourself to shower or exercise?
Are there certain things you would like to do every day because when you do everything goes so well? Do you notice a certain amount of outside time helps your child have a great day, or that you need some recovery time to sit in peace in the afternoon, or that you all enjoy going for a family walk after dinner?
What about things that are happening every day that don’t seem to make sense anymore? Sometimes families realize that they are fixing snacks too frequently or sporadically throughout the day, or that a bath every night is too much, or that there’s a habit of turning on a video in the morning that doesn’t set a great tone for the day.
Take time this week to notice the rhythms of your family life without trying to change anything yet.
How to observe the rhythms of family life:
1. Pick out a notebook and write down your reflections.
2. Take note of how you spend your time personally and as a family over the course of a week or so.
3. Reflect on what’s working. Notice things that you love to do, your child loves to do, and anything that helps your day go smoothly.
4. Take notes on anything that’s not working. Are there times when things devolve into chaos? Rough patches in the day?
5. Notice the flow of your days. How consistent is it? Does your child know what to expect? Does it feel like there’s a rhythm?
What do you observe about rhythm in your family? What was your biggest insight?