This is day 15 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.
Note: This is part 2 of a look at what it means to Pace the Day. I recommend going back to read part 1!
Yesterday I introduced the concept of pacing the day. As I mentioned there, this idea came to me early in my mothering journey and I have developed and tweaked it over time as our family and our needs have changed. I have used the following technique in a variety of ways over the past several years, and I want to say from the outset, there is no single “right” way, but instead some guiding principles and tools to help you figure out what pacing the day might look like with the personalities in your house.
The following things are required to pace the day well.
1) You have to throw out your notions of a hard-and-fast schedule in favor of routines, which are a little more squishy than schedules but do establish some patterns that your kids will pick up (and thrive) on.
2) You have to step out of frantic/reactive mode and do some observation so you are able to assess where everyone is at, and what they need next. Sometimes I literally find a corner to disengage from the crazy and just watch them. This is a great time for a hot drink near a lovely window.
3) Patience. Some people tell me they just don’t have it, but from my own experience, I will say, patience is a muscle that you can strengthen. I am only a (mostly) patient mother because I have been tested, and tested, and tested, and as I have struggled to respond to my children in a gentle and caring manner, my patience has grown. Perseverance gets you places!
So back to the main idea: Pacing the day is like holding a hand of cards at the beginning of the day, knowing that each card will be played at some point, but the order and timing of when you play it will vary from day-to-day and is a strategic, forward-thinking move. It is a little bit like choose-your-own-adventure. Mothers who want a household to adhere to strict schedules (by the clock) will possibly not love this idea, but I still hope you’ll read along because I think you may pick up some valuable ideas even if you’re a more scheduled person than I am.
If you are ready to pace the day, the cards in your hand are as follows:
Do Ahead, Communicate, Go Mode, Buffer, Margin, Choice, Re-set
Each of the cards has its own role in the mix, and they work together to achieve a (mostly) smooth and peaceful day. I’ll break each one of them down for you, from the perspective of what we usually do, especially in the morning.
This refers to any task that I am able to take care of ahead of time. It goes nicely hand-in-hand with my Plan One Day Ahead list, and includes things like: filling water bottles, making to-go lunches, making and following a meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so there is no guesswork about what we’re eating and I just have to shuffle the ingredients around. It also includes my personal early morning routine which is to wake and diaper/dress both of my youngest children before I even leave my bedroom. I keep their clothes in my room, and find a lot less resistance to getting out the door if those two are taken care of right off the bat.
My older kids are able to do many tasks on their own. When they wake, I instruct them to dress all the way to the shoes before they eat breakfast. If we happen to have a day we are not going anywhere, I will have them get started on independent school tasks instead, and serve them breakfast as they’re working on penmanship or English. I try to communicate well about what we have going on for the day, and offer a 1 hour, 30 minute, and 10 minute warning before we need to leave the house. I verbally toss out what they might want to have in order to be prepared for whatever activity we are headed for, but they know it is their responsibility to have shoes on, have a coat, have a filled water bottle in hand. Most often, the youngest two are already dressed by breakfast, and everyone (except me) is ready to leave 10-15 minutes before our target time. While they wait, I assign them a small clean-up job that can be completed before we leave. During that time, I am typically doing my hair, pulling a lunch together if I didn’t do it ahead of time, or last-minute changing a diaper.
This one requires a bit of practice to get your kids motivated, but when they have a hold of the concept, nothing will be able to stop you! We use go mode as we do household cleanup, engage with school tasks or prepare to leave the house. I have one child that is a day-dreamer and moves about life at a relaxed pace. Family quirk story: This child is wildly imaginative. She struggles to attack a job or a task with focus and tenacity, but if she can pretend to be an animal, she will kick into gear and get things done. Ever since she watched Jurassic World, she has been enamored with velociraptors, and in an effort to get some fire under her one day, I invited her to complete her tasks with, “velociraptor speed.” The kid turned into a velociraptor and cleaned up everything in sight. Weird, but hey, if it works! I also explained to my kids that sometimes in the last few minutes before we need to leave, I need everyone to get up, get moving, and handle their individually assigned tasks while I’m tending to my last details. We call this “Busy bees”, and when I call it out, everyone knows that it is Go Mode time to leave the house. We also do timed challenges and sometimes have rewards to practice this skill.
With six kids, I hear a lot of questions and get many requests from the kids throughout the day. They range from ultra-simple things like “Can you please tie my shoe?” to things like “Can we meet up with X friend at the park today?” Honestly, it is question after question around here. Questions are great, and I encourage them, but I don’t give an immediate answer to anything that is asked of me unless I’m sure of the answer I want to give. Because I try to make good on anything I agree to, I am a little stingy with my “yes” answers. I also don’t revel in saying “no” all the time, so instead I create a buffer with a statement like, “I know you would like to do ______ today, but I will need to think about what we have going on today before I give you an answer. If I’m not able to fit that in today, we will find another time for it.” My children love this because they nearly always get what they want (if its reasonable), but they get it at a time and in a way that works for me. I think its a great idea to practice creating a buffer anytime other people in your life ask you for things as well. It buys you a little time to decide if you really want to commit to something or not by acknowledging their request, and setting a small boundary that you will not leap into just any request that comes your way. It makes your choices intentional. This is one way I have simplified my life…don’t answer immediately!
This one is pretty simple, but not always easy. Keeping a margin in your day means that you do not overschedule yourself. It means keeping a block of time somewhere in the day that is left open for whatever is needed, or it might mean being willing to drop a commitment from the day to re-set instead of keep on going. Margin is one of the biggest reasons I homeschool my children…it gives me the flexibility to be in charge of my entire daily schedule and not have to live by a school calendar or daily bell schedule. I am not in the car for hours a day (unless I want to be), and my kids are not sitting still in desks for hours a day (unless I want them to be). Now that I have tasted the sweetness of having margin in my day, I can’t go back to the busy life. No way.
This is toddler parenting 101, but I think its an important card to hold when you’re managing a household of kids of all ages. Regarding choice, it comes down to this: I supply the options, they make the choices. There are many times that a child comes to me and says, “I want to play video games right now.” We don’t use our game system on weekdays to encourage more productive learning activities (and if I’m honest, preserve the helpful, positive attitudes of screen-free days), so I have no problem responding with, “That is not a choice right now. You may do _____ or _____,” and I supply their options for them. There is usually not much of a fight, because they already know the parameters for video games, but more than that, I don’t often insist that they do one particular thing. I give them two choices, and they take it from there. They love their autonomy, and I love that I still have a handle on the direction we’re going.
This might be the most important of all pacing the day strategies. Knowing how to re-set if the day has turned upside-down is a desperately needed survival skill for moms. What works for one person may not work for another, but I would encourage you to give some thought to making a list of five things you can do to re-set your day if it comes to that. Some of the things that land on my list are: quiet time (everyone separated—usually in their beds—to read or quietly play until a timer goes off), go outside (I used to be a mostly-indoor mom, but I have learned there is something to getting out and letting everyone have their space from each other), do something with my kids that helps us connect (read a book, paint together, have a silly dance party), do one-on-one check-ins (I do these sometimes during quiet time and invite the kids one by one into my room for a few minutes to talk about whatever is on their minds), or my last-resort: lay a blanket out on the living room floor, put a bunch of snacks out, start a movie and take an ears-open nap on the couch while they’re glued to it. << This is typically how I survive the toughest parts of pregnancy and/or being sick.
I hope that gives you a bit of a glimpse into how I manage my days at home, and possibly some ideas to incorporate into your own version of pacing the day. You’ve got all the cards, so choose which ones to play when they are needed. I try and take in the cues my children give me and steer them toward “Go Mode” tasks (being out of the house, household cleanup, school time) or Margin/Reset time if Go Mode isn’t going very well.
I would love to know if you find any of this helpful, and if you have any questions for me, please feel free to be in touch.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
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