We sell the things.
We sell the pretty things.
We sell the things that we think contribute to a more harmonious household and family life.
We sell the things that we believe are sustainable in more than one sense of the word, including in an all-important sense of ecological sustainability. Things that will decompose one day without detrimental effects to the soil, water, or air, or life they support, including our own species. Things that have had some thought put into justifying their existence, and the energy that's gone into making them.
We sell the things that we appreciated when our children were babies, and as they're growing now.
"I can do it all! I just need to never sleep...." This highly irrational, highly unsustainable thought has humorously gone through my head, as I turned in at 3 AM or later some nights, abuzz with relief from some tasks accomplished, and the feeling that I actually had a fighting chance to keep up with all the realms with their own to-do lists: work, nutrition/ family meals, finances, cleaning, parenting, marriage, important relationships and caregiving for others, causes close to our hearts, .. The truth is, we lose in the end when we compromise our sleep. It's not just about tonight, or today. We're in it for the long haul, for ourselves, and for our families. But still, it's very hard for me to resist staying up late for more productivity, or for some alone time to decompress. Now in my forties, I know it catches up. Here are some ideas to help with getting more sleep.
- As parents of babies and young children, these are tough years. If you have more than one child, you especially might notice how different each child can be when it comes to sleep, and the various challenges among people and at different ages. Don't compare to others, just try and find what works for you and your child in particular. Start where you are. Nap when you can when they nap, for the wee baby years. For the baby/toddler/pre-schooler/kindergarten/primary years, bedtime varies quite a bit among children. The 'Waldorf way' is to encourage a big block of outdoor time in the morning, no matter the weather (good raingear or good winter weather goes a long way, we know ourselves here in Ottawa, Canada, and take up snow-shoeing, skiing, or skating, or whatever activity best suits you and your ages and stages. Even just romping around is often all that's really needed for most kids). Commit to some early morning outdoor time with a buddy if that might help you. Make sure you get enough daytime calories, and come together for some good together time at mid-morning snack, lunchtime, afternoon snack, and dinner. Ideally, the afternoon is a large 'breathing out' time for kids, without a lot of instruction or things they 'have to' do or respond to, but more time to relax and unwind. Then we join together again for dinner, and finally after dinner, we are ready to wind down for the evening together. This kind of flow to the day supports children who are ready to once again 'inhale' together and follow the caregiver's lead for a soothing bedtime routine before the biggest exhale of the day - sleep. Any schedule is to be adjusted for different ages, stages, energy levels, and otherwise. For example, much of our modern life and schools see children, in a sense, 'inhaling' and holding their breath much of the school day, with little chance to breathe out and relax in the afternoon at school, especially if it's noisy with conflict around them, or a lot of instruction to follow. Right after school, a block of outdoor playtime, in a relaxed setting with space to roam and a picnic dinner can be the exhalation everyone needs. This can help some people. Everyone really is different though. The important thing in the end is to find what works for your child(ren) and for you. Those of us with overactive brains, use that brain power to loosen the knot and figure out how to get blocks of rest vitally needed.
- Babysitting/ parent swap/ family visit (let expectations be known ahead of time: "My goal for today is to get a 2 hour nap in. In order for that to happen, I will have to retract from interacting starting at this time", etc.). Or, announce, eg. “I’m going to close my eyes for five minutes. If I do fall asleep, wake me in fifteen...”
- Sleep arrangements that manage overall needs often puts us square into philosophical debates about the greatest good for all. Like much of parenting, and certainly in life always, there are going to be trade offs. The parent who is stricter around certain limits, can then give more of themselves in other ways. It’s important to remember and to remind others that only you can speak to the value of things to you personally that you are backing your choices with. And they are not easy decisions. And there are often moving parts, among the ages and stages, in sickness and in health. We do what we can, and we ask for and give support to respect the decisions and abilities of those around us. In other word, whether you co-sleep, coax more willingly into a schedule, and/ or are working with the temperament of your own child and yourself, know that you could spend your life trying to explain and defend your choices to others, and they still might not get it. Keep figuring out what you need, and how to ask for it, as they say, and try not to envy too much or be too smug along the way. We figure that one out quickly enough as parents, and then we get reminded of it over, and over, and...
- Feeding a family. Right from the start with babies, we can see how nutrition and sleep follow a pattern. Getting enough daytime calories, good fats and protein in a day for everyone is a big part of our days. Iron and magnesium, B-vitamins. Hydration. If it’s not balanced out throughout the day, bedtime can be delayed with more snacks. Food intolerances that might disrupt sleep. Nowadays, there are so many great blogs and Instagram accounts with helpful photos and recipes, etc. Remember, you only need to hit on a few helpful things to rotate through for meals and snacks. Ask other parents with children similar ages what they’re eating in their household if you like. Our emotions can be so tied to what our children eat in a week sometimes as parents. “Getting to Yum” is a fun book to instil some lightness to what can become a heavy issue in some households, with games and exploration and give us some tools, whilst taking off some of the pressure.
- Lastly, we do well to be mindful of our own inner mood around bedtime. Soothing nerves, and a calm bedtime routine should be one that helps us with our own sense of calm as well, as our children can be so perceptive and take a lot from us. After dinner ‘in the parlour’ with music, games, giggles, not too much wild play later in the evening... or maybe it’s better for your kids to get some? Keep observing, keep being curious about what could be helpful. Children can have an enormous amount of fears around bedtime that can manifest in different ways. The more calm and soothing we can bring to ourselves after a long day, the more we can share our calm with them. It could be as simple as one big breath we take upon entering the bedroom. Or doing a tiny bit of handwork in the evening. As our own children are a little older now at the time of writing this, at 6.5 and 8.5 years old, I’ve lately been telling them many nights, “I saw you being strong, and brave, and kind today a hundred times.” I’ll mention specific things, just the littlest things, eg. ”I noticed you listening with your heart when so-and-so was talking about ___.” After some days, it wasn’t long before I heard my children saying the words themselves, that they were brave at school when such-and-such. Some sort of journalling aloud can be good for some souls, already quite young. Other people might find it works more to keep the naptime or bedtime routine with little chatter.
Well, to that I’d add that we need to remember to be civil to ourselves too. Pretty sure you're doing great a lot of the time, just getting by, because let's face it, as a parent, especially if you don't have family nearby, or you are a single parent, or have high needs children, or are providing multi-generational care, or so many more of the situations so many of us face, we’re doing a lot. You're probably giving generously a lot of the time, and maybe without the number of pauses and ways to fill your own cup as you could benefit from.
Civility means that we don't correct each other openly in front of others, and that goes for children too. Civility with our children can mean that we don't tell stories and talk about them in front of them. Civility is being respectful. Civility with our spouses means we let some things go for a time. Maybe this is your year with low iron stores, or a low point in your biological rhythms. We are not the same people every day, and we can't always expect the same from ourselves each day, and that goes for our children too. Cut ourselves and each other some slack. Make the home a safe space, where members can re-charge, and feel supported. Within routine and healthy values, everyone can then work for their goals. In terms of parenting young children, it means we don't react or over-react with criticism, often people probably already are feeling poorly inside over mis-steps and that usually goes for children too. For our children or for ourselves, instead of criticism, we can react with support. We can think about our proximity to them, their unmet needs that moment or day, and we think about what can actually help reduce barriers to better outcomes. Cut ourselves and others some slack, and look at what we actually need to feel better and do better. This is a challenge when both partners in a relationship are giving so much, and it's easy to take each other's contributions for granted. Try trading places or routines for a day to gain /renew appreciation. Being gracious with each other goes a long way every day, and over time that adds up.
Here are some of the best fixes we've found for encouraging routine.
- Morning affirmations. Begin with kindness, acknowledging our presence, our participation, our needs... Maybe there is just one thing you’d like to focus on this week. Maybe you’d like to put it on a note on the fridge or near the kettle or coffee maker.
- Songs and verses. It’s hard to say no to a rhyme. And a well known secret in Waldorf pedagogy that songs and verses help with transition times. Over time, they relieve the pressure and expenditure of energy associated with transitions as they allow us a predictable queue that we can participate in.
- Meal planning and prep. Keep it simple. Some people do Taco Tuesdays. :) Whatever your family’s preferences. Nowadays, an internet search for ‘meal plan’ yields dozens of results to pick and choose from.
- Nailing down the critical points of the day. Eg, for us it’s the 4:30pm dinner. If we don’t have dinner ready then, the evening succession is all too late, and it becomes hard to make up for lost time without the evening feeling stressed or crunched, which almost always backfires in us as overtired energy. We are on the right track when we are vigilant about the critical points in the day.
- Snacks. Regular snacks, although small, just fill in those spaces nicely. Apple and cheese, carrots and celery, red cabbage stir fry... it can be simple most of the time, and a bit extra some of the time.
4. Exercise and movement
Air in our lungs, and pumping through our body. Exercise and movement just feel good. When you’re so very tired or sore, what about putting some music on and letting it coax you into some gentle swaying? Two birds with one stone, if you’re too tired to talk, a slow dance with a partner or friend. If you do this while the kids are awake, a lot of little ones will likely want to join in. The doorway stretch helps open up the chest muscles from all that forward rounded-ness of parenting, devices, dishes, and driving. I know a lot of parents whose children were agreeable to the babysitting option at their local gym, and they took advantage of this time for them. If it suits you, BrainGym is a neat framework for movement exercises, for body and mind.
5. Human contact.
Flush with the good feeling of sharing a fun time, breaking bread together, relating together, having some laughs, playing some music. Or sometimes it’s about having witness to our ups and downs, as part of a community. The golden rule, to do unto others as we’d like them to do unto us comes into play, as we can aspire to be the friend and neighbour that we’d hope to have. To think beyond the hyper focus of our own lives and issues, means that we can relate to others in a way where we don’t lose our focus on our own needs, but we widen our lens and our hearts. Sometimes, when we’re still finding that we’re without meaningful connections, some kind of volunteering or charitable donation can have the added benefit of connecting us to others in ways we’d not expect.
6. Home-cooked meals.
Let's face it, we all have to eat, but not everyone has to be a super chef. It's really okay. But you probably would like some home-cooked meals in your house. Here are some ideas:
- Meal service. Home delivery or take out options from catering companies, or local restaurants. Prepped meals, ready for you to put together, depending on your city, you might find some options.
- Half-home cooked and half frozen/store-bought... Eg. you make the grain or cauliflower or some veg, or a fresh salad, but you buy or order in a stew or curry, or a roast.
- Batch cooking, where you freeze part of what you make, or have some leftover for the next day in the fridge. Even if it’s just one or two extra batches. Future you will be thanking past you.
- Slow cooker/ pressure cooker. What a revival the humble slow cooker has had recently. Well-deserved, hundreds of thousands of households can’t be wrong, right...? Although, I can say that I personally prefer slow cookers to the very fast pressure cookers, but we’ve called upon the ready in a jiffy pressure cooker option several times.
- Hiring a cook to come in your home, and cook and stash in your fridge and freezer. I’ve not done this before, but it occurs to me that even a young teen as a father’s or mother‘s helper could wash and chop some celery and carrot sticks, wash some lettuce, prep some veg for dinner, etc.
7. Less stuff.
This is a funny one. We can't sell you less stuff than you already have. There are lots of nice things in this world. They cannot all possibly fit into your home and your day. And you could never keep up with cleaning and maintaining them all. Choose wisely, or just plain have fun or make do with what you choose. Or swap things out. Just watch out for the balance of time spent wishing for other things, or more things. It’s normal and can be helpful in life to wish for things, but the forces of media might be throwing too much of it into our field of vision, and we might recognize the need to proactively lower the volume on that. There really ARE a lot of rapidly changing ages and stages when children are young, so we do find ourselves looking for solutions to situations and that does frequently involve ‘stuff’. Just be mindful of it all. It’s all too easy to acquire, and tricky to let go. Especially if you’re sentimental like our family, and paring down the stuffed animal collection doesn’t come easy. It might actually all be nice stuff that we have, but if it’s too much stuff for our abode and our mental space, then that it is nice stuff only makes it harder to choose what to let go... Better to leave some things on the store shelves to begin with. Don’t worry too much about what you’re missing out on. As you’ll not be missing out on some crisp, clean empty space... Ahhh...
Gratitude is not dismissing our unmet needs. It's not saying we should be happy now, and to simply relax into a beatific smile and sense of well-being in the world (although those moments are good). Gratitude is where we find it, and recognizing the ways that we do feel safe right now. The ways that we do feel lucky. It reminds us of our good fortune. Our minds are often spending a good deal of time focusing on what needs to be done, or created, or acquired. It can be a blessing in itself for our minds, hearts, and nerves to spend a little time remembering what we already have. Gratitude can be a resting place from our worries.
9. Maker Mentality.
Doing a lot with a little. Making something from nothing. Using found objects from a forest walk to build something delightful or useful. The act of creating. Every day, in some way, it shows us that we don't need to buy or consume in order to create or to delight or to feel satisfied or to find a solution to some need. We feel our power, our ability. We use our brains in ways we didn't before imagine. We delight in the unexpected outcome, and to our surprise, the process and its journey.
10. Special time.
Look into both of your child's eyes. Look back and forth from one eye to the next. See them. Sit with them. Be still. For young children especially, when the centre of their world (their parent) is moving around so much, in and out of the room, it can be quite disconcerting. Carve out relaxed time together. And time for that re-connection. It can then come and go throughout the week, but with regular prioritizing, you both know it will be back, and you'll get your special time again.
11. Financial stability.
Personal household debt levels are high. Focus first on the big things: the large furniture items, your house and its maintenance. Take a page from some old world frugality and thriftiness, when and where need be. Don’t go in debt for ‘things’.
Love and compassion. Patience. So much begins with this basic need for us to accept our range of human emotions. Meditation practices offer much guidance. Some people that I know get help with self-acceptance through a community or network of people that welcomes and accepts us as we are, be it through newfound friends or old friends, family members who we dance through relationships with over the years. Knowing that each moment, each day offers us the chance to practice again and again, self-compassion is truly the greatest gift we can give ourselves on this journey called life. Mantras to begin each day can help. Be a friend to yourself. The kind of friend you would like to be for yourself.
Allowing for our feelings that arise, some deep breaths, observing the thoughts, like birds flying through the sky of our mind, and just letting them go, without chasing them... or else for those who prefer some focus, a line to focus on, such as "I breathe in compassion for myself, I breathe out compassion for my child(ren)"... or focusing on the breathe itself, feeling the air against your upper lip, through your nose, and throat, puffing up your lungs, and pushing your stomach to rise and then when it falls again... There are so many different ways to meditate.
How to learn how to practice. For years, I've known so much cerebrally, but putting it into practice is harder than saying it in words. Discipline is whatever helps us bring ourselves back to the mat, time and time again. Whatever works for you.
In conclusion, sometimes there is a tendency to turn to online shopping, or to the buzz of the internet to look for feelgood solutions. Feeling good and solutions are both fine of course, and we like offering products that we hope helps with those within the larger picture of all the things that we can't sell you. Please shop responsibly.
These thoughts and ideas expressed here are entirely built on my own experiences. I share what I hope will be helpful to others, but please take only what works for you and leave the rest.