I LOVE flexibility.
When I have a fairly open schedule, I feel relaxed and free, confident that more flexible time will help me adjust to the needs of my family. It makes me feel secure that I will be able to choose whatever stands out as most important in the moment instead of having to sacrifice things I care most about to keep up with a hectic agenda. Structured schedules, full calendars, detailed routines and even simple goals can make me feel hedged in, anxious, scared of failure, and pressured to preform. While I can pursue a cause I’m passionate about with incredible determination, I do it one insightful, intuitive, feel-it-out step at a time. With a schedule or routine, I’m more likely to throw in the towel if I find myself unable to follow it perfectly.
Knowing this about me, it might make sense as to why I’ve chosen to set four small goals each month that will help me accomplish manageable things through out the year that can make a big difference in the long run. It’s been an attempt to grow out of my dis-comfort zone with goal setting, by being realistic with what I can accomplish without pressuring myself. This month is a big step for me – establishing routines. And to be honest, I am afraid of trying because I’m afraid of failing.
Something has to change. This propensity to keep my “options open” also makes me prone to feel like there is more on my plate all the time. At any given moment I have to choose among dozens of desirable ambitions, necessary tasks and legitimate uses of my time. This creates a lot of unintentional inward and external traffic: pressure to evaluate and select the “best” thing at a moment’s notice, an overwhelming sense that everything I need to do is something I should be doing right now. The little things that should be an automatic function of family life become additional items on the “to do” list that I try to juggle in my unstructured time. It’s hard to know if I’m really accomplishing what I want when I have no standard to measure with.
Another downside to being over-flexible and ultra-open-ended: putting off basic self-care to attend to more “pressing” needs in the moment. For me, this is a wonderfully convincing, incredibly adorable little person who seems moments away from meltdown if I make the wrong choice. In my desire to prioritize engaging well with him, I – more often than I want to admit – start the day without brushing my hair or teeth, skip breakfast, don’t clean up from making meals, neglect picking up clothes after I shower (if I shower) and the list goes on. This creates a backlog of work do be done and compromises my ability to be my best self because my basic needs are being very erratically met, if at all.
I need to convince myself that I don’t have to always put off my own needs in order to meet my family’s needs. I am choosing to take a leap of faith against my fear of failure to believe that with a little structure, along with implementing creative strategies and healthy boundaries, I can do this! In fact, I must learn to meet my own needs in order to function at my best and be able to better meet the needs of others. I want my toddler to look up to a mommy who values herself and takes the time and patience to teach him that others have needs too. I want him to experience that part of being a family is learning the dance of give-and-take as we help, love and serve each other.
I don’t know what your experience has been in the area of schedules and routines, but as parents it seems we are often focused on establishing routines for our children – naptime, mealtime, bath time and bedtime to name a few – but often don’t do so for ourselves. Maybe out of neglect, oversight, or as in my case, fear. Fear that a routine or schedule would constrict me, cause me to miss out on something I rather be doing, or need to be doing to meet a deadline or live out my higher priorities and values.
For example, in the past few years, I have hesitated setting a “bedtime” for myself because I haven’t wanted to put restrictions on my “me” time. I cherish time alone in a quiet house to unwind, catch up on blogging, edit photos, build my photography business, or connect with my hubby. But not setting healthy boundaries to limit this time often leads to a grumpy, unrested mommy who can’t process well or function at her best, which of course compounds my tendency for inefficiency and disorganization.
Unless I take care of my basic needs as consistently as possible, I won’t be able to model a healthy lifestyle for my son, fully enjoy parenting, succeed at my professional goals or have the energy reserves to maximize the opportunities to enjoy kid-free fun when they arise. Even when I do take time to myself, I won’t benefit from it as much as if I were rested. Regular, consistent sleep not only prevents fatigue, but is also essential for balancing hormones, improving brain function, emotional regulation and body composition, all of which helps to lessen several risk factors for disease processes. By not setting boundaries on my time in the late evening, I’m really compromising my overall health and wellbeing, which is not good for me or my family.
Living without structure keeps me from having true “free time.” I always feel like I should be getting things done, even if I have been working all day without a break. I have found myself using a cherished hour of “me time” on chores that seem likely to lower my stress load once accomplished – like cleaning the cluttered kitchen or drudging through piles of laundry – instead of doing something truly refreshing for rest and rejuvenation.
Of course, I know there will always be more to do around the house and establishing routines won’t prevent my plate from being a very full balancing act. I hope it will at least give me more of a sense of purpose and helpful boundaries so that I will know when I need to focus on each task and then move on and leave what is left for another time.
Weekly March Goals: Routine
Week One – Establish A Nightly Bedtime Routine – Most of you likely already have a nightly routine in place, whether it is intentional or by default. I find that in the late evening, I get preoccupied by all the tasks I didn’t get to earlier in the day. Inevitably, at least half the time I end up staying up until my son’s first waking (or second, on a bad night) and then crashing as I’m putting him back to sleep without taking my supplements, changing into clothes I will be comfortable sleeping in, etc. This, of course, compromises my quality of sleep and leaves me feeling disoriented and one step behind in the morning. I plan to give myself a “curfew” and create a bedtime routine that helps me stay current on basic self care while also creating an ideal environment for restful sleep.
Week Two – Establish a Morning Routine – Since my alarm clock tends to be my early rising toddler, it’s easy for me to get carried away into the day without making space for myself. While he’s dressed, fed and playing with me at his side, I often find myself unkempt, unfed and barely throwing something decent on as I scurry around to get out the door on our way to run errands, appointments, activities or playgroups. I want to establish a simple list of things I do each morning before I move on with the rest of my day, even if it means facing the transitional growing pains of helping my little guy get creative as he adjusts to mommy’s new boundaries for self care.
Week Three – Establish a Weekly Routine for Household Duties & Self Care – Once I have these daily rhythms in place, I want to experiment with setting specific days of the week or times during the day for tasks like meal planning, prep and cleanup, grocery shopping, laundry and exercise. I also want to carve out and protect time for family activities, connecting with my hubby, personal time and professional time for building my home photography business. Hopefully by adding some structure I will eliminate much of my sense of overwhelm, and increase my ability to be effective, focused and calm while working on each of these tasks.
Week Four – Solidify Child Routines – After bringing some order to my own life, I plan to examine my toddler’s routines and analyze what is working well and what needs some fresh restructuring. I plan to make visual charts for my son to involve him more in our daily routines to empower him to participate. I hope that setting better boundaries and expectations will help increase his cooperation in maintaining an effective flow to life. I’ll have to let you know how it goes!! Planning to give myself lots of grace in making monumental baby steps toward a healthier lifestyle.
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I hope you’ll join us in setting some helpful, healthy routines in the month of March. Already have effective routines in place? Please share your own need for or experience with routines below!