A couple of weeks ago I stumbled onto a book that has literally changed the way I think of myself as a mother! It's called Steady Days: A Journey Toward Intentional, Professional Motherhood. Its basic message is that being a mother is a profession just like any other and when you think about being a professional, you don't think of someone who has no plan for their day, who drifts from one thing to another not knowing what to do and when to do it. You think of someone with a plan to their day, goals that they want to achieve and someone who enjoys their job!
I love being a stay at home mom with my kids and I love feeling organized. Those 2 statements don't often seem to go together in motherhood and I would find myself letting little things get in the way of having a good day with me kids. Things like not having time to unload the dishwasher, get the laundry done, cleaning the house... all these things are relatively unimportant when you put them next to spending time with your kids, but they are necessary to keeping the house running smoothly and everyone feeling happy (and clean!). I also found that my kids, (Matthew in particular) would follow me around the house asking to play with me the whole time, telling me he wanted to do 'something fun' or 'something new', especially when Emily went down for a nap. I was feeling frustrated that he couldn't or wouldn't play on his own, that I couldn't get anything done that needed to be done and that the time we did spend together just didn't feel as happy as it could be. A whole day at home with the kids was becoming something I tried to avoid because I felt like there wasn't enough for them to do in the house and my overwhelming urge was to go out and buy a truck load of new toys!
So the title of this book really appealed to me. I liked the sound of "steady days". I know that I am a far happier person when I am organized (as I have discovered with my monthly meal planning!), so when I read the description of the book: "Steady Days takes you through the process of becoming a professional mother: one who is organized and excited to spend time with your young children." I knew I had to get it. As soon as I got it from the library I read it cover to cover in one night. I was excited about the ideas on how to work out a routine for your days, how to have really good time with your kids, playing with them, teaching them, making memories with them and so I started implementing what I had read the next day.
Here are a few of the changes you will see around our house now:
A Steady routine:
(Click here to see my new daily routine)
When I first saw the very detailed and organized routine that she gave as an example in the book, my first thought was that I couldn't possible have a routine like that - my kids are too young, our days are not structured enough, etc, etc. I decided to just jot down a basic routine instead. But one afternoon when I had some free time, I decided to just see if I could work out our daily routine, to see where the time went in the day and what exactly I was doing with the kids. I was amazed at how little I actually got done - with the kids and with my own to-do list, so I tried to write up a better, more organized routine. I found little bits of time all over the place that could be put to better use and that would leave me feeling organized and accomplished at the end of the day.
The author talks about structured play, where you choose a toy/activity to sit down with and really play with the kids one-on-one (or in my case, one-on-two!). We rotate the toys, so each day is different, So for example, on Monday we played with the toy cars and fire house, making up emergencies for the fire engine to respond to. On Tuesday, we brought out the indoor tent and tunnel to play with, on Wednesday, we played 'restaurant' with the kitchen and so on.
I stopped doing craft time with Matthew in the afternoons when Emily got bigger as she would just eat the paint, suck on the markers, etc and so the only time we had for that was during her naps and it was becoming an issue where Matthew felt that we could only do fun things when Emily was sleeping. You can imagine how sad it is to hear Matthew pleading with me not to go and pick Emily up once she awoke because he didn't want to stop playing with playdough! So I've decided that it's time Emily learnt how to not eat everything on front of her, and time that Matthew learnt that it's fun to play with Emily as well! So we have a craft activity in the afternoon now.
I've found that when I am able to be specific and say to Matthew, "Mommy needs to unpack the dishwasher and put a load of laundry in and then I am coming to play with you", he happily goes off to play by himself because he knows that I will come and get him for our next 'activity' when I am done. I also find that instead of just letting the kids play with a toy until they get bored with it and start whining or fighting, that by moving onto the next activity, it has resolved most of that and the toys are still exciting to play with next time!
I have added to my Steady routine, a household chores and laundry schedule. A good friend passed on some advice that she had read regarding keeping your house clean. Each day you clean one thing in your house (e.g bathrooms, or dusting, or mopping), you don't worry about the rest (unless it's really dirty!), you don't feel guilty that you haven't done everything all at once and you get to move on and spend more time with your kids. I was finding that having a messy house was getting me down and I would try to fit in a whole day of cleaning while the kids were crying or moaning about me not being with them. This way, I get my chore done and don't worry about the next chore until the next day!
I've also got time for physical play - outside if possible, but since it's not always possible, I want to try and give the kids some physical activity inside as well, such as hide and seek, obstacle courses, dancing, etc. I also have some intentional play, where we play in the playroom without a structure but with me being more conscious of my role in playing with them. And I find that I can enjoy this time with them since I know that my time to get the other household chores done will be available later.
The other thing that I've started doing is making time for story time. We've always had loads of books around, and both kids get stories before naps and bed, but I realized that I don't often sit down and read to them in the middle of the day. It's usually reserved for bedtime/naptime. So now we have 15min of reading in the evening before Hilton gets home which is a lovely quiet time. I turn on some soothing music at 5pm which I just love and just kind of sets the tone for the day winding down.
As well as a Steady routine, I have made files for the kids to store some of their best artwork and to write down the "story" behind it. They are called "Look at me files" and I'm also recording their current interests, favorite things, handprints etc. I love scrapbooking, but I just haven't found the time to catch up on my backlog and so I'm missing out on what is happening now. By having these files, I am able to record in an easy way what is happening now instead of feeling bad that my scrapbooks aren't up to date.
A Steady Learning Board: Another idea I took from the book was a bulletin board that was filled with the things that the kids are currently interested in and things we're "teaching" them at them moment. I have it up in the dinning room and it's been a real success so far. Almost every meal we talk about what is up there and it really focuses the table conversation a lot more. An example of the things I have on the board are: the Season, colors, shapes, an airplane and South African flag. The animals that Emily is learning (sheep, cow, duck, etc). We also have the kids artwork displayed on or around it and they seem to love seeing their work up on display.
A Steady Home Planner: This is just a file that holds all my important things, such as my daily routine, me household chores/laundry schedule, our monthly meal planner, important contact numbers, to-do lists. Included are a section for my goals for the year, for myself and the areas that I want to focus on with the kids, such as the signs that I'm wanting to teach Emily, and things like safety and sharing for Matthew. For myself I have some broad goals and some more specific ones. This file follows me around the house and I have it constantly open to check things. I also have a section in there called "Mom's favorite moments" where I can jot down funny things that Matthew or Emily say and do, places we go or important things that happen in their lives. I'm really pleased that I've found a way to record the memories we're making together!
Steady Blessings: A small journal to write down what I'm thankful for each day. A nice way to focus on how incredible lucky I am!
So that is basically my new "routine", etc. I love the feeling of calm that has seemed to settle on the house since we've implemented it. I love the fact that I am really enjoying time with my kids and I love the fact that it's able to get me through the days that aren't so great either! I knew it was working when on Friday, I was just having a low day and feeling a bit out of sorts and we went through the routine, spent time together, got the household chore done, had some good craft time together, and basically had a busy, fun filled afternoon together. I know that in the past, a day like that would have resulted in extra tv for the kids (so I could just sit and do nothing for a bit longer), more bickering between the kids and between the kids and I, and all of us feeling cranky by the time bedtime came. Instead we had a structure to our day and I knew what we were going to do and we moved from activity to activity and had a decent afternoon.
Thank goodness that motherhood is a journey of discovery and that we aren't stuck with the first thing we try with our kids! I have learnt so much in the short time that I've had my kids, and I know that the learning is going to continue - thankfully! This routine is really working for us at the moment - who knows what the future holds, but for now, I'm loving being a Steady mom!