Schedule UnschedulePost written by Traci McGrath on 17 January 2012
Today we feature a guest post from one of our Simplicity Parenting group leaders, Marianne Donahue Perchlick, a certified Parent mentor and childbirth coach in Vermont:
Each time I introduce the third pillar of simplicity, scheduling, I often say, “perhaps we ought to call it ‘unschedule’ because what we attempt to do in creating a schedule is to create time for empty spaces, connection with one another, daydreams and self care. Another way to describe it is “you cannot transform what you are not aware of.” A schedule offers us on a spiritual level as the leader of our family, a full awareness, an eagle’s eye view, of our family’s movement and activity during each week.
I was as disorganized and disinclined to schedule as anyone you will find on the planet. In fact, I was resistant to creating a schedule as if it were an opposing political party or strange religious sect. “I’m too spontaneous for a schedule. I like it to be fun.” “Schedules are for people whose hair ribbons match their sox- NOT ME!” “I don’t have those skills.” “I can’t do it!”
You can imagine what a fraud I felt like the first time I led a Simplicity Parenting session on scheduling. I remember offering the paper and pencils to everyone and saying, “I don’t know what to do either, let’s just try it.” I was so nervous I couldn’t even remember what my family did so I just concentrated on a nice color combination of pencils. Hey, it’s a start!
For some time after that I would suggest to my family, “I think we ought to have a regular family meeting and make a schedule.” Though the hum of the bustling activity, and the outbreaks of fighting over who was making us late, what was there to eat for lunch and of course, where are the sox, always drowned out the chance of ….a schedule, confirming “ I can’t do it, it’s not me.”
I did something this summer to mark my intention to simplify. I stopped. I stopped offering simplicity parenting and other groups. I stopped volunteering. I stopped making plans. My children are now 13, 11 and 8 and one might think that at this point I would have more time for “work”. And yet I chose to stop working and doing many other things in part because I was so deeply dissatisfied with the ways we had begun to communicate. I was saddened by the fighting and sarcasm developing between my children. I found the sounds of sarcasm and fighting was bringing up a lot of fear within myself and found myself often feeling angry. Being over-scheduled did not improve this condition.
I never would have thought that scheduling had anything to do with how I was feeling or my children’s communication skills. I simply stopped in part because I recognized that my oldest will be entering high school in two years and this may be one of the last summers that we all spend together. I decided to think about our summer vacation as an opportunity to build the sibling relationships. I stopped seeking out play dates and sleepovers so that I could work, and honored the primary work I have chosen, to be present as a mother. My husband had a busier than usual summer of work so I decided to accept that he was not going to be available, stop offering classes and use the time I might find to create a yearly schedule for myself that would then be awebsite for my offerings. This activity would also have an intention of caring for myself and keeping me home and quiet so that I could offer my attention toward improving the dynamics between my children.
This morning is day 2 of the school year. At 6:55am we all sat down to blueberry pancakes. The children had helped pick 20 gallons of blueberries during August. The table was decorated with bouquets of flowers that the children had harvested harmoniously together yesterday. My 13 year old daughter had arranged them. All three children had practiced their musical instruments. They had already prepared their lunches for the leftover dinner last night.
- Quite simply, a schedule.
- In devoting my summer to my relationships with them I certainly put other passions of mine on hold, in addition to my work. However I gave myself a summer of spontaneity as well in which I could observe how to schedule my passions so that they each got the attention they needed. I determined for example that in the coming year I only have space for one simplicity parenting group. I offer childbirth education classes also and begin to identify formats with my family life in my consideration. Even though I had to set aside recording music that I have been working on for months, I could practice and develop songs that I would plan to record when the children returned to school. In fact, I don’t even enjoy recording as much as I enjoy developing songs, I observed. As I developed my music in the summer months the children became more interested in their instruments and wanted to to play with me. A dream come true that I didn’t plan on.
Day 3 of back to school: rosemary potatoes, eggs and a few remaining blueberry pancakes, on the table at 6:50am. Instruments practiced and packed up for lessons, rain gear, athletic gear, loaded into the car by each child. Lunches also prepared by the children. Animals fed. Dishes in the dishwasher. Arrival at school 20 minutes early. Here I sit, 30 minutes early for an appointment. I notice it was easy to park and everyone is so cheerful.
Let me confide to those who don’t know me well that I have always been a chronically late person. As I stepped into the drivers seat today I asked myself, what is different?
Quite simply, getting an effective schedule that everyone agreed to is not so simple. As crucial as the itemized weekly chronicle of after school activities AND menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it would be a flat and powerless piece of paper if the family as a whole had not participated in its authoring and drawing up.
As I asked myself “what’s different?” I realized that what is different is that last year I was packing each lunch according to the complaints of each child. I was cooking the breakfast and leaving it for myself to clean up. I was often dashing back to the house to get a forgotten lunch, pair of sneakers, homework or violin. I complained instead of asking for help. My children whined impotently in response not knowing how to respond.
Some of the subtle steps I had to take to arrive at my schedule is that I had to decide to harness my own attention and focus it on communicating and relating to my children. I had to learn how to ask for help. Not asking for help was a deeply formed habit I got to split with my ax. The result was children sensing my presence, offering new channels for all of us to ask for our needs to be met and to respond to one another. ! Observing our habits of communication is an ongoing exercise introduced in Simplicity Parenting Groups. We all form habits and unconsciously model those habits to our children. Perhaps we always state our needs, or we never do. Perhaps we talk on and on, while others in the family remain silent. We may wonder why our child demands things or whines. More than likely, it is an exaggerated form perhaps, yet a form that they have learned from us. Each habit can become a skill when we have the awareness of its presence and can choose it, or it can be a symptom when we are unaware and chained to one particular routine in communication.
It was my 13 year old who finally announced, “I want to have a family meeting because I don’t want to be late this year.” I had been talking about a family meeting for months. Here it was emerging from the children in the final week of summer vacation as if sprung from our group mind. It could not be more ideal in retrospect that my eldest child initiated this discussion. While she began insistent that the problem was that everyone needed to waken earlier, I was poised to ask questions about the relationship between lunch preparation and being late. As a group we all observed other delays and the children themselves noted that if they knew what we had for making lunches, they would be happy to make them and, they observed, “then we can’t complain about what is in our lunch.” Together we penned a weekly schedule. They decided they preferred having leftover dinner for lunches and didn’t like sandwiches at all, so we quickly penned the dinners. Everyone agreed if we all knew what was for breakfast we could all help to make it, and so we included the breakfast plans for each day as well.
It is now January. We made it through the entire autumn semester almost without being late for school, we began to have some near misses toward the holidays. As the winter break came to an end the children said they wanted to have another meeting about the schedule because they felt it slipping. I was delighted because I could introduce having regular bathing times that complimented our routine. I had noticed that messy heads often created trouble in the morning and also, I was intent on introducing more self care habits to the children for their own relaxation. They easily embraced this new suggestion and recognized the value of it immediately after seeing the success of our fall schedule.
With our new schedule on display I can write up a grocery list that pinpoints our needs in under ten minutes. The children have observed themselves, “gee it looks like there are too many things in my week, I want to let go of something.”
The BIG success in this story is really that the “before” picture included a lot of blame. Children blaming each other for making us late. Sometimes the blame took the form of sarcasm and teasing. Though not out loud, I found I was often blaming everyone for creating a misery of endless chores for me that I bore in patient and ineffective self sacrifice. The “after” picture is a shared dream of cooperation and understanding…. dare I say it…. loving connection and even ….yes….happiness.
Marianne Donahue Perchlick is a certified parenting mentor, Simplicity Parenting group leader, and birthing coach. You can learn more about her work and connect with her on her website, www.vermontseedsoflove.com, and her blog, http://lovebirthing.wordpress.com.