String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.
This is a transcript of a talk on parenting wisdom that I gave at the local library. We all live at such a distance from one other I thought I’d just put it all up here. It’s geared to parents of children under age three, but the lessons are forever. Please share.
Often we approach our job as parents like this:
“I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“I’m over my head!”
“I’m ruining my kid.”
So we seek more information, come to workshops, and pick up new tips. We want to give our children a solid advantage and even a head start. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I take a different approach. I like to help you find the wisdom you already possess, help you find your own way, and help you feel more secure in your everyday life so that you can say:
“We made it through. We did OK. It was a good day.”
String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a piece of art, a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.
They say that children don’t come with instructions, so I’m not going to give you any new instructions. I want to talk about two tools that you already have, but that you may not be using enough.
Routine and Ritual
These words might annoy you or even terrify you. You might say to yourself:
“I tried to get on a schedule, but my kids are just not like that.”
“My life’s not that organized.”
“We’re more creative and spontaneous.”
“I can’t fit it all in.”
So I want to simplify this for you. I want to make it seem easy. Because routine and ritual are the source of security, love and learning.
What do I mean by routine and ritual?
Routine means Time. And Ritual means Attention.
These are probably the very two things you think you don’t have: time and attention. Even though you might secretly realize that you should be giving more time and attention to your children, you can’t seem to find a way to do it without going crazy.
Let’s make it easy enough to do every day. Time and attention complement each other. You can’t be aware of time without attention. That’s when you realize that time and attention are really the same thing.
Time has much more meaning when you have children. First, you feel like you have none – at least nowhere near the time you had without children, when you were free to fritter away all your time! And the other thing you feel is how valuable, how very precious time is – and it’s going too fast. You feel as if you have no time to spare, no time on your hands, and no time to waste.
This is a feeling that doesn’t go away. Not for the rest of your life. And not for the rest of their lives. But you can find a way to cope with it.
Remember when you used to feel like you had time? I want you to feel like that again. To do that, you literally have to put time into your hands! You have to become the timekeeper. You have to keep time.
This is what I mean by routine. Routine is when you have a time that you do things:
You notice what I did was just put “time” after the activity? You are the one who gets to do that. You get to decide. And by making that decision, by setting the time and following through, you have created a routine.
Routines create structure, regularity and dependability out of chaos. They make you feel more confident and secure, and that makes your child feel more confident and secure. You can both relax because you know what’s coming next.
Routines are not inflexible. They are not punitive. Don’t think of your routine as a way to enforce your authority. Think of it as a way to let your life flow. Routines are liberating! They help us to grow! They are good for us, because they tell us what time it is!
Everything you do for your child you do for yourself. What helps them, helps you, because you are in this together.
That brings us to ritual.
When I talk about the routines of mealtime, playtime, bathtime and bedtime maybe you realize something. Just as time is attention, routine is ritual.
What is ritual? A ritual is a ceremony or a sacred act (and I don’t mean religious) performed with care and attention. You do it in a certain way at a certain time. You may not be very religious at all, but you perform many rituals each day.
Making coffee or tea
Fixing your hair
Brushing your teeth
What you are teaching your child as you do these things is, “This is the way we live.”
Rituals are often made ceremonial with a song. When my daughter was little we had songs for certain activities, like “The Bath Song” and “The Walking Song.” Heck, I made up a song for everything (and remember, what we do for our children we do for ourselves).
You’ll notice in preschools how songs are used to transition between activities. The kids learn a song: “Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share . . . “ and so on, which reminds me:
Everything you need to know as a parent you can learn in preschool.
Let’s focus on the two daily events that we most need to ritualize in our homes. Why? So they become a healthy routine. Those are mealtimes and bedtimes.
These are the events that cause parents the most frustration and fear. How do you get the kids to eat right? How do you get the kids to sleep right? In both cases, you get to decide. But that also means you have to make them routine, with a routine time, place and way.
In the evenings, at least, they really flow one into the other, especially with small children. Mealtime is followed by bathtime is followed by
Now, are they are ritualized? I don’t mean with incense and candles, but in other ways, by doing them the same way every time.
What’s so powerful about these activities is that they require you to give your time and attention to the very thing you love more than anything else in the world: your children. You have to participate. You have to come together with nothing else on your mind. You have to surrender yourself, your distractions and preferences, to being with your child during bathtime and bedtime, so:
Make it fun – not punishment
Make it special – just between you
Make it routine — the same way
and that makes it a ritual
No matter how young your child is, bedtime is a magical opportunity to introduce music and reading to the ritual.
Remember, what you do for your child, you do for yourself.
Every book you read aloud to your child is a book you are reading to yourself. The lesson it contains is for you. Every song you sing you sing to yourself. The love and reassurance in it are for you.
Ritual and routine are your own intuitive parenting wisdom, just waiting to be put to use. Through them, you will always return to balance, security, health and well being.
I’ve told you that routine and ritual are simply words for time and attention. And now I’ll tell you why that really matters. I know you love your children. You love them even when you don’t like them! You may tell them a thousand times a day, but that’s not enough. You have to show them.
Attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give.