“Islands in the stream, that is what we are…”
Does anyone else remember that old country song by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers? It was one of my favorites when I was kid, and I just heard it on the radio the other day for the first time in years. It got me thinking about simplifying, surprise, surprise, not so much about simplifying my physical belongings, but about James and my efforts to simplify our family life so we can better focus on what is truly important to us. I love symbolism, and the song made me think of how our daily actions and rhythm are the ‘islands’ in our family’s life, with the stream of time and responsibilities rushing by us each day. Hopefully our daily rhythm and family schedule provides some solid ground for each of us to stop and rest so we can enjoy the flow of ‘life’. I know, pretty deep thinking, but just follow me here.
I came across this term when I was first reading about simplifying, and I’ve loved using it. It’s basically an expression for your daily schedule, or routine. You know, the one that happens naturally each day, the order in which you get up, make breakfast, maybe relax outside for a bit, help the kids get dressed, eventually brush your teeth, then continue on through the day’s activities. We all have a rhythm, or pattern, that we have either mindfully or just naturally created for our family and ourselves. I have found that adjusting our daily rhythm can have dramatic positive and/or negative effects for our family. We all like consistency, but children seem to crave it, knowing what to expect each day, what they can rely on. My youngest child especially needs the consistency. Just a few days ago, he informed me that I was off track on my menu for lunch and dinner (I keep it posted on the fridge), even though he didn’t even like the meals I had planned! I asked him if it bothered him that I was a changing thing around a bit, and he admitted that it did. Some children need that consistency and security more than others.
The nice thing about rhythm is that it doesn’t mean every minute of everyday has to be scheduled and planned. But, it does mean that you intentionally decide what is important enough to include each day in your family life. What are the ‘islands’ that will help you pause in the stream of busyness that is life? James and I have discussed many times what we feel are important parts of our family rhythm, and have come up with the following that we have incorporated over time into our daily life. It’s definitely not a complete list of what we do each day, but I would consider these the unmoving ‘islands’ of our day.
-Morning routine. We all have our own personal morning routines of how we wake up, stretch, get dressed, and eat breakfast. I’ve noticed my daughter likes to wake up and lay in bed reading for a half hour. One of my sons likes to come immediately to our room if I’m not up yet and get a ‘morning hug’. My middle child lounges on the couch quietly until I am up, and then is somehow starving immediately! Each family member has his or her own way of waking up and starting the day. Our rhythm here is that we all have the personal space we need to start the day out in the best way possible for ourself.
-Meal eaten together. Usually at dinner, we all sit down together and eat. During the rest of the day we are more relaxed about our meals and have more of a ‘grazing’ mentality, with everyone eating when they feel hungry. At dinner, we have a family journal of sorts that has a new question each day for all of us to answer. We write down our answers, and compare how they change year to year.
-Dinner chores. As much as the kids dislike chores, they know and accept as part of our rhythm that they have chores after dinner to help clean up the kitchen. It is interesting that when something becomes part of our daily routine, even something like a chore, there are rarely anymore complaints. It just becomes accepted as part of our lives, and actually mentioned if it is overlooked.
-Family meetings. Every evening before the kids go to bed, we all sit down and take turns telling each other about our day. Each person gets their turn to tell all the good parts and all the frustrating experiences they had that day. We have learned a lot about what bothers each other, what makes us happy and how to change behaviors so the next day can be even better.
James starts residency at the end of this month. This will change up our whole family rhythm, and I’m a little scared. We celebrate our 13th anniversary two days before he will start going to the hospital everyday for 12-hour shifts. This will be the first time in our marriage and lives as parents that he will not be around to help as much with all of our daily activities. We have been slowly changing our routine the past several months so we can transition over to this new part of life as smoothly as possible. We don’t want the ‘islands’ we’ve created for our family to be washed downstream, but they may need to change shape, which is just a natural course as our life current increases. Just like the chorus in a song picks up tempo, then slows again for another verse, our life rhythm changes as well over time, but being intentional about what is included in that rhythm makes all the difference.
And for your enjoyment….