I've received several emails -- heartfelt emails from other mothers who are "in this" right now -- since my last post. Many of you, both commenters and those of you who have privately emailed me, wanted to hear more of my household management and parenting tips. The first thing that I'd like to say -- before I get into some concrete suggestions that have really been helpful to me and my family -- is that I am not a good household manager in general. In fact, it would be not only untrue, but really laughable to call me so, as most of my friends will confirm. But I do have some things that I do well in that arena.
The biggest thing that I can offer as advice, a piece of advice that I have been given by my own mother many times over the last six years (it took some time for it to sink in for me) is that children must eat supper early if they are expected to be asleep early. If you are pretty good about keeping yourself and your little ones moving along from one thing to the next in an efficient manner, then two hours from the start of supper to the time you intend for them to be asleep is about right. If you or they tend to dawdle, then it may need to be even earlier! (And therefore you might have to work in a bedtime snack about 60-75 minutes before their intended asleep time.) There's a book called The Seven-O'Clock Bedtime which speaks to this as well. [I read The Seven-O'Clock Bedtime several years ago and there were many things in it that did not resonate for me in my particular circumstance -- we share a bed with our little ones (Elisabeth is in her own bed now, although I often put her to bed with James in the big bed and then transfer her later), I have no problem with allowing my babies to nurse to sleep, and of course, we aren't working with an external school schedule. In other ways, though, I thought that the advice given in the book was pretty good.]
What this ends up looking like for our family on most days (my cello teaching days are usually an exception) is that I start making dinner at about 3:30 and have it on the table at 5:00. When I first started doing this, it was a huge paradigm shift for me. It felt so strange to be making dinner so early in the afternoon. But I made myself get into the habit, and it has ended up working really well for our family most of the time. After dinner, there is not a lot of time for doing other activities before bed, but the children do usually play outside for about 20 minutes while I check email or something. (My husband does the dishes because he is a super hero.) Then, by 6:00, we are getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, and beginning bedtime stories. I also sing, say verses and prayers, and usually light a candle during this time. James is asleep before 7:00 virtually every night, and Elisabeth understands that she needs to stay in bed, even if it takes her a little bit longer to fall asleep. She has just started falling asleep without my being present in the last year or so, and it was like a miracle to me! She was (and is) very intense, very "high-need", very active, and very demanding of attention and energy from me. I never believed she'd be able to fall asleep on her own, but lo and behold, even the most high-need child will eventually be able to do it. So, have faith, mamas! It does get easier!
Anyway, although I know when I outline this, it sounds like a very rigid schedule, we are really just doing the same things that we have always done (even in the days when they were asleep much later), but I just make sure to start supper early. That has really been the key. Once you have them fed, it becomes much less of a struggle to get them off to bed.
For us, the key has been to think of it more organically -- as an organic rhythm rather than a rigid schedule -- and to find things in our day (like the dinner preparation-eating-getting to bed process) that we can work on in a consistent way each day. I have discovered that "instituting a schedule" is a much different thing than living with a rhythm. But that's another post all its own!
Another piece of household management advice I can offer relates to meal planning. Since this post is already super long, how about on Wednesday I'll share photos of tomorrow's dinner making process and talk about my approach to meal planning and cooking?
Tonight I'm off to do some cello playing, and tomorrow a very dear friend and her two wee ones are spending the day here with us. So see you Wednesday!