There was a B. C. life for us. Before children, weekends were stretched out and aimless. We'd travel out of town, nap as long as we wanted, eat when we wanted (no groceries? Who cares. Pizza to the rescue!) Now that we live in the world where there's not a decision I make that isn't influenced by our kids, the rhythm of our days live in that truth as well.
Like most other families in the world, we're busy. Days can move past me with almost frightening speed and this winter I've found myself more than once baffled by how it got to be Wednesday, or Friday or even Monday again. As mamas we've made focused efforts to add rythm to our days to both prevent this blur from taking hold of us but more importantly from causing our kiddos confusion about where they are in the world and to prevent them from feeling disconnected from it all.
Finding Rhythm; Morning, Midday & Evening
When Mr. Toddler moved in, his world was upside down. Almost right away we worked hard as mamas to create routines to bind us to the rhythm of morning, midday and evening times. That said, here's a fun fact. Bear with me for a second here. DYK cortisol, the stress hormone, has a natural ebb and flow in all of our lives on a daily basis? It's concentration is highest in the morning, eases to mid point at midday and tapers as afternoon slides into evening. From an evolutionary standpoint this makes total sense, right? We need as much help as possible in the morning to rally and get going. Midday we can begin to settle. As melatonin kicks in, cortisol should slip away to allow us to wind down and fall softly into bedtime. So here's one of the many, many bummers about a chaotic childhood; trauma, placement disruption, loss, violence...all of these experiences cause constant surges in cortisol, which leads to a higher constant level of cortisol in your blood because you've normed yourself to needing that much stress hormone to keep yourself on your toes in dangerous situations. Most kiddos who've lived their life in chaotic homes have a baseline level of cortisol that would be panic inducing in the general populace.
So, when little kids and big kids move into our home, one of the first things we do as a new family is build in rhythm and routines through consistency.
For our two little guys, currently we wake up, get dressed and talk about the story of our day. I do a lot of narrative preemptive planning with Mr. Toddler- as in talking about next steps. "After we do diapers and get dressed were going downstairs for smoothie and screen time." "After screen time's done, were doing boots, hat and coat to get ready for preschool." It can be exhausting sometimes to prep and prep and prep. And. I'm always glad when I do, as he does so much better when he knows what's happening. Even if what I'm saying causes meltdowns, at least the knowledge that it's going to be hard is on the table for us.
I use the same cup every morning for Mr. Toddler's green breakfast smoothie. He sees it coming out, he knows what it's for. He has a lot of anxiety and challenges with food; how much he gets, when it's coming next, how to allow us to help him clear it away when he's had enough. Building some routines in helped a lot with his constant anxiety over mealtimes and food. He couldn't be in the kitchen for awhile as he'd become too angry and distressed when food was cooking. Now? He is on my back in the ergo pack and I talk him though the cooking process. He tries small amounts of everything as we go (which incidentally is how I found out what he actually likes versus what he'll eat just because it's there). It's getting a little better, teeny bit by bit.
We play games in the car and have songs we sing and drum to when we drive. It's our car routine. And not for nothing, we have a quiet time routine in the car too because everyone needs silence sometimes. Car rides used to be super stressful as Mr. Toddler would ask to be held or picked up when we were driving or just scream when we wouldn't take him out of his carseat right away. We find that the smallest games & rituals we create tend to be most effective & stick around. The way we do car rides now has some ebb and flow. It's helping.
In our home we really, really love sleep. I mean every sleep deprived parent does, amiriiiight? To help Mr. Toddler's cortisol drop and to help us get into a more normal nighttime routine, we start dimming the lights right after dinner (every- and I mean every- light switch has a dimmer on it-I switched them out one day and I'm so glad I did). Screens are off and quiet music plays in the background (big fans of guitarist, Andy McGee) while he plays and we clean up. After clean-up it's bath time, signaling the end of the day. I've never seen a kiddo get so excited for this time of day-a far cry from where we started. He loves it, thanks in large part to shaving cream. We practice letters in shaving cream on the tub wall, fill up cups and toy boats and draw characters from favorite books were about to read. After bath it's Jammie's, books and snuggling. Sometimes he has a hard time falling asleep so with lights out, he has the option of playing with his turtle star nightlight. Boom. Before we know it, his eyes get heavy, his breathing gets deeper and he's out.
Progress: Beginning, Middle and End
It's not easy but it's getting easier. We used to struggle over every. Single. Step. Tantrums and screaming over clean up, ending meals, talking off bibs and clothes and putting new socks on. You name it and it was an epic battle. But what works for us is to find small ways and sustainable ways to make our days rhythmic. To have a beginning, middle and end to things so we help build some sense of predictability and safety for our kiddos. In the back of our minds, the other piece were always navigating as mamas in this parenting gig, is to ask ourselves what's our end goal here? What's the reason I'm choosing to make this rule or routine or discipline? Where do I hope this takes you in the long run? For us right now, I'm hoping this little life we are building together begins to feel predictable and you start to feel in your belly that days start and end. Your days have things you expect and hope for and things that surprise you. I don't need to teach my kids that life is hard. They know that already. What I do hope to help them discover is that life is largely made up of small moments that are then stitched together and called Days. Everyone in this world chooses what feels familiar and comforting. Some people who had supportive families and safe enough lives get a good deal here- they'll keep choosing jobs, relationship and partners who are supportive and safe. My kids are up against a different familiar and I hope to do some shifting here as we move forward as a little family together.
Our choice in building rhythm goes something like this - hey kids, someday you'll get to choose all the things that go into your day. Someday you'll get to choose all the people in your life and when you finally get to do this, I hope you choose what feels familiar and good to you. I hope you choose people and connections to this world that help you find rhythm, safety, fun and amazing food. I hope you feel love for yourself as your days unfold. I know you'll have worked hard for it and I know it'll be hard when you get there. And for today right now were all still in this little family boat together and I wouldn't have it any other way.
-Foster Mom (the therapist)