Slowing Down

I have a confession to make: I am constantly in a rush. In fact, the more I think I about it, the more that I can see how much of my life is spent hurrying. I hurry through my morning shower, through my breakfast, through my work, through my homework, through my shopping, through my cooking and through my cleaning. Often, as I rush around, I have my 9-year-old and 5-year-old in tow, which means I’m hurrying them along.

hurrying rushing time slowing down alarm clockWhen my first child was born, my hurrying habit was temporarily broken. I went from spending most of my time at work to spending all of my time, day and night, with my newborn. Infants don’t understand concepts like schedules, so there was simply no point to hurrying. Any parent can tell you, though, that children grow quickly. My babies turned into toddlers and preschoolers and school-aged children. I went back to work, first in an office and then at home as a writer and editor. My kids started daycare and school and a extra-curricular activities. I went back to school myself. Gradually, almost without me noticing, my life sped up again. I returned to my old habit of hurrying through my days.

Looking back over my life recently, however, I’ve realized that I need to make a change. Our culture gives us the message that if we’re not busy, if we’re not rushing, if we don’t have too much on our plates, then there’s something wrong with us. I say that isn’t true. I want to enjoy the simple moments with my kids. I want to slow down and focus on my children as they are today, because I can never get this time back. Whether you have a baby, a toddler, or a teenager, your child will never be this age again. The big question is just how to take the time to enjoy them as they are right now. I’ve found a few things that help:

  1. Cut back on activities. Kids need free time to play, not tons of scheduled appointments to constantly be rushing off to.
  2. Learn to say No. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do, it’s a sign that you may need to cut back.
  3. Take a moment to breathe. If you’re in the habit of hurrying, as I am, you may find yourself rushing when you really don’t have to. Taking a moment to breathe can break that cycle.
  4. Ask your kids for help. Older kids can provide you feedback and offer suggestions. They can point out when you’re rushing needlessly, and come up with solutions so that your family can get out the door on time.
  5. Let go of unrealistic expectations. As I said, our culture looks at busy-ness as a sign of value, which can lead many people to place unrealistic expectations on themselves of being able to do it all. Letting go of those expectations can make life better and help you take things more slowly.

It’s not easy to break the hurrying habit and take life more slowly. Like anything, though, if you practice you’ll get better. That’s what I’m telling myself, as I take aim at my own hurrying habit again.

What about you – how do you slow down when life gets too busy and you find yourself spending a lot of your time rushing around with your kids?

A Different Perspective

I returned to university to pursue a second degree this past January. I am now into my second semester as a mom of two school-age kids, and a student in my own right. While there are some other, ahem, mature students in my classes, on average I am much older than my classmates. Like, decades older. Like, old enough to be their mother older.

This has been interesting, as we have studied history I lived through, and I filled them in on what life was like in the olden days. I have a different perspective to offer. I am bringing different things to the table now than I did during my first degree.

When we talk about combining parenting with work or school or volunteering or pretty much anything else, we often think about the difficulty of juggling competing priorities. And it is hard — don’t get me wrong. Right now I’m working part-time from home, I’m taking two university classes and I’m juggling the end-of-the-year concerts and school commitments of two kids. I am busy, and I can’t always do it all as well as I would like. At the same time, my experiences as a parent have helped me to become a better multi-tasker, to keep my eyes on what really matters and to accept my own limitations. The perspective on life that being a parent has brought me enriches all of my experiences.

parents at school going back to schoolWhen I was 20 years old and a full-time student, having a bunch of schoolwork due at once sent me into a tizzy. I was easily overwhelmed, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. Today, I have a different perspective on what pressure means, and I’m not nearly as easily overwhelmed. I’ve experienced pregnancy and childbirth. I’ve been pooped on, peed on and puked on. I’ve sat up at night with babies who wouldn’t sleep, with babies who were sick, with babies who needed to nurse at all hours. I’ve put aside my own needs for the needs of two little people who depended on me completely. I’ve learned how to let go of my own stuff and deal with what needs to be dealt with in the moment.

These lessons I’ve learned as a parent — and perhaps, most especially, as an attachment parent — are actually gifts. They help me to keep going when I’m having a hard time. They remind me of just how much I actually can do. They also taught me how to take my rest where I can find it, and to live in the moment. While it is challenging to juggle parenting with work and school, my perspective as a parent is actually a tremendous boon, and I am incredibly grateful for it.

It is strange to be the oldest person in class, including the professor and teaching assistants. The perspective I have today thanks to my life experiences, though, is making this university experience much richer for me. Having children really does change your life, no matter what you go on to do. The good news is that this change, while hard, is ultimately for the better in so many ways.

Responding Differently: School, Work and Parenting

Even before my first child was born nine years ago, I knew Attachment Parenting was something that fit my personality and values. My own parents practiced many Attachment Parenting principles, so it came very naturally to me. When my children were very young, I especially took the principle respond with sensitivity to heart. I wanted to be there for them when they needed me … and as babies their needs were very urgent. A newborn simply doesn’t understand the concept of waiting.

Now that my children are older, the way that I respond to their needs and requests has changed. More and more, I encourage them to try things by themselves while offering my support and encouragement. I also balance their needs against my own in different ways. While it would be unreasonable to expect a newborn to wait 15 minutes for a meal, it’s not so unreasonable to expect the same thing from a five-year-old or a nine-year-old. Today when I hear, “Mom, I’m hungry,” I might say something along the lines of, “We have fruit and cheese in the fridge,” or , “Dinner will be ready soon.”

Last month I shared the post Mother / Student here on APtly Said, in which I explained my decision to return to school this past January. With my children now both in elementary school full-time, I decided the time was ripe to do something for myself. I started taking some classes at a local university, working towards the goal of becoming a math and science teacher.

Studying (this was actually my history textbook)
Studying (this was actually my history textbook)
My return to school has also changed the way I respond to my children but thanks to it has been easier for me. Now that I’m balancing parenting with both paid employment and schoolwork, my time is stretched a little thinner. I’m spending more time working in the same room as my kids, while they play independently. I’m letting go of outside commitments, being gentle with myself when I don’t vacuum as often as I’d like, and explaining my time constraints to my kids. It’s not all work, though. Now that my first semester is over and I’m on break, we’re planning a family weekend away for some quality time. In short, I’m working to be present and responsive in a way that’s age-appropriate, and that balances the needs of everyone in our family.

The good news is that my kids are pretty resilient and independent little people. I credit Attachment Parenting for that – I believe that by responding to them consistently and compassionately as babies and toddlers, I helped them feel safe and confident. Of course I’ll never know how they would have turned out of I had parented them differently, but it’s safe to say this parenting style has worked for my family. It wasn’t always easy to get up in the middle of the night or to comfort a toddler mid-tantrum, but now that my kids are older I’m reaping the rewards. I’m still responding with sensitivity, but it looks different now, and that difference has allowed me greater freedom.

I’m happy to say that my first semester at school went well. My kids are proud of the work I’ve put in. My daughter, especially, loves to tell people about what I’m studying. It hasn’t been easy, but just like those sleepless nights in early parenting, I’m trusting that it will all pay off in the long run.

Mother / Student

Two months ago, I returned to school, some 14 years after completing my first degree. It was the first time I’d done anything more than a two-day workshop since I got married and had children. Right now I’m taking three classes at a local university, gathering prerequisites with the hope of eventually studying education and becoming a public school teacher. This has represented a big change not just for me, but for my entire family.

going back to school with kids
The quad on campus
One of the eight principles of Attachment Parenting International is strive for balance in your personal and family life. In many ways, going back to school has been an exercise in upsetting the balance that I had attained. I work part-time from home as a writer. My children were eight and five years old when I attended my first class in January. With my son starting kindergarten this past fall, I’d managed to achieve a sense of equilibrium that hadn’t existed since I went into labour with my daughter in 2005. I was no longer working long into the night after the kids were asleep – I was able to do my work while they were at school, and spend my evenings with my husband. It was pretty sweet, to be honest.

This greater sense of equilibrium is what created space in my mind to ask myself some big questions – questions that I hadn’t really considered since before I got pregnant with my first child. I started asking myself what I really wanted for myself, rather than what I wanted for my children.

I’ve built much of my work life (and pretty much every other part of my life) around my kids since I became a mother. I did so willingly, as well. I know that children grow all too quickly, and you can’t get those early days back. I was thrilled to be able to find a job that allowed me more time with my little ones, and greater flexibility in general. I didn’t ask where I saw myself in 10 years, but rather where I saw my family. As someone who has found attachment parenting to be very fulfilling, this worked well for me.

With a little more time and mental space of my own, things changed. I had something of an Aha! moment last October, when I realized that I still hold the dream of becoming a teacher. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid, but I pursued my first degree in engineering because it seemed like the more practical choice. I left my engineering career behind some five years ago, though, and had spent the intervening years more focused on short-term goals.

My husband and I talked about the idea of going back to school, and I attended an info session and talked to my kids. In the end, I decided that there really was no better time, and went for it.

Going to school has upset the balance of my life in many ways, but I’ve worked hard to re-establish it under different conditions. I’ve had to say No a lot. I gave up the tap dancing class I loved. I called on my family to help. I also spent a lot of time explaining to my kids what I’m doing, and why. Think, “I have to do some homework right now, so I can’t read to you. I’ll come and find you when I’m finished and we’ll do some reading then.” Balancing my roles, and succeeding as a student, parent and employee, is taking help and support from almost everyone in my life.

I’m going to be sharing my experiences as a mother, writer and university student each month on this blog. I have a lot more to say, about how I’m providing my kids with consistent and loving care, how I’m trying to respond sensitively to my children and myself, and what our days look like. For today, however, I have to run. I have homework to do.

Have you spent any time at school since having children? If you have any tips or experiences to share, I’d love to hear them!