New parents often hear about putting their baby on a “schedule.” It was during my training in Waldorf Early Childhood Education that I first heard the word rhythm used when referring to the pace and activities of the day. Although similar to a schedule, a rhythm is not a strict, unnatural routine. It’s like breathing, a natural in and out, a contraction and expansion.
As a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher, I learned to experience rhythm as a stream that carried me and the children along. Our artistic activity was followed by free play and then a snack was followed by outdoor time. There was a flow that we surrendered to that is very nourishing for young children, but we all benefit from time in the day for stillness and activity, for time indoors and time in nature, for social time and time alone.
Set the Pace
A family’s rhythm is centered around natural human needs for sleep, nourishment, relationship and learning. As the child grows and develops, the rhythm changes. And as the parents change, or life situations change, the rhythm will need adjustments.
It’s important to find a rhythm that supports relationships and the needs of all individuals in a family. Finding the rhythm should be treated as an exploration. Begin by noticing what both you and your child need. Do either of you get cranky around 10:00 a.m.? Maybe you need a snack, so put snack time in the rhythm around 10:00 in the morning. A rhythm doesn’t have to be minute by minute — it can be quiet time followed by active time followed by quiet time.
Something as simple as a bedtime routine can have welcome results and help establish your family’s rhythm. Your child might not know the clock time for bedtime, but she does know that it follows bath time. The nighttime routine can begin with a feeding, followed by a bath using the Weleda Baby Calendula Cream Bath, which is perfect for soothing and nourishing skin after a busy day. After the bath, try a relaxing massage for your baby with Weleda Baby Calendula Oil or nightly Lavender Relaxing Body Oil for the soles of her tiny feet. Then read a book, sing a lullaby and put baby to bed. This slowing down time together might be the best gift for both you and your child.
Create a similar rhythm for nap time. When baby starts to show signs of tiring, darken the bedroom, change her diaper, put her in a cozy sleep sack and then sing a lullaby before laying her down. Soon she will recognize these cues and grow to welcome the quiet time.
Meet Your Own Needs
New parents, especially new moms, often try to take all of the responsibilities on themselves. It’s important to allow others to take part in the rhythm and care of the baby. If you’re not a morning person, perhaps your partner could enjoy a few moments with the baby in those early hours by greeting the baby, changing and feeding her, or bringing her to you for nursing or a bottle in bed. Everybody gets some cuddling and you get to ease into the day.
Include yourself in the rhythm in order to meet your own needs, as well as your baby’s, during the day. As adults, we need time for work, for exercise, for connection with our family and for quiet reflection. Make sure as a parent that you get time with adults and support. Notice how much sleep you need and ensure that any sleep deprivation is temporary and that you receive relief. While your baby or child is napping, don’t rush around doing your chores and find yourself exhausted when she awakes. You can take a nap, too. Allow a minimum of 15 minutes a day of quiet check-in time for yourself.
Also, it’s okay to go about some of your own activities — don’t feel you have to always be entertaining your child. When we are in love, we love just being in the other person’s presence — we don’t have to be doing the same thing. It’s the same for children. Perhaps after the afternoon walk, it’s your time for a chore; fold the laundry while your child is in the room playing or attempting to help. Maybe she folds the washcloths. Children learn most by imitation, and they love it.
Finally, put some time in your daily, weekly and monthly rhythm for you and your partner — your relationship is a gift for your child, just as the child is a gift to you.
This fall and winter, during the season of slowing down, be gentler with yourself. Take time to notice the light of courage, wisdom and humor in yourself, your children and in the world. Find the joy that makes your heart sing, and the rhythm that carries you along. —Sharon Elliott
Sharon Elliott is the co-author of A Child’s Way: Slowing Down for Goodness Sake, written with her daughter, Carrie Ferguson, and published by Goldenstone Press. sharonelliott.com