The Systems that Sustain Us

Some friends in the midst of raising similarly aged children have asked me to reflect on the rules, or systems and expectations, we create in our family.

I have been neglecting this request for many months; it feels challenging and a bit tedious to articulate the rules and boundaries of our home life, but maybe there is something about that resistance in myself that needs to loosen up a bit.

For the last two years, we have been able to choose a Waldorf Kindergarden program for Liam to attend. Within that, there is a lovely structure that is rhythmic throughout each day, week and seasonal year. It has given me some support on which to build our home rhythms, I think the best wisdom that I received was to let each day have alternating times of expansion and big play, followed by going inward and quiet play or rest. But, I think a lot of what KC and I bring to our shared parenting approach is our time spent working in elementary schools.

Recently, I had a moment of synthesis: Waldorf=rhythms, Family Rules=systems, Rhythms, Systems, RhythmSystems! They became one, two names for a similar lens (or perspectacle) of structuring a life bearable to live within. As I get deeper into this life, the more I find permission and space for joy and play when things are flowing inside and around these carefully constructed sluices of expectation.

Not least of all is this just for the kids, when I notice a big gap between how I am living and how I am asking my kids to live, it is clear I am not taking the best care of myself. Last month we took a break from added sugar in our diet and I gained a lot of insight into my food habits. This month, we are taking a break from alcohol and our evenings are automatically restructured, by a closing of one gate, others may swing open.

I do not consider myself an expert, nor atypically skilled at parenting, but I do read a lot and reflect as much as I can and as a twosome we have combined training and experience in preschool and elementary education, transpersonal psychology, yoga instruction from prenatal to seniors, basketball coaching, data collection from the natural world, restorative justice, wildfire management, school counseling and administration, dance party djing…

Hey, that’s my marriage’s resumé! Hire us to teach your baby to swim, or organize your closets, or dj your next party with yoga inspired dance moves…I am really not sure why we are not yet fabulously wealthy by way of all my inspired ideas.

So, what is there to say about all of this in terms of raising kids, keeping sanity, growing viable future adults, etc.? I have become increasingly aware within myself of the desire for routine and rhythms first as an early childhood educator and then as a parent in the home. My husband shares the same tendencies and our oldest responds very positively to structure that he can understand and then choose to succeed within. He has clearly shown us that he wants to feel successful each day. Who doesn’t, right?

One of our foundational parenting practices is to cultivate independence in our kiddos both for their own long-term wellbeing and our short-term sanity. As much of the work that can be shifted from us and to them, bearing in mind their zone of proximal development and all that, we do. (Check out this great chart from the world of Montessori for inspiration.)

Last year at this time, Liam took some months to land in his five year old self and fully embrace his new bigness: big brother, kindergardener, big kid. He needed support in stepping into himself and being his best self (or his golden knight self as we term it, currently). Being the schoolteachers that we are, Liam was enlisted to draw out each of his rules as we discussed them and we believe this gave him greater ownership and understanding of what we were expecting from him.

It looks like this:


Recently, we instituted an additional system following the same game plan: a child and parent generated chart of five jobs. It consists of helpful jobs around the house and he is practicing completing them each week. In turn on payday, he receives four quarters. I am whole-heartedly embracing his greater participation in keeping the household running and the decrease in times I am personally responsible for sweeping under the table from 30 odd times per week to 28 or so. And, it does feel a fine line, between sharing family responsibilities and an expectation of pay for effort, but so far I feel like we are comfortably navigating that line.

In the end, all I can say is that when our kids regress tremendously as they do at times (or when we the adults do), it rings our bell of awareness and brings us back to observation, pattern seeking and then adjusting expectations so that all of our needs are being met as well as possible. Over here, these days, that’s the way love goes.

This week school resumed for Liam. I have been trying to keep a few steps ahead of myself in terms of food preparation so that my mornings and evenings can be as calm as possible. I found a great camp out breakfast idea that my kids have been gobbling up out of the fridge and I thought that I’d share it here: into a pint sized jar scoop a 1/4 cup greek yogurt, 1/4 rolled oats, 1 tbsp jam, 1 1/2 tsp chia seeds, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and 1/3 cup of whole milk, then shake. Add a bunch of chopped berries if you are lucky enough to have them on hand and stir. Let sit overnight and in the morning-voilà! (Thanks to Edible Santa Fe for that one.)

For fun:

Backfire Lighting at Archbold Biological Station
That’s me and my boss back in the heydey of my wildfire management career. We weren’t actually sideways, though that would have been really, really wild.


One of my many class photos from my time at P.S. 93.
One of my many class photos from my time at P.S. 93.

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