The first post of 2018 and I’m starting your year the right way, sharing six easy to adopt habits for a simpler, slower pace of family life. Perhaps you’re already missing that relaxed holiday bubble and are looking for ways to gain some of that back? Well, the good news is, you can.
Let’s be real about it though – for all the picturesque perfection that the slow living lifestyle portrays on social media and in the magazines we read; it’s not possible to sustain that way of life on a daily basis, especially when there’s an infinite amount of plates to spin. If only we could all spend all day lounging in trendy cafes nursing endless, artfully styled lattes or standing at the edge of a snow-topped mountain peak! Yet, with this culture of busyness we perpetuate, it’s hardly surprising that we’re yearning for a slower, less immediate pace of life. Is it any wonder so many of us struggle with our mental health when a full working calendar is seen as a virtue? And I can hold my hands up and say I was one of those people, who felt that telling anyone who would listen just how busy I was would somehow make me appear more important, more valued. Until that is, I got bored of hearing myself saying it, and others to me. I was stuck in a constant cycle of burn-out and, as a parent living with depression, I realised that I needed to break that cycle for me and my family. I don’t want to teach my children that over-work and unhappiness is the norm.
In the run-up to Christmas, I thought we might drown in a sea of commitments we’d given ourselves – both of us frantically trying to wrap up work for the year, the kids with their end of term parties and non-uniform days. It felt never-ending and the idea of a pressure-free break completely unattainable. If you’re anything like us, living miles away from any close family members to give us both a break from time to time, the moments we do get to slow down are all the more precious. Life is an ebb and flow cycle with busier seasons and pockets of slow. Go with it. Try to carve out a little time each week if not at the end of each day and practice these simple tips we use…
Expect To Plan
It’s not what you want to hear, but in order to slow down, you need to carve out the space to do so. Spontaneity takes planning when you’re short on time.
Gone are the days when we would spend all day in bed binging on episodes of Lost, leisurely grazing amongst the folds of the duvet. And wow do I miss those days…we’re lucky to get five minutes to chuck down a coffee before something needs taking care of. It’s the day to day stuff that takes up your time – the laundry, homework, remembering that the bathroom is sitting under several weeks of filth. As boring as it is, getting these things done and dusted means they’re not on your mind imposing those guilty “I should be” thoughts on you. Be methodical and make a list of the most pressing and important tasks to be done – we use a large chalkboard in the hallway and the control freak in me gets real pleasure from ticking things off. Anything non-essential can wait. We use Saturday as our getting s**t done day leaving Sunday free for whatever we please.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to sit beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
– ‘Leisure’, WH Davies.
Find A Project
Choosing a project to work on together is a great way to connect with each other and in turn, helps to shut out external distractions. I’m talking about our phones, the games console – anything that pulls our attention anyway from being present, in the moment. Doing something with your hands is a wonderfully therapeutic too. Use this as an opportunity to teach your children something new. It could be baking, building a Lego castle or working your way through Roald Dahl’s collection at bedtime.
Last summer, we grew courgettes, tomatoes and sunflowers from seed and my two took it in turns to feed and water the seedlings, monitoring their growth in the mornings. Ok, so they didn’t eat any of the courgettes (unless I cleverly disguised them) but I loved seeing how excited they were to watch something they planted grow and bear fruit. The specifics of the project isn’t important, it’s the spending time together as a family that matters.
One of the most important things you can do as a family is to sit at the table to eat together. Even better if you can involve the kids in cooking a meal, I find mine are more likely to eat it if they’ve played a part in making it. I’m always so aware of my most-used sentences “we haven’t got time” and “we’re going to be late” and I don’t want them to become ingrained in my children’s memories of me, so I use mealtimes to counteract the rushing. Weekday breakfasts are typically a blur in favour of getting the school and nursery run done but dinner is the one time we all stop and talk about our day. At the weekend we make a thing of planning a special breakfast (usually pastries or I make pancakes) and indulge ourselves in a slow morning.
Focus Your Attention
When was the last time you really paid attention to your surroundings? Be mindful of the details around you as you go about your day together. Watch the birds visiting your garden, listen to vinyl instead of the TV. I realise that my two often try to talk to me when I’m distracted with other things, so I make a point to stop what I’m doing from time to time and give them my full attention. If you think about it, what’s more annoying than someone not hearing you when you’re talking to them?
Take cues from your children – they’re sticklers for noticing the little things. It might be watching bugs in the garden as my son can spend hours doing. My daughter likes to count the freckles on my face. She calls them “mops” (moles). I love her all the more when she does that.
Adopting a daily ritual helps with this too. Mine is to make us a coffee with the stove top percolator after the school run. From grinding down the beans, packing it out, boiling the water and listening for the rush of pressure as it brews into the jug. I take my time, breathe in that fresh smell of coffee and anticipate a quiet ten minutes before starting the day at my desk.
Don’t plan for everything. Term time is particularly manic, especially when your children have extra-curricular activities, so in a rare moment when there’s nothing happening, don’t force it to. Worrying that the kids might find themselves bored is far too easy a trap to fall into; let them be. Don’t forget how important it is for children to be bored sometimes – they need to learn to find their own entertainment, to learn to use their imaginations, to create. Leave those pockets of free time open to spontaneity. This, in turn, will open up some space for you to have that coffee, read a few pages of the book you’ve been trying to finish for months. Time to breeeeeeeeathe.
I hope this short guide has inspired you to embrace slow living family life and, if like me you’re about to dive into the first term of the year, then I salute you. You’ve got this.