So, my older two children have been on summer vacation / holiday for a few weeks now. I will admit I was apprehensive about how I was going to manage nearly three hours of practice with all three home at once, along with my other responsibilities, as I had become a bit comfortable with it being just my toddler and me during school hours. I decided I would take a breath, think ahead of time about how I was going to work through this, and come up with several possibilities. I’m so glad I stepped back to think about this before the last day of school! I came up with several solutions that I wanted to share, because so far they are working brilliantly.
1. Taking time out to play, and I mean actually play! This might seem so obvious, but it’s really very easy to get into a groove or get so involved in what you are doing (practicing) that you really don’t want to be bothered to stop. However, making yourself stop and play with your kids is so incredibly good for you and for your children! (It sounds so painfully obvious, I know, but it’s an easy trap to fall into.) Though I have many examples, my best one is this: my second child has learned a new outdoor game at school, and he loves to play it…constantly. What I’ve found is that we are both a lot happier if I take 5 minutes (and I tell him 5 minutes only) to stop and play this new game with him. The stress level from work goes down immediately, and we’re instantly having fun! The quick game allows us to bond, gives him the attention he deserves, and we both come out of it feeling great. I promise him another round if he lets me practice for another pre-determined amount of time, and that satisfies him enough to not interrupt me to ask constantly. Then I fulfill my promise to play again, which builds trust and confidence. It has been working so well! The play time allows your brain and body to take a break and return to the instrument refreshed. Outdoor play is great therapy!
2. Diffusing arguments and squabbles. So, now that my children are with each other all the time, we do have the inevitable argument over a toy, or method of play, or what color the grass is, or whatever. Of course, this seems to only happen when I’m practicing. I will give my husband credit for this one: we’ve learned that if we separate the children involved and discuss with them what is going on, it diffuses the entire situation. Sometimes, if the child is too upset, they need to have some quiet time in Mommy and Daddy’s room first (no toys or anything interesting in there) to calm down. After they’ve settled down, then we calmly discuss what happened, mostly by one of us asking the child questions about the behavior. I think this is key. When the child is having to actively think about their behavior or the situation in order to answer your questions, it helps them process what is going on so much better than if one of us is just telling them what to do. By engaging them in actively figuring out appropriate behaviors, it helps to diminish the original issue and hopefully makes them consider their actions in the future. Obviously, this won’t work with really young children like our toddler, but once they are at least 5 or 5 1/2 years old, they really can start to think about what they should be doing, and you can rationally and calmly discuss it.
3. Taking time for yourself. If you can, find some babysitting help once a week, and take some time for yourself: workout, run, walk, pamper yourself, anything. This is something that I’ve always hesitated doing. I would either feel like I was burdening someone with my children or that I was somehow not being responsible in some way. Not the case. This summer, even with a recital coming (so, I feel like I have to practice all the time), I’ve taken time to drive 35 minutes each way and meet up with a fantastic friend and run stairs for around 25 minutes, and we usually follow it with a fun conversation. I’ve even been able to meet my husband at work, and we’ll go and workout together and have lunch. Even once a week is so refreshing, and it has been so good for me! I’m the most fit of my life, I’m getting more social interaction, and I feel like I’m even more productive on flute and a better mother because I’m taking extra time for me. Maybe laundry sits for an extra day or the bedroom isn’t spotless, but I’ve learned that that’s fine, and I’m so much more at ease with myself. I’m healthier, happier, and more relaxed. This, of course, has definitely transferred to my flute playing. You might hear it a lot, and you’re going to hear it, again: “me time” is important!
4. Be flexible. OK, I like schedules. I used to have times established in my mind when certain things needed to happen, and they had better happen then, or I would feel out of balance or out of control of things somehow. This summer, I have been experimenting with throwing all of that (except for snack and meal times) out the window. Wow! Do new possibilities open up! For example, I’ve told myself that it’s fine to do laundry after the kids go to bed, or that it’s fine to practice later in the evening, which really opens up my daylight time. Sometimes sticking to a hard schedule works well, especially during school months, but tossing it out sometimes is quite liberating. I don’t feel like I’m as stressed about getting work done at a certain time, but that the work will get done at some point that day, and that thought just eases my entire outlook.
I feel like I’ve spent the first part of the summer un-doing everything about me, in a way, but I like it. I really, really like it! I’m such an in-control kind of gal naturally, but throwing that to the wind (so to speak) has changed me for the better. The ability to just take time for me, take extra time for my family, to be flexible, and to parent smarter has made an extraordinary difference in my life. It’s all about figuring out what works for you and go for it!