2011 has arrived, and with an unmarked calendar opening before me, I find myself reflecting on my life. It’s unfortunately telling that the words that come to mind to sum up the last year are “tired” and “burnt out.” As a stay-at-home mom also juggling paid employment, life feels scarily akin to a treadmill that I can’t seem to stop. This year, though, I’m ready for a change, and conveniently, a book I read recently has given me hope of finding that blessed “off” button.
The book I have in mind is Simplicity Parenting (I wholeheartedly recommend it), and the main premise is that the pace and complexity of modern life are, if not controlled, harmful to us and our children. Now, as an introvert, I’ll gladly sing the praises of any book that advocates taking time to recharge. But that’s not why I want to share. Rather, I mention it because the book reminded me strongly of the best vacation I’ve had in recent years: a day retreat at Notre Dame de Vie Institute in Canada. What struck me, as I read, were the parallels between certain components of a retreat, and several key elements advocated by Simplicity Parenting. Along with more prayer (which is, of course, the true heart of any retreat), I’m hoping to implement some of these intersecting elements into my life this year, and want to suggest them to you as well.
The specific retreat I have in mind was a silent one. Though I brought my daughter with me, which necessarily modified the silence somewhat, I was still able to soak in a lot of quiet. No radios blaring, T.V. squawking, needless chatter; there was time and space to think. The author of Simplicity Parenting is a big proponent of quieting our lives in the same way: lessening the stream of stimulation (auditory, visual, informational) so that children and parents can focus more wholly on things that really matter.
We already have a fair amount of quiet in our home, since the T.V. isn’t turned on until after our daughter’s bedtime, but there is a non-auditory sort of quiet that comes to mind: moving our laptops to the spare bedroom, and decreasing the “sound” of the Internet in our home.
Rhythm and Predictability
On a retreat, the day is ordered. You don’t have to decide how long to pray: it’s already decided for you. Your only task is to remain present in each moment as it comes. Likewise, Simplicity Parenting emphasizes the importance of giving children a secure framework to their lives, at least in some small semblance of a routine. This doesn’t mean a micromanaged, down-to-the-minute schedule, but rather a sense of structure and regularity to the days and weeks.
In our own life, structure has been sorely lacking; while we do the same things nearly every day, the order varies, and I haven’t had any sort of set time for items like breakfast, lunch, dinner, or bedtime. I’m going to start by setting (still flexible) times for those items this year. I’m also going to start assigning particular days for some tasks, like bath time, laundry day, etc.
A good retreat has balance, alternating structured lecture time with ample time for unstructured prayer and conversation. The author of Simplicity Parenting stresses the importance of that same balance in our regular life: while weeks can be seasoned with scheduled, high-energy activities, lots of time should be left open for children to play deeply and recharge. I know how hard it is to fight against the common notion that children need a constant stream of scheduled enrichment to turn out OK. However, in my own experience, the times I learned best, and indeed, my most memorable times as a child, were those arising out of unstructured play, either alone or with friends.
Guided by my own childhood, I’m already providing my daughter with a lot of free playtime. Instead of changing our daily life in this area, my task for this year is to squelch the nagging anxiety that I “should be doing more with her.” I’m also going to apply this principle to my own life, giving myself permission to take time each week for a creative, recharging activity.
The final parallel I noticed between a retreat and the vision of Simplicity Parenting is the physical simplicity. At the Notre Dame de Vie Institute, everything you need is present, but there is no extraneous stuff, and the rooms are simple, austere. Meals follow the same principle, yet a simple lunch of bread, cheese, pate, and hot coffee proves immensely satisfying. In a similar vein, the author of Simplicity Parenting suggests simplifying the household environment: reducing the stash of toys in your home (keeping only those items with open-ended play potential), streamlining the weekly menu (plan nights around themes each week, e.g. soup night, pasta night), and, within reason, de-cluttering.
The toy bin is overflowing, and a reprieve from menu-planning madness is most welcome. With the holiday season past, it’s the perfect time to simplify.
Simplicity Parenting has other great observations and ideas, and reflecting on your own retreat experiences would doubtless offer more. Regardless of how you make it happen, I hope 2011 proves a simple year, a retreat year, a recharging year for each of you.
Abby Badillo is a young wife, and mom to a spirited one year old daughter. She blogs about life, love, and the pursuit of holiness at Writing Living Epistles.
Photo by Katie@!.