Creating New, Happier Rituals

Yesterday I posted about December’s theme here at The Happiest Mom: Ritual, Routine and Rhythm. In the comments I asked you to share some things that regularly cause stress and frustration in your life.

One of the examples I gave is homework time. I know in our house, this used to be a very stressful time because I always waited until the absolute last moment to get started on it, when I was too tired and cranky to give the kids my full attention and when they were lagging themselves. As the seconds ticked away toward bedtime and my eyelids drooped further, I’d find myself rushing the kids and getting unreasonably angry when that long division took longer than I thought it should.

I knew, deep down, that leaving homework until 8 PM wasn’t helping us get it done with a minimum of stress, but putting it off had become habit. And like all bad habits, sometimes it takes a while of running up against the same wall before you break it. Changing our anxiety-riddled homework habits didn’t take a huge amount of effort. But it did require me to think carefully about why homework time was so frustrating for us, and then brainstorm, create and put into effect a new ritual (one that I could repeat over and over until it became a new habit).

Let’s pretend you also find yourself wanting to cry, pull out your hair, or whap your kid over the head with a pencil during homework time. You could think critically about all the factors that add to your stress: what time of day is it when you do the homework? Is anyone hungry or tired? Do you feel rushed? Do you have trouble tracking down the necessary supplies? Does it feel chaotic, with the phone ringing constantly, other kids needing your attention, a pot boiling over on the stove and the dog whining at the door?

After taking a few moments to consider why your current set-up isn’t working for you, you can start thinking of ways to replace that habit with a new ritual. For example:

  • If it’s stressful because multiple kids are asking for help at the same time, could you tag-team with your husband? Each of you could choose the child or children you work best with, then create a special time and place to work. If you’re single or your partner isn’t available in the afternoons or evenings, maybe you could assign each child a ‘study hall’–their special time slot to sit at the table all alone and get your full attention. Other kids can be quieted with a special activity, game or TV show.

  • If it’s stressful because you can’t ever find the supplies you need, can you clear off space in a central location and create a special supply station? Your new ritual could include cleaning a place at the table, pulling out a few sharpened pencils and some fresh paper, putting on calming music and sitting down ready to work.
  • If it’s stressful because there’s no time to get it done and you always have to rush, could you scale back other evening activities? Maybe the ritual you need is a peaceful, quiet evening that makes it easy to attend to things at home.
  • If it’s stressful because you’re tired and cranky by homework time, could you work on it early in the afternoon, or in the morning when you’re both fresher and the house is quieter? Maybe your new ritual could be cleaning out the backpack the minute the kids get home from school and tackling homework then. Or perhaps you could get up a half-hour early with the child who has the largest load and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee in the quiet while your child works.
  • If it’s stressful because your child stalls, whines, or complains, maybe you could make doing homework a special time–pour a cup of cocoa, make some popcorn, and sit down together to chat for a few minutes before pulling out the books.

A lot of you have kids younger than homework age, so of course this example doesn’t apply to everyone. But it’s just an example of how many possible solutions you might be able to find to help re-frame any frustrating situation. Routines and rituals shouldn’t make you feel burdened or obligated. Instead they should allow you to simplify your life by doing things in a way that is easier, makes more sense, or gives you more satisfaction. Nothing fancy is required: a ritual doesn’t have to involve special songs, decoration, or incense. A ritual is just a habit, done with intention.

Let’s brainstorm! Think of your most frustrating daily moments–that stressy thing you keep experiencing over and over. Have you gotten in the habit of doing things in a way that doesn’t work for you–basically ramming your head against the same wall again and again? What are some possible reasons that what you’re doing isn’t working? Could you replace your current “habit” with a more satisfying, more effective, or easier ritual?

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