I recently proclaimed to my family, “I’m not cooking dinner at all next week.” Although this may seem a bit dramatic and maybe even a little harsh, a few predictable life factors contributed to my decision:
1) My daughters would be out of school.
2) I had a number of important work deadlines that I was looking forward to meeting.
3) My prior experience tells me that my girls need me to be more accessible during the empty weeks between school and the start of their summer activities.
4) I knew that something needed to give for me to feel that I could have quality time with my family while also being present for professional responsibilities.
While the content of this scenario will vary between individuals, the crux of this example is a common theme for working moms who are trying to simultaneously juggle multiple responsibilities and do it all.
Throughout my work as a licensed psychologist with parents, young adults and children for the past twenty years, I talk a lot about the rhythms we have in both our personal and professional lives. A rhythm is like a vibe or preferred way of navigating life events and while not tangible, it is something you can literally feel in the air. Within households and in offices, I frequently hear about and see individuals with different rhythms. Some like constant back-to-back activities and multi-tasking and others need bursts of a singular activity followed by downtime to decompress before starting something new. Oftentimes, people with different rhythms are asked to get things done together or they may be family members living under the same roof. To add to this complexity, for some individuals and situations, rhythms are consistent and reliable and for others they are less predictable. Overall, these situations can lead to stress and conflict in relationships.
Consider the following as you think about the rhythms around you: How would you describe the rhythm at work a week prior to a project launch or deadline? How about the day before? What is the pace you like to have at work? And at home? What is the rhythm of your family members regarding task completion?
Parents often share with me how rhythms in their households can vary between family members, which makes it difficult and frustrating to get out of the house in the morning and transition, unflustered, to work and school. Furthermore, several clients report that while they can appreciate that people have different rhythms, they feel less skilled in knowing how to listen, read, and respond to the rhythms experienced. So how can you figure out how to work with the rhythms around you?
- Describe the rhythms you are sensing in yourself and others. Are they slow and steady? Shut down? Rush, rush, rush? Or something in between? Naming them can help you prepare for them. The important point here is not about accuracy, but about getting in touch with your perception of each rhythm.
- Take a pause and think. How have I reacted to this rhythm in similar situations in the past? What was successful for me? And what was not as helpful?
- What can I do differently this time to improve the outcome?
Reflect on your answers, trust your gut, and consider your options for responding. In some situations, you may only have a few moments to run through these steps, but in others, like my “no cooking” example, you can prepare in advance. And if I had to name the rhythm in my house this week, it would be “slow it down,” describing the current shift to a less predictable summer schedule and the need to take some additional time to think through and process what lies ahead.
So why is it important to consider rhythms? Understanding our rhythms allows us to gain a better sense of ourselves and our needs. When we read others’ rhythms, we can more thoughtfully respond so that the other person feels understood and appreciated, which provides the foundation for trusting relationships.
Listening to and trusting your assessment of these rhythms can also be helpful in building routines. So what exactly is a routine? A routine is more like a play-by-play of events. Routines happen both at work and at home. In some instances, routines are expected, such as a weekly team meeting, and in other cases, the routine can feel like a moving target, such as a kid’s sport schedule.
If you find yourself struggling when routines shift during transition times, you’re in good company. My professional colleagues and I often discuss how surges in outreach to our offices may be related to different rhythms and changing routines. In fact, we’ve all noticed that we typically receive an influx of calls just prior to and after weekends, in the days leading up to vacations, and in anticipation of major life transitions — which are all valid and common changes to acknowledge and consider.
While there are several wonderful resources for time management, being productive at work, and establishing routines with families at home, I believe you can understand your own rhythms and routines by thinking about the following:
- What are the circumstances that allow me to get work done? (Consider time of day, duration of focused time, need for breaks, physical space, personal/family commitments)
- What are the demands of my job? (Commuting? Virtual meetings with kids at home? Travel? What about the pace?)
- Are my circumstances and demands in alignment?
- How do I like to schedule time?
- How does each member of my immediate household like to structure time? In other words, how are your rhythms different from those of your family members?
- What are the external demands that we depend on and that dictate how we spend our time (e.g., work meetings, sports schedules, etc.)?
In my case, I felt proud of myself for realizing how and why I needed to add time to my week and also confident that I’d be able to follow through on what I’d promised to myself both as a professional and as a mom. We all have within us the power to not only perceive, but to trust and react to what we see and experience. Take a moment to watch, listen, and learn the rhythms in your life and how you can use that information to build routines that work for you and your family.