Why Spontaneity Needs Structure


I don’t post much about parenting or running a productive household, because it is certainly not my area of expertise and others provide such comprehensive value on these topics, I am mostly the student here learning as I go.  But I do believe that running a smooth, productive and balanced household is essential to our wellbeing.

As a fairly new stay at home Mom, I was unprepared for the unique demands of this position.  And in the process of finding solid ground and reestablishing my own health as a priority, this was an area I needed to get a handle on.   Our days at home can so easily run into each other that establishing routine and systems helps us to see the day in clearer focus.  Our children’s needs are many and can surface unpredictably and so allowing for room to meet those needs as they come helps us respond with care and attention.

This toggle between needing to function both under order and disorder left me spinning for a while.  Most of the more concrete responsibilities of my day could best be accomplished in a highly structured, regimented way…BUT as a mother, the more intangible duties of caring, raising and relating to my children required a healthy dose of flexibility and spontaneity.

For me, neither the highly-structured nor extremely loose framework worked well on their own. It was in finding the delicate balance of both that I began to thrive.

I needed some open spaces in my day to respond well to unplanned needs or to capitalize on unexpected opportunities.  I also needed order and structure to be productive, to keep my mind clear, and to establish a necessary rhythm of expectation that my children worked well with.

I think of it as a fence.

The fence posts are like anchors in my day.  Solid, strong and spaced out they can hold the fence up and bear a good amount of stress.  This is my structure.

The thinner horizontal planks are the times in between my anchors that can be filled with openness to new things or simply allow me to be truly present with my children…entering into their play and creating connections together, without my mind wandering elsewhere.

The benefits of having these structured “posts” include:

A more caring approach to my children’s needs

  • Because I know the next post is coming soon, I can calmly interrupt my schedule for unexpected needs at any given time and regain order soon after.

A calmer mental state throughout the day

  • My mind isn’t burdened trying to remember all the things that need to be done.  They are already accounted for during the structured times.

A more productive day

  • In the beginning of my day, I will assign the tasks I need or want to get done to specific times of the day.

More satisfaction in meeting my own expectations

  • I also have cut my tasks into small chunks of time (if I have a large project, I whittle it down to a series of mini tasks).  Most days, I can get 15 minutes here and there to get things done, but I rarely have an hour stretch open up in my day.  Because I have two little ones (a 2-year-old and 8-month-old), I do not allow myself to set up unrealistic expectations about what I can accomplish in a day.

So what exactly does this look like?  Here is an example.  My to-do list for a day may look like this:

  1. Do 1-2 loads of laundry
  2. Respond to 1-2 emails or online transactions
  3. Mail something at post office
  4. Prep and make dinner
  5. Keep the kitchen dishes and counters clean
  6. Wipe down the bathrooms

In the morning I will assign these tasks to the “fence posts” of my day.  These are simply times in the day that are routine and hold structure.   I am not professing I have eloquent or elaborate routines…they are basic and simple, mostly around meal or snack times.  I imagine they will shift and change as my children grow and change.

1.  After Breakfast (around 8:00 am)

  • Start the laundry.  I have made this time a ritual for me and my son (daughter in tow) to do a house chore together.  It could be making the beds, collecting the clothes and starting a load of laundry, or stacking up the recyclables and putting them in the garage.  I can get a chore done, he is engaged- we are both happy.  I just need to keep the chore simple and short.

2.  Mid-Morning Snack (around 10:30 am)

  • Prep for dinner (could be putting things in a crock pot, cutting veggies, or setting out ingredients).  I try to do kitchen tasks when I can during his meal times.

3.  Right Before Lunch (around Noon)

  • This is often when I’ll do an outside errand, so in this example, I would go to the post office.

4.  Lunch (around 12:30 pm)

  • Switch the laundry

5.  Afternoon Snack (around 2:30 pm)

  • Wipe down the bathrooms
  • Keep up with the kitchen and dishes

6.  Nap (around 3:00 pm)

  • My son’s nap time is highly variable lately– and quiet times are not quite smooth yet, so I always assign something that is OK if it doesn’t get done.  It has really helped me and my attitude not to assume I’m getting his naptime since we are in an obvious transition.
  • So I may assign my email transactions knowing I can do them once they are in bed if I need to.

7.  TV time (around 5:00 pm my son can watch a 30-45 min. DVD)

  • Make dinner

These fence posts mean that we have large open stretches of time that we can fill in as the day goes.  Sometimes I know we will be doing an outing or I have a certain craft planned, but having these open times has allowed me to really be present with them.  I know that for the next 1-2 hours I can just be with them, get down to their level, think spontaneously and go with the flow.  Are they feeling energetic and want to run around? — let’s head outside. Are they feeling a bit slower and introspective? — let’s get out the puzzles or books.

When I’m in these spaces of time, I’m not preoccupied with, “when am I going to get the food prepped or the emails written?”  I’ve already accounted for that.  It can leave my mind. And I can really be there with them.

I’ll be writing a little more on some other ways I’ve come to attain that delicate place where we can get the needs of running a household done while being present with our children and attentive to the finer demands of mothering.  I am still learning and improving daily.  These are simply some things that have been helpful to me along the way.

If you thought of your day as a fence, what would be your posts?   How do you find that necessary balance in your life?  Is this something you struggle with?  What works/doesn’t work for you? I’d love to hear from you!