Category Archives: quotes

Daily Rhythms with Anchor Points and Pressure Valves


Anchor Points Make Days Predictable and Flexible

These days, I don’t write out a minute by minute schedule to plan each day. Forget minutes–I don’t write out hourly schedules, either. Our days are fairly predictable with expected routines, but they also have a lot unstructured kid free time spaced throughout the day.

We like to call the routines that hold down our day our anchor points. Anchor points are the non-negotiables that tie our days together. We have a few checklist items (e.g., make/eat breakfast, work on article, read book together, take walk, etc…), and then I arrange them within the general time categories when I need to accomplish them (e.g., morning, early afternoon, evening while kids are sleeping, etc…). Wedding this idea with the concept of margin has provided me with more flexibility and opportunities to get things done.

Keep It Simple Schedule

One way to become quickly overwhelmed with small children is to pencil in every minute of the day. When a diaper or potty accident occurs, a shoe is lost while heading out the door, or a child really needs a little more of your attention, the minute-by-minute schedule is thrown off for the rest of the day. Instead, and particularly in this season of motherhood, it may help to focus on times as chunks, and days with routines instead of strict schedules.

In his productivity book Zen to Done, Leo Babuata encourages his readers to eliminate many of the unnecessary items off of their checklists, and just focus on three main tasks for each day. By eliminating others, they are more compelled to actually accomplish the most important tasks.

While such extreme simplification in motherhood (especially the SAHM version) may seem unrealistic, it may help to eliminate the minutia that ends up creating more stress and distracting from accomplishing what is truly important.

Life Tastes Better in Bite-Sized Chunks

Viewing your day as centered around anchor points will also help to break the day into chunks, and allow each section to seem more manageable. Bite-size is easier to do throughout the day than trying to eat a whole elephant at the end of the day.

Mealtimes are great anchor points. Using these as your non-negotiable times, you may choose to break up your day into a breakfast checklist, a lunchtime checklist, an afternoon checklist, and an after supper checklist. Additionally, each day may have its own space for a particular outing or activity. (But when you try to cram in too many, you’ll definitely experience circuit overload!)

Centered around the morning anchor point, you may wish to include breakfast, cleaning up the breakfast dishes, deeper cleaning one room assigned each day, reading through two small books with a child, and answering one e-mail. Of course, with children, there will be a host of other activities that come up: changing a diaper, an emergency bath, or helping an older child work through a frustration or schoolword. With children, flexibility is important–both for your sake and the child’s. Then, push to get all those items accomplished before the next anchor comes up. You can rearrange as life happens, and even eliminate when needed.

We All Need Breathing Space: Margin and Pressure Valves 

We all need breathing space in our days, throughout our days. This breathing space is, as Dr. Richard Swenson titles itmargin. Margin is essential in motherhood, though we don’t often notice it if we’re not intentional about it. Yet its absence often leaves us breathless and wondering why.
In the book Simplicity Parenting, author Kim John Payne discusses the concept of pressure valves. Pressure valves are important parts of the day–they are times during which to release pressure or tension and to sort of “regroup” or “debrief” mentally and emotionally before moving on to the next part of the day. These are important for anyone, but particularly so for the more introverted and easily stimulated child. Such activities can include painting, water play, naps and quiet times, quiet play, or a quiet walk.

Or, as Payne writes about other types of pressure valves:

“For some boys and industrious types, work can serve as a pressure valve. Such work might be doing a project: hauling rocks in a wheel-barrow, digging a hole, building with blocks, catching lizards, or climbing a tree. Ongoing projects that kids are anxious to get back to right after school can be wonderful pressure valves. Any activity a child can “lose himself in” allows for a release of tension, and the mental ease needed to process the day’s events. Whatever the means, active deep play is an excellent pressure valve. As kids reach the preteen years, sometimes hobbies or collections – the beginnings of deep passions – and organized sports can serve the same purpose.”

Personal Experience 
I’ve found that my kids need both unstructured play and quiet times (since naps are not usual for the oldest two) to have a smoother day. And I’ve found that when I am able (not always possible!) my own morning and afternoon with a little quiet space, the day goes much more smoothly on my end, as well. (And if you must live by a minute-by-minute schedule, then schedule these into your day.)
I have watched my children learn to create all sorts of objects with paper, scissors, and glue or in the dirt when “set free” to play by themselves. I’ve also overheard countless stories being relived and enhanced as they become actors in the worlds they create from stories we’ve read, family memories we’ve shared, and totally random compilations of their lives.
As homeschoolers who finished their work quickly, my husband and his brothers (and sister) had many hours with which to invent their own worlds, write and illustrate books in the notebooks, and even make home video movies complete with explosive. I see his creativity then and now, and want that for my children.
But when every single minute is structured, these opportunities are often lost.
As I was working on this post, I noticed that Catherine of The Spirited Mind had a very helpful post that addressed many of the same topics, though from a different angle. I have appreciated her ongoing writing on habit training and children, and benefited from her tying together Charlotte Mason, habit training, and unstructured time.
On my end, I know the coming years will hold more structured (school) time than they do now, but for now we are learning lots with lots of unstructured moments spaced between a little bit of reading and writing. And at present, we are also aiming to grow and learn more habits to catalyze the effects of the unstructured time (and vice versa). I entered adult life with far fewer habits than my husband, so I often feel like trying to instill them both in myself and my children while also living a full life is like swimming upstream. But then again, two steps forward for every step back is still progress!
Do you live by a highly-structured schedule? A flexible routine? Or nothing at all? Or all of the above? :)

How Pride, Distraction, and Fear Keep Us from Sabbath, Grace, and Delight


In his book Sabbath, Dan Allender opens the book by stating there are several factors that keep us from observing the Sabbath.

The first reason he gives is pride (emphasis mine):

“The dark side of pride is that the work addict secretly believes he can outmaster the fates and find a way to achieve what others have failed to do. Somehow he will get his dream to remain on the top of the mountain and not slip from his grasp. Like any addiction, pride spins us deeper into the bondage of slavery, requiring other diversions to keep us from facing our plight.”

A second reason is distraction (though this quote is a sort of a subpoint):

“Often the defense against distractions is rigidity. We say that distractions are like Vanity Fair and can only be managed by a flintlike determination. We don’t shop on the Sabbath-ever. We don’t drive on the Sabbath-unless we are going to church. It is not okay to exchange money on the Sabbath, but polluting the earth with carbon-based fuels is just fine as long as the only driving is to church and back. We invent rules that seem orderly and sensible, if not righteous and moral, so that anyone who violates our code is somehow less than committed.

A third reason is fear, specifically fear of delight, joy, and grace:

Nothing is more desperately needed in our day than the Sabbath. It is not because we are driven, stressed, and exhausted. We are all those things. And if we practiced the ancient art of Sabbath, we would be incalculably less harried. However, our awareness of the need doesn’t seem to be moving many, if any, to reconsider the Sabbath. As much as I concur with my Sabbath-writing colleagues who emphasize our need for rest, these writings fail to address what I believe to be the far more substantial issue.

We are driven because our work brings us power and pride that dulls our deeper desire for delight.

We are far more practiced and comfortable with work than play. We are far better at handling difficulties than joy. When faced with a problem, we can jump into it or avoid it; we can use our skills or resources to manage it. But what do we do with joy? We can only receive it and allow it to shimmer, settle, and then in due season, depart; leaving us alive and happy but desiring to hold on to what can’t be grasped or controlled.

Joy is lighter than sorrow and escapes our grasp with a fairylike, ephemeral adieu. Sorrow settles in like a 280-pound boar that has no intention of ever departing. One calls us to action and the other to grace. Which is easier: to work for your salvation with the self-earned power of self-righteousness or to receive what is not deserved or owed, but freely given and fully humbling?

Humanity is not made for Sabbath; Sabbath was made for all God’s creation: male, female; slave, free; Jew, Gentile; believer, unbeliever; beast of burden, and the ground itself. And Sabbath is not merely the cessation of work; it is turning from work to something utterly different from what we normally call rest.

excerpts taken from the book Sabbath: The Ancient Practices by Dan Allender

“Make glorious, amazing mistakes.”

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

~Neil Gaiman

The Freedom of Common Grace

“Without an understanding of common grace, Christians will believe they can live self-sufficiently within their own cultural enclave. Some might feel that we should go only to Christian doctors, work only with Christian lawyers, listen only to Christian counselors, or enjoy only Christian artists. Of course, all non-believers have seriously impaired spiritual vision. Yet so many of the gifts God has put in the world are given to nonbelievers. Mozart was a gift to us–whether he was a believer or not. So Christians are free to study the world of human culture in order to know more of God; for as creatures made in His image we can appreciate truth and wisdom wherever we find it.

Without an understanding of common grace, Christians will have trouble understanding why non-Christians so often exceed Christians morally and in wisdom. Properly understood, the doctrine of sin means that  believers are never as good as our true worldview should make us. Similarly  the doctrine of grace means that unbelievers are never as messed up as their false worldview should make them. For in the Christian story, the antagonist is not non-Christians but the reality of sin, which (as the gospel tells us) lies within us as well as within them.

And so we are likely to be on firm footing if we make common ground with non-Christians to do work that serves the world. Christians’ work with others should be marked by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation. An understanding of common grace, as well as an experience of God’s pardoning grace in Christ, should lead us to freely and humbly work with others who may not share our faith but can be used greatly by God to accomplish enormous good.”

-Timothy Keller, in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

photo credit

“A Tradition of Discounting…”

Reading Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Dr. John Gottman, I encountered this morsel of perspicaciousness:

[W]e have inherited a tradition of discounting children’s feelings simply because children are smaller, less rational, less experienced, and less powerful than the adults around them. Taking children’s emotions seriously requires empathy, keen listening skills, and a willingness to see things from their perspective. It also takes a certain selflessness.”

(Which sort of reminds me of dear old Dr. Seuss, saying, “A person’s a person no matter how small.”)