Unplugging and Creating a Rhythm: Our Experiment in Natural Family Living

January 10th, 2012 by Dionna | 22 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Eclectic Learning, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Strive for Balance

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Welcome to the January 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Experiments in Natural Family Living

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have reported on weeklong trials to make their lives a little greener. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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I cannot tell you how many times I have attempted to develop a rhythm for our days. It lasts for a couple of weeks – maybe – and then we resort to well-organized chaos. I think my main problem is that I focus on having a schedule – something inflexible and regimented, so when we have an activity that interferes with the schedule, I get discouraged.

But a new year brings new inspiration, and so we try, try again. For our January Carnival experiment, we unplugged (to an extent) and started developing a more flexible rhythm. Here’s what we did:

Reducing Time Spent Online

My personal priority was to lose the bulk of my computer time. With the writing and work I do for Code Name: Mama, Natural Parents Network, and NursingFreedom.org, computer time can really interfere with family time. I wanted to use this experiment as almost a kind of “detox” – a way to force some separation so I could re-prioritize and focus more on finding a good familial rhythm.

So, I wanted to go (mostly) offline: no blogging, no social media, and no mindless surfing. I did not go offline completely – I checked and responded to email occasionally, and I gave myself up to an hour to plan fun/educational activities.
I’d had a taste of unplugging in December. After Ailia’s birth, Lauren took over the bulk of my duties at NPN for a full month, and I’d lined up most of the posts for Code Name: Mama – several of them guest posts. It’s been a pretty calm babymoon, but I was still online.

So how did I do during the experiment? For the most part, great. But I cheated. I did go onto my blog to add to the Natural Parenting Facebook Communities post and to add a few Preschool Activities posts. But I did manage to reign in the mindless surfing. The vast majority of my time was spent while Kieran was in bed, and I was looking at educational sites. Plus, the Preschool Activities posts double as educational planning time, so I really didn’t consider them as cheating.

Toward the end of the week, I started going crazy. I discussed the experiment with three friends who were trying something similar (Adrienne of Mommying My Way, Amy of Peace 4 Parents, and Jennifer of Hybrid Rasta Mama), and we were all feeling a general sense of disconnect. I said it was like the experiment was really a case of “stop talking to your friends for a week and see how you feel.” In the last couple of days, I started to check in more and more with my local parenting group (my excuse was that I “had” to check a thread about our New Year’s Day get together to make sure there weren’t any change of plans), and I went on Facebook once to check on my friend Jorje, who has a baby in the NICU.

As far as blogging, it was simply a nice break. Yes, mindless surfing can interfere with work, but I tend to sabotage myself without the added help of the Internet. For example, one problem I need to work on is how my tendency toward perfectionism hampers my writing – I can’t just sit down and whip out a rough draft of a post. I have to perfectly craft every word, every sentence, as I go. By the time I’ve perfected the first paragraph, I’ve often forgotten the point of the rest of the post. It makes the time I do have to work unproductive.

That’s not to say that social media is not a time waster – but we all know that, right? I find that when I get stuck on something I’m working on, that’s when I have the urge to go click on Facebook. I can’t cut social media out completely, though, because it’s how I connect with my friends. My two main forms of adult communication are my local parenting group’s online forum and the NPN Team page (a Facebook page we have set up for the NPN volunteers) – these two spots are where I can chat with friends about everything from parenting questions to riveting discussions on non-parenting topics like fashion, family drama, and whether or not we would sleep with Jeff Goldblum.1

So how to reduce the amount of time spent on social media? I think mainly it’s a matter of self-control, unless you want to utilize a “blocker” program that curbs your access. It would be interesting to set aside a portion of online time that would be devoted completely to interacting with friends. On the other hand, I really enjoy the spontaneous interactions that can happen on Facebook through both chat and updates.

Overall, I think the experiment was a success. Well, other than the fact that I threw in the towel on the last day – it was a day off for Tom, and I really wanted to get some work done while I had an extra pair of hands in the house – so I did some fast and furious blogging work.

But barring my final hour indiscretions, I did learn a few things:

  • I discovered that to be more mindful about my computer time, I simply need to set a limit and be conscious of the time.
  • I’ve also managed to move computer time down the priority list – educational and family time will trump it.
  • Social media is a time suck, but it’s also good for my mental health – it’s often the only adult interaction I get during the day!

A family game of Uno (I'm the one with the camera)

Focusing on Family Time

Our main family goal was to spend more quality time together in the evenings and on the weekends. It seems like Tom and Kieran do something together after dinner, and while that is a nice break for me, we want to establish regular family time too.

So after dinner and dishes were done, we spent time together. Our main activity was games – we played countless hands of Uno. We spent more time than usual reading – with all of us in the room. We set off fireworks and had a fun dinner and games with friends on New Year’s Eve. We hung out with more friends on New Year’s Day. We made a gingerbread house. We did have a lot of fun, and I want to make family time a top priority from now on.

It’s been hard in the past to give up the evening working time – after dinner, I turned parenting over to Tom, because it was the only time of day I could get work done without being interrupted every two minutes. To make matters worse, I would fall asleep while putting Kieran to bed more often than not (I had a case of the sleepies throughout pregnancy and with a newborn). So it wasn’t a matter of waiting to work until he was in bed.

But now I’m not quite as tired in the evenings. Tom and I have chatted, and I’m going to try to leave the computer off in the evenings until Kieran is in bed. Hopefully by announcing that publicly, I’ll stick to it. And perhaps my fellow CarNatPar unplugged friends (Jennifer, Amy, and Adrienne) will help keep me accountable.

Consciously Creating Opportunities for Learning

I don’t see the need to really do “school” at this point for two reasons. First, Kieran just turned four in December, and I do not believe we need to start any kind of formal education at this age. Second, my educational philosophy runs more to “unschooling,” and so we recognize that we learn in everything we do. But I do want to form the habit of consciously creating opportunities for education, plus Kieran actually enjoys doing many of those preschool/kindergarten worksheets – like mazes, letters, matching games, etc. Again, we’ve tried to do activities before, but we quickly fall away from anything regular.

Kieran and I decided that in order to remind ourselves to do an activity for the day, we would buy a calendar and put stickers on each day. At the end of the month, we’ll review our activities (via the posts on my blog or activities written on the calendar) and talk about which ones we enjoyed, what we learned, etc. It won’t be a reward chart, in that he isn’t trying to get a certain number of stickers, and we’re not doing a prize upon completion – it’s more of a fun way to stay accountable.

We also sat down and Kieran chose topics that he was interested in learning about. So in the coming weeks, I hope to be posting weekly Preschool Activities posts on things like birds, frogs, veterinarians, and more. Planning daily activities holds me accountable for delving into the subjects Kieran is interested in (and it’s blog fodder – bonus!).

So that I will not be discouraged by missing a “scheduled” activity, we’re not assigning a time to school stuff – we just have it on our “to do” list, and we’ll get to it when we get to it. We’ve managed to do an activity every weekday during our experiment – both the planned activities from the New Year’s post, and a few worksheets just for fun. So far, so good, and I hope that a regular rhythm works out naturally.

Turning Off the Boob Tube

For Kieran, we turned off the TV. He is a TV zombie – he could easily spend hours zoned out in front of the boob tube – we’ve never figured out how to help him become aware of when he needs to turn it off. And when he watches too much, he becomes overstimulated and cranky. With Ailia’s arrival, I was nervous that he’d get a huge boost in TV time. There has been a slight increase, but not a lot.

The first day he asked for a video a lot. He was also very frustrated when we got up from our rest and read time and we didn’t start a video – that’s his normal time to watch TV. The second day he asked several times and was not as upset after rest and read time. The third day he asked once, and we had a really good discussion about how after this week, we’re going to decrease the regular amount of time we turn on the TV. He actually suggested that we don’t watch videos ever – I didn’t even attempt to hold him to that, but I did say that we could limit how much we watch in one day. He said he’d be just fine if we watched one Dora or Diego show instead of the two it has been (or more on bad days. Ahem.).

Even better, he’s been playing independently a bit more without being prompted – that has been a big issue for quite a long time. I’m anxious to see how our decreased TV time will play out over the next few weeks. The winter months make it easier to rely on TV for entertainment, but I’m hopeful that we will be mindful of our electronic consumption.

Creating a Rhythm

And to tie everything together, I wanted to think about how we could create a regular rhythm to our days – one that was based on family, not on blogging or computer/TV time.

Before our experiment started, we talked about what was important to us. We talked about what we wanted to do regularly and what activities made us feel good.

Here are a few things that we came up with:

  • Physical activity: all of us agree that having daily physical activity makes us feel better about ourselves. We’ve committed to doing some kind of activity three mornings a week. That has not happened yet. I managed to fit in yoga one time, and Tom and Kieran did some outdoor physical activities one day. We need to work on finding a better rhythm in the mornings, including an earlier wake-up time, if we are going to make this goal happen.
  • Meal times: we already do meals together, but we agreed that this is something that is important to us. We did talk about having a moment during our evening meal to talk about what we are thankful for – something Kieran and I typically do before bed, but we wanted to include Tom as well. We have really loved this – Kieran especially. He has reminded us several times to have our “thankful time” at dinner, and the nights we’ve forgotten, he and I have remembered to share at bedtime instead.
  • Chore Chart: To help me establish more of a rhythm during the day, I started an index card file with daily tasks, weekly, monthly, and other regular tasks, and other handy reminders. It took a long time to create, and I haven’t been using it long enough to really report on whether it’s working or whether we’ve stayed faithful to it, but it seems like a good idea!

So. That was our experiment – and a monster post to accompany it. I’m really glad that I forced myself to think about these things, and it was also a great reminder for Kieran that he doesn’t need the TV or video games to survive. If you’ve made it this far – thank you!!

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Make your own moisturizer! — Megan at boho mama whips up a winter skin-friendly moisturizer.
  • Cold Water Only — Brittany at The Pistachio Project talks about how you do not need hot water to wash laundry.
  • Family Cloth… Really?? — After lots of forethought and consideration, Momma Jorje finally decides to take the plunge with family cloth.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle : 5-5-5 Things A Day — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about decluttering her home in an attempt to create a gentler living space. She takes on a new project where she sets a goal of reducing, reusing and recycling every day.
  • Pros and cons of family cloth — Lauren at Hobo Mama would love to continue replacing paper products with family cloth … if she could only get over how damp she feels.
  • Craftily Parenting — Kellie at Our Mindful Life finds that crafting makes her a better parent.
  • Changes — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen couldn’t choose just one area to experiment with, so she wrote a long post about all the fun changes initiated in her life!
  • Life without Internet: Not all it’s Cracked up to Be — Adrienne at Mommying My Way tries to go a week without the Internet, only to realize a healthy dose of Internet usage really helps keep this stay-at-home mom connected.
  • My Progression to Raw Milk — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares her natural parenting progression all the way to trying raw milk.
  • mama’s new little friend. — Sarah at Bitty Bird tries a menstrual cup to “green her period,” and is pleasantly surprised when she falls in love with the product!
  • Before you throw it out, try homemade laundry soap! — Jennifer at Practical OH Mommy shows visual proof that homemade laundry soap is cheaper, easier, and works better than the store-bought chemicals!
  • Oil, Oil, No Toil, No Trouble — K from Very Simple Secret talks about her foray into the oil-cleansing method.
  • I Need a Hobby — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro couldn’t decide which experiment to run, so she did them all.
  • 7 days of macrobiotics for a balanced family — The Stones make a [successful] attempt to release the “holiday junking” with 7 days of macrobiotic meals to balance their bodies and souls. Elisabeth at Manic Mrs. Stone includes an explanation of macrobiotics.
  • Chemical Free Beauty Challenge — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction turned to natural alternatives for her daily beauty and cleaning routine, with great results.
  • Greening my Armpits!? My Green Resolution — Shannon at The Artful Mama talks about how she decided to give up her traditional antiperspirant and make the switch over to crystal deodorants and definitely isn’t looking back!
  • Going Raw (for a while) — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom shares her family’s experience with raw food.
  • Do we get to eat gluten today? — Sheila at A Gift Universe has been trying to figure out if her son does better with or without gluten in his diet … but it’s really hard to tell for sure.
  • Hippies Can Smell and Look Fabulous Too! — Arpita of Up, Down And Natural details her experience of going shampoo-free and overhauling her cosmetics to find the balance between feeling beautifully fabulous and honoring her inner hippie.
  • Our cupboards are full…but there’s nothing to eat — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud takes on the challenge of chomping through the contents of her storecupboard rather than going shopping — but there’s something that she just can’t bring herself to do …
  • Elimination Experiment 3.0MudpieMama recounts the messy adventures of her baby daughter trying to be diaper free.
  • Family Cloth Trial — Amyables at Toddler in Tow talks about making and using family cloth wipes in the bathroom for the first time.
  • Taking a Hiatus — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares how her experience of much less internet interaction affected her family and how it will change her approach in the future.
  • Trying Out the Menstrual Cup — Lindsey at an unschooling adventure ditches the tampons and gives menstrual cups a try.
  • Managing Food Waste in Our Home — Tired of the holiday waste, Robbie at Going Green Mama takes a weeklong focus on reducing food waste in her home, and learns some lessons that can take her through the new year.
  • Going Offline, Cloth Tissues, and Simplicity — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama muses over her time away from blogging and social networking. In addition, she shares her newfound love of cloth tissues and simplicity.

  1. I would not, for the record.

22 Responses to:
"Unplugging and Creating a Rhythm: Our Experiment in Natural Family Living"

  1. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama   ithoughtiknewma

    This sounds really positive overall! I do know the feeling of being sucked into the computer, but I feel like taking a break from it altogether would make me feel really disconnected. I’m way more relaxed with the computer now than I was when I first started blogging. Now, I try to do my computer tasks when I have the opportunity, but I don’t stress over it. Of course, my computer tasks are not nearly as numerous as yours! I love that your family has set aside game time. I can’t wait till my kids are old enough for that. My husband’s dad’s family has always set aside a lot of family game time, and I just love it. I feel like it has made their now teenagers more family centered and better communicators, as well as very comfortably social with adults.

    Thanks for hosting another fantastic carnival!

  2. This is a really great experiment and one I have been thinking about myself a lot in the past few months. As Jesse gets older and naps less, I find my computer time dwindling, but cant seem to discipline myself into not spending the entire evening mindlessly surfing… :( I need to work on my computer time management! Any tips? :)

  3. Crunchy Con Mommy   crunchyconmom

    I need to unplug a bit-but only a little-too. Mainly I need to be more intentional about my time, both online and off, & get more accomplished and do less frittering.
    I made myself a chore chart too but haven’t actually followed it at all yet. Lol.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this! It sounds like you learned a lot from the experiment. I too notice a huge difference when my family is unplugged more! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Kristen @ My Semi-Crunchy Life   crunchymamato2

    I love how in depth you went! I struggle with a lot of the same things and have been trying to establish more of a rhythm to our days. Things have been haphazard, but there has been progress. I don’t turn on the computer until the kids are in bed, but it’s the darn smartphone that gets me. I need to learn to put that away more.

    I’m interested to hear how the index cards go as well. I did the same thing (although on a spreadsheet); I tend to get overwhelmed thinking of all the chores that need to be done and I think it helped to break them down into daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thanks for the book rec, Kristen – I just put a hold on it at our library! And I really like the idea of the index cards, but so far, they’re not doing much. Much of that is due to the fact that my incredible friends from NPN gifted me with cleaning services for my mama blessing, and I have the first visit scheduled for next week – so I keep looking at the cards and saying “I’ll have the cleaner do that. And that. And that…” ;)

  6. Kristen @ My Semi-Crunchy Life   crunchymamato2

    Almost forgot…have you read Simplicity Parenting? I just finished it and I really enjoyed the chapter on creating rhythm. You might too.

  7. Love this! It seemed you got much more out of your media fast than I did (ahem) but that’s okay, because now I’ve learned lots from you! I already bookmarked one of your preschool activities posts for me to use in the future with Burkley and also with the little girl whom I homeschool (very part time) for preschool. I love that your goal include the whole family and that looked a little different for each person.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      But we each got different things out of it, and that’s ok too!! And I’ll extend the same offer to you I did to Lauren – guest post on the preschool activities = my eternal love.

  8. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    Why wouldn’t you sleep with Jeff Goldblum?

    Ok, I’m really tempted to leave my comment at that, but I will continue.

    I think the unplugging experiment was really cool. I especially appreciate how I got to experience it without doing it. ;) I’ve been inspired by you folks to think of appropriate limits to computer time for me (and TV time for the young’un, now that you mention it) so that we can prioritize more family time.

    I also like the preschool activity ideas. I was saying this on my recent post about books we’re reading, but I feel like I need motivation to bring topics and activities into our life that wouldn’t otherwise occur to me. So the idea of seeking them out from other sources (such as your posts) meshes perfectly.

    Let us know how the index chore cards go! With all my non-computer time, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to keep the house sparkling clean. Right?

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Ha! I love that you dipped down to the footnotes ;) I can totally see Jeff as a fun drinking/interesting discussions buddy, but not as a partner. He’s just not my type.

      If you’d like to guest post with a week of activities, I’d love you forever!

      (And so far, the index cards have not been successful, except for taking up a spot on my table. Ahem. But I have flipped through them, looked at that day’s chore, and laughed.)

  9. Deb @ Living Montessori Now   DebChitwood

    Lauren’s comment made me laugh! And I loved your experiment, Dionna! I’m always fascinated to read how parents with young children find a balance with computer- and real-life time. I don’t even have kids at home anymore, and I still have difficulty finding enough time for everything.

    I can totally relate to the need for computer time to connect with online friends. And the educational resources available online are absolutely amazing … would have made homeschooling much easier back in the day (except for the time spent online)! I love how involved Kieran is in your activity planning and evaluation. Lots of good stuff going on in your family! :)

  10. Melissa   VibrantWanderer

    This seems like the very experiment that I need right about now, minus the full unplugging part, because I know how much I need that connection. I love the way you talked about your priorities together, and planned based on that. It’s easy to adopt new practices based on some idea that they are positive in and of themselves, when in reality, no matter how great they sound, they can’t possibly be right for every family.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I like that Kieran is getting to be old enough that he can join those conversations – and make really thoughtful decisions!

  11. Wow! Really long post that I really enjoyed! There’s so much here I don’t know where to begin…hmmm, I also get derailed by failed schedules. I feel like I’m continually trying to find a rhythm, but it keeps changing so I never get in the groove. It sounds like you’re finding that groove with your new rhythm. I look forward to hearing how it goes!

    I like what you said about going offline being like not talking to your friends. I know what you mean! Some days I don’t even get a chance to check my email and it hurts. I’d like to connect so much more but Munchkin becomes so demanding the instant I pick up the phone or sit at the computer. He still needs my undivided attention almost constantly. I guess that’s a rhythm we’ll have to work on :)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Kieran has always been very demanding, so I completely sympathize. When I was pregnant with Ailia I really worked with Kieran on being able to spend time by himself – so far, so good! Thanks for reading this monster post, btw ;)

  12. Gaby @ Tmuffin   tmuffindotcom

    That’s interesting that you felt such a disconnect without the computer. That’s how I feel often. I have my local friends, and we all get together at least once or twice a week with the kids, but if I don’t go online to get a dose of my blog friends, I feel like I’m totally in this weird, blank space.

    It was also interesting hearing about your experience turning off the TV. Baby T likes the TV a lot too. He doesn’t become a zombie, but it is almost always on in the background, and I tend not to push the subject because I hate dealing with his tantrums. Your post was a good reminder to stay firm with him.

    And I like your ideas for rhythm. Exercise and meal times are such a perfect way to include the kids. And chores too! I can’t wait until Baby T is a little older and we can turn chores into playtime and playtime into chores.

  13. For me, it is about finding that balance. The computer is such a wonderful resource and outlet, but too much of it causes me to be cranky.

  14. Erica @ ChildOrganics   childorganics

    I agree, it’s about finding that groove. I purposely set one day on the weekend to keep my computer off. This helps me try to find that balance. I always worry about the example I’m setting for my kids and their future computer use.
    I am struggling with balancing the boob tube now. It IS so much harder in the winter with kids!! I’ll do really well for awhile keeping it under control, then WHAM! it’s out of control again. We’re all a work in progress I guess…

  15. What a great set of experiments and when you had a lot going on with a new baby! Thank you for logging on to check on me (& Spencer). ;-)

    It seems we are ever striving to improve upon ourselves and our families… if not, well we should be. Jeez, I have a lot of room for improvement!

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