Making Time for Quiet

My life is loud.  With five happy healthy children ages seven and under, a husband who is basically the personification of music, recording in the living room and making Irish whistles and bamboo saxophones all hours of the day and night–not to mention around 25 piano, guitar, and whistle students that rotate in and out of our small house each week–peace and quiet rarely (I would say actually never) happens by accident.

When I became a mother, of all the adjustments that I had to make, I think the hardest was getting used to being constantly available to my children.  I am a quiet, introspective soul who needs lots of time to process life.  I need time to think.  I need time to write.  The act of writing in my journals is synonymous for me with tapping into creative flow, having (and remembering!) good ideas, and making peace with my (beautiful, but) chaotic life.  It is how I do my most sincere praying.  How I reflect on what God has done in my life.  How I can look back and see how faithfully he has brought me through.  To really get somewhere, I need time without interruption.  I need prolonged quiet.   And if I am also armed with a cup of hot tea, the right pen, and a perfect journal, I am at my absolute creative best.

Of course, as I mentioned before, in our home, this never happens by accident.

But to my great astonishment, it can actually happen every day, when it happens on purpose.

If you are reading this post, especially if you are a mother of small children who have stopped napping, and you feel like you will never have a moment to yourself again, I want to share something that is revolutionizing this never-stopping, never-slowing season of my life.  It is the gift of one quiet hour every day.

We call it Quiet Time.  And it is completely changing my world.

This is how it works.

Every afternoon, all of the kids get in their beds for one hour.  They are allowed to take whatever they want–books, paper, crayons, craft projects, etc.  They can’t take anything that makes noise.  They can work on anything they like, as long as they are quiet and working alone.

While they are in their beds, I am downstairs, sitting quietly, reading, writing, drinking tea, and enjoying–with near ecstasy–an hour of letting my thoughts flow without interruption.  If you can’t understand how, after a week of this truly working, I just sat there and wept for the entire precious time, because it was so beautiful and so meaningful to me, then you may not need quiet time in your life.  But if you have small children, and your life feels out of control, and you feel like you can never clear the fog in your own mind, I promise you, quiet is possible.

At the end of one hour, I go up and tell the kids they can come downstairs.  I have been astonished at some of the things they have made during their quiet hours.  My older girls have written letters to friends, writing more during that hour than I could coax them to do during our “official” homeschool time.  They have discovered new ways of drawing.  Their reading has improved.  My boys have had the opportunity to slow down, and they spend most days resting.  Remy, who is two, had stopped napping, and his dear little personality was just wrecked by moodiness and complete exhaustion.  Once we started quiet time, he started napping again, and his temperament became more even and sweet again.  It took a few days of discipline to make him stay in his bed long enough to fall asleep, but after about a week, he was back in the routine.  Kells, age 4, will usually draw for a while and then take a short nap.

I always time everything around the baby’s schedule.  When she is ready for her nap, that is when I send the other kids up to their beds.  I try to have my water heating for my tea, my bag with my books laid out, and everything ready so that after I put the baby down, walk the kids up, and come back down the stairs, I am ready to go.  One beautiful hour.  And then, I walk up and tell the kids it’s time to get up.  If anyone is sleeping, I usually let them finish out their naps.

And the day goes on.  And I am a better mother for the rest of the day.  And I am able to put my heart more fully into my children’s needs, their creative ideas and ambitious projects, because I have already had some time for my own ideas, and I know that if I didn’t get them all worked out today, I will have another hour tomorrow.

That’s it.  It is very simple.  If this speaks to you, you should try it.  And if you know someone who could benefit from giving quiet a try, please pass this post along.  It sounds so simple.  But the effects have truly been life-changing for me.

A few specific notes about our quiet time here, for those who want to know a little bit more how it works for us…

I remind everyone in the morning to be thinking about what they want to do during quiet time and encourage them to gather their things early.  The kids use a suitcase in their beds to store their quiet time things.  I hope to one day have some little wall pockets or shelves up, but for now, this is working.  Kells has a quiet time bag, which holds all of his paper, coloring things, scissors, etc.  It doesn’t take a ton of preparation, but just having the kids think ahead and gather materials seems to help them enjoy their time more fully.

I don’t let the kids play on devices during quiet time.  The main reason is that I want them to learn to enjoy quiet.  I want them to enjoy time without interruption of ads and texts and commercials.  I want them to learn to entertain themselves, to be creative, and to have time to process the day.  I don’t just want to distract them so that I can have some time to myself.  I want them to be growing as whole people who can function in a quiet setting without having to be entertained by someone or something else.  So for this hour, I say no to all electronic devices.   I don’t check my email or Facebook or even turn on my computer during my own quiet time, because the internet and texting can very easily become another form of constant interruption for me.

Why in their beds?  I make everyone stay in their beds for a couple of reasons–because it is safe (I know where they are), because it is the only actual specific location that belongs to each child in our small house (they share rooms and all other spaces), and because it helps the little ones stay in bed when the big ones are modeling the same behavior.

Consistency.  I am not a very consistent person.  But when I started to get a glimpse that this could actually work, I began to be very adamant about everyone staying in beds and being quiet.  The first few days were challenging.  I had to sit upstairs with them, guiding what was happening.  I had my quiet time along with them.  But I could tell that quiet time might be possible, so I made sure that every day, we attempted a full hour.  After about 6 weeks, we are all in the routine.  Some days the kids don’t want to do it.  Some days they have an idea and they can’t wait to get in their beds and get to work on it.  But we always try to make it happen.  And it has made such an impact on my life, that I truly plan to continue this until all of my children are grown and leave the house.  If I can.

Obviously, there are times when it doesn’t happen.  Sometimes the baby wakes early, and my time is cut short.  Sometimes we take a morning trip and my two-year old falls asleep in the car, which means he doesn’t nap later.  I try not to freak out when it doesn’t happen, or if I get started a little late.  Sometimes I do freak out.  But I try not to.  And I remind myself that I will have another beautiful hour tomorrow.

Having quiet time has changed the flow of our days and the rhythm of our family life.  It gives our children time daily to reflect on the experiences in their lives, to work those thoughts out into artwork and writing, or just to rest when they need to slow down.  It has shifted the focus of daily downtime from watching tv to something more meaningful.  It has opened up time for me to write, as well as time for Randy to record daily.  (This is huge for us!)  I think it is giving our children an outlet for their creativity and I believe it is helping them to learn how to enjoy a little time alone.  I feel less desperate, less out of control, less exhausted, more peaceful, and more like the true me.

If this post is speaking to you, why not give quiet a try?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Nina Griffin says:

    Genius idea!!! I can’t imagine having that many children and still finding time for myself. Well done.

  2. Beautifully written, Mackenzie. Reminds me of your childhood days when I put all the kids on my bed with stacks of books at nap time but we listened to Winnie the Pooh. You knew it was time to turn the page when Tinker Bell rang her little bell..or something like that.

  3. Quiet time was the law of the Medes and Persians at our house too, for many, many years! It was survival mode for me! I too need time to process and be creative. It’s not selfish when it is in the best interest of all. The little ones needed the rest and the big ones needed some time away from the littles. It was the reset button for the day and we were all the better for it. Bravo Mom!!!!

Would love to hear your thoughts on this post!