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  • Writer's pictureAlley Dezenhouse Kelner

Staying Connected through the Chaos

As we go through the motions, time keeps slipping away. Remember what it was like when your only obligation was to exist in space? Yah, me neither.

It’s hard enough to get everything done as a (mostly) fully grown adult; adding kids to the equation—something’s got to give. We prioritize, we skip steps, we do our best to get through the ‘must dos’ leaving little time for the ‘wish I could dos’. Life is basically a balancing act with a lot of negotiation in my internal dialogue...

All that said, how do we make sure we’re upholding those core values that carry us through the usually busy, frequently hectic and often stressful daily grind? How do we make sure we’re not skipping the things that keep us grounded?

When I think about what I want my daughter to remember from her childhood, it’s not how much kale she ate (which is a surprising amount for an 18 month old), it’s not how clean our house was (which is NEVER clean enough for a surprise visitor without a frantic 60-second-tidy), or how fashionably she was always dressed (give or take the days she is dressed by her well-intention-ed dad, or the days we didn’t get to the laundry). What I want my daughter, and her eventual siblings (yes mom, we know you want MORE grandkids), to remember is the feeling of being part of a family that is authentically connected.

When there is literally a never-ending list of things I should do, carving out time to focus on family can make me feel like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up the hill.

In my work helping families find calm, in pursuit of mindfulness and attempting to build the life I want, I have rounded up a few things that can help turn the boulder into a small but more manageable stone.

  • Rituals

Rituals are habits that begin to feel routine, but whose impact are often profound. In the moment, rituals can feel normal and expected, but in hindsight rituals form the foundation of the memories that stick with you. Here are some rituals I have seen work for creating calm in the storm of a busy life (even though full disclosure—in the moment, they can seem like just another item on the must do list!)

Friday night dinners live on!

Planned weekly family dinner—seems like a no brainer, right? Growing up we usually spent a little extra time on Sunday night dinner—it wasn’t always elaborate (chicken nuggets, anyone?!) but it was always a little different from our regular on-the-go (or on-the-couch) meals. As I grew older, we switched our tradition to Friday night Shabbat dinners; we used a nice table cloth, we lit candles, we sang blessings. The meals were a lot of work (not for me, this was back in the day of just having to exist—and probably complaining about it), but the impact was widely felt. As kids, we didn’t care that we were using the good flatware, didn’t care about the candle light, or expensive linen; we cared about the feeling we got from coming to expect the ritual (be it Sunday or Friday). We ate together. We didn’t rush. We were present in the moment (more on that later).

Practicing gratitude—I love this one. I once heard, from a probably highly reliable source that the Obama's practice an activity called “Rose and thorn” at the dinner table. They (allegedly) recount the “rose” (or the best of) and the “thorn” (or the worst of) their day in an exercise of gratitude. I later saw the Kardashian’s doing the same (I mean, I wasn’t Keeping up with the Kardashian's or anything…), though they called it “pit and peak”. Though I don’t take all my life lessons from the First Family or the First Family of Reality TV, I do think this is a worthwhile habit!

Holidays and special moments—this is the most obvious application of participating in rituals and is often the example that drives home the impact with the most clarity. We all have fond memories of holiday rituals—for me, many of those memories are the “rose” or the “peak” of my year. Why not make an extra effort to devote a little more attention to rituals like that, that really stand the test of time? For me, that is the core of what spirituality means to me. It means participating in shared values and togetherness; that’s the ritual, and it doesn’t have to only happen on Christmas, or Chanukah!

  • Embracing the lexicon I read an article on about Yiddish/Hebrew words that enter many Jewish (and maybe non-Jewish) families’ day to day. I became increasingly aware of how the idiosyncrasies that, may or may not be rooted in culture or religion, can contribute to the sense of connection between family members, whether its words that come from a native language, like keppe (the Yiddish word for head) or bella (the Italian word for beautiful). It’s not always religion or mother-tongue that predicate these nuances; it can be weird isms that develop over time, like how my daughter has always calls glasses no-nos (because that’s what we said when she tried to grab them as a baby) or how we develop weird names for other common items that we forget aren’t real words. It’s these words that remind us that as a family, we literally (and metaphorically) speak the same language.

  • Carving out time for spontaneity Yes, rituals help you embed family time in an already busy routine, but it’s important not to discount the role of unplanned (ok, semi-planned but not necessarily formulaic) adventure. At certain times of the year this somehow seems easier. It seems easy to take an afternoon to head to a pumpkin patch in the fall, to run to the beach in the summer; but taking it a step beyond these twice-a-year trips, it’s important to remember that the best memories often result from a totally random, unplanned adventure. I am all about routine, believe me, but it’s important to schedule some time to live ‘off script’.

  • Making an effort to 'be here' When I tell people to make an effort to ‘be here’ (cue internal teenager reaction) I usually get an eye-roll. Believe me, I hear you loud and clear. There’s email (guilty), there’s Facebook (guilty), Snapchat (guilty), Instagram (guilty), blogging (guilty) and work (double guilty). There are apps, and stocks, and news, and the world—it just keeps going! Being present isn’t something you can realistically do at all times as someone who probably makes a ritual of multi-tasking, but hey—a girl can dream. Making an effort to be present for your family is one of the best ways you can truly stay connected. It doesn’t mean giving up multi-tasking; it just means scheduling time to be offline (literally and metaphorically) in favour of giving your undivided attention to those you love.

I hope that provides some direction, without feeling terribly overwhelming. If one of these strategies works for you, I'd love to hear about it! Happy connecting!

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