Over the years I have read a whole lot of books, articles, blogs, instruction manuals, on this crazy little thing called parenting….

When my youngest became mobile and started taking over the world, my twins were still two.
I’ll say that again for those peeps in the back….
That is three boys under the age of three…

I was aging about 160 years a day.

Each day started with a main goal of keeping them all alive…
…and then if there was time for anything else…. well then yes, do that.

I was swimming in a sea of high chairs, diaper orders, baby gates and black out curtains… buying stock in Costco wipes was considered… but there was no time for that.

At the end of most days I would belly flop on my bed and think “I thought I would be better at this.”

But like anything else that starts out being foreign and hard,
I started to find ways to navigate.

Reading other people’s theories, strategies, struggles, tips, successes and stories were, for a while, my life line.

I’d take what I needed from each one, apply it to what was happening in my own house for whatever phase or season we were in, add a dash of observation and common sense…. and by gathering a little from here, a little from there…. I finally found a rhythm in our day.

The days became more predictable and routine and it no longer surprised me that I now required caffeine much the way a car requires gasoline.

I found that like Labradors or Thoroughbreds,
little boys need fresh air, and space to run, and a lot of it.
I learned that in between those times of running in fields, there were just as many times that they needed a lap to sit on, a pair of eyes looking just at them, a hand to hold.

I learned I needed those exact same things almost as much, if not more.

The calm and togetherness, followed by adventure and movement.

The breathing in. The breathing out.

I stumbled on this article as I was writing this post and love the summary of what this ‘breathing in and breathing out’ business really means for us parents…..

“In the inhaling or breathing-in phase the child directs his attention to an activity that basically relates him to himself. For little children each breathing-in period (drawing, water painting, knitting, eating…) is very short because little children can only concentrate for short periods of time. In the exhaling or breathing-out period, the child relates mainly to the surrounding world (free play, free running etc.). For each breathing-in period the child needs a breathing-out period and so a pattern is established.  When the children are in the breathing-in period, you have to make sure you are present, so the child feels ah, here I feel my parents, they are there for me. After that, for very short time, you can do what you have to do at home and you can tell your child you have to wait because I need to do this. And this will be all right because you know you have been present with the child.”                         -Helle Heckmann, Kindling Magazine

I started bringing this pattern into our life after watching, speaking to, and learning from the teachers at the Waldorf school my boys attend.

The beating heart of the school is creating rhythm in a child’s life.

Bringing the child inward for more focused learning, and then letting them explore outwardly.

For us, this breathing in and out looks different every day in our own home, but the pattern (for the most part) remains the same………

The snuggled up on the couch reading Charlotte’s Web morning, followed by a forest filled afternoon…. the boys running on trails and climbing logs while I hang back and enjoy my walk.

The pajama pants watercolor session around the dining room table, followed by me digging in my garden while the boys make mud pies.

The kids sitting on the kitchen counter while we make muffins together, followed by a park outing where the boys ride their bikes while I read my book in the sun.

A picnic lunch shared together on a blanket outside, followed by them playing astronauts in their room while I attack the mountain of laundry.

Sewing a pillowcase while listening to Neil Young, followed by them climbing a tree outside while I paint in my journal.

The pouring the coffee into the mug, followed by the pouring of the wine into a glass..:-)

Back and forth, in and out, over and over, through out our days, and weeks, and months and now, years.

This brought a rhythm to our life.

The times I get frustrated with their ‘neediness’ is almost always a day I neglect our ‘togetherness’…. our ‘breath in’. Some days we hit the ground running and it is go go go and I forget how much they we all  need that breath. That time where I actually sit down with them… look into their eyes, hear what they are saying to me, build something with them, create something together, sing or read or snuggle under a quilt.

That time is as necessary to the ease of our day as food… oxygen….water…. whatever it is you can’t live without…. cheese?  It is that necessary.

I’m learning  that the days where I am overwhelmed by their insanity energy level is almost always a day where I have expected the cozy togetherness to last all day….. If I had a time machine, this would be a day (pre-kids) where I would binge watch an entire season of Top Chef, order Chinese take out and not leave my couch.  Why don’t my kids understand my need for occasional hibernation? Why must such alarming levels of energy come so easily to these little bodies? I don’t know. But I do know that without a ‘breath out’, these kids be cray.

It doesn’t mean you have to go somewhere everyday…. we do most of our outward exploring right here. I hung a rope from a tree branch that occupies them for an entire afternoon. There are eggs to gather, coops to clean. I went to Goodwill and bought a bunch of old kitchen stuff for a mud kitchen. They do kids yoga in our living room. I play the Star wars theme song and they build star ships out of legos. The point of the breath out is that they are connecting to the world independently, and I am getting my shiznit done… (even if that just means sitting down and drinking some tea, reading a chapter in a book, or writing a blog post).

Speaking of that…. I currently have a toddler yanking on my shirt asking for a bagel that we don’t have and reminding me that my ‘breath out’ is over, and it’s time to make some sandwiches and draw a robot together.

Until next time…. whether you are enjoying a day of deep breathing or you are just keeping your ahead above water, know that what you are doing matters and I love ya!


  1. Yes that is exactly it Rachel! I have found a rhythm with my eighteen-month old son Leon, by honoring an inward-outward-inward-outward pattern. Yet I still struggle in that his cycles are much faster than mine. How many times a day do I hear his “ask” for my attention escalating to a scream for it, because my eyes and hands are otherwise occupied while my mouth is saying to him “just a minute honey”-as if an eighteen-month old knows a minute from a year! I am working so hard on teaching him to ask nicely, but I can’t take credit for it if he somehow learns this, while I have been ignoring his initial nice ask. I don’t mean to ignore him! And I cringe at how often I complain to others about not being able to “get anything done”. I need to lose this thought pattern, not serving me. Done, this way of thinking is gone! Out the window! Composting into more fertile, sustaining mentality, such as you so beautifully describe! I am a “doer” type, creative, with lots of personal plans. I want to invite my son to be part of some of my plans, but of course mostly I am revising my plans to look more like his personal plans. 🙂 My son is still young, and requires A Lot of attention even when he is “breathing out”. Yet with childproofing and that extra mom sense, I can sometimes turn my attention-ever so slightly-to something of “my own” or for “my self”. Yet I find so much joy in this time when he and I are so intertwined, the thought of this age of toddlerhood ending-as it inevitably does, every minute becoming something wonderfully, terrifyingly new-heartbreaking. I guess I have not yet become accustomed to the heartbreak/ecstasy of mothering. Although, ha-you said it first! Coffee is a new norm (I wasn’t even a coffee drinker at all, never touched the stuff!) Wow. Love it.
    Can I just add here that this is the only blog I have ever been able to read? You are such a talented writer, I am trying to emulate you a bit here and I mean that as the biggest compliment.
    Back on theme-breathing in/breathing out. Waldorf does this really well and I should know. I went to Waldorf Kindergarten through 5th grade, so for anyone reading this comment here is my unadulterated plug for Waldorf education wahoo! So thank you, Rachel, for describing this true way of being with our children so magnificently.

    • Rachel Phillips

      Nora! You little beauty you, thank you!!!! This puts the biggest smile on my face. Toddlerhood really is uncharted territory, and I am finding such an anchor in it all from connecting with fellow moms like you. I appreciate your kind words, as it encourages me to keep writing. You should too… your words and story matter<3

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