Saturday, September 27, 2008

Good Morning, Maria Montessori

Since Angelina's birth, my husband has been getting up with Bella and Bean in the morning while I stay in bed with Angelina (we only co-sleep in the morning, OK?) for a few precious extra minutes of sleep. He gets ready while watching the older kids, then wakes me up when he's leaving for work so that I can get their day started.

Don't tell him, but lately I've been nodding at him, waving him on his way, then going back to sleep. We have a small two bedroom apartment, so I could hear if anything went really wrong, and my husband child-proof locks the door on his way out.

Lo and behold, most mornings during the last two weeks, I've come out around 8am to find Bella and Bean serving themselves breakfast. They work together to get a couple cereal boxes out of the cabinet and kids' bowls and spoons out of the drawer. They set the table. Bean climbs up into his highchair, Bella into her booster seat, and Bella opens the cereal boxes and interior bags and pours them both a bowlful. She's gotten the milk jug from the refrigerator and attempted to add milk a time or two, but I discourage that. She can usually even find a water cup lying around and fill their smaller water glasses. Full-fledged breakfast is underway by the time Angelina and I emerge.

Maternal negligence or Montessori-style practical life activity work? You decide.


Anonymous said...

my mother-in-law used to pour bowls of cereal the night before and cover them with plastic wrap and then put a small tupperware pitcher of milk on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. The oldest would be in charge of getting everyone to the table and pouring the milk from the small pitcher into everyone's bowls. I imagine you could even pre-fill some sippi cups and put them in an easy to reach spot in the frige. I don't see how this is much different than leaving toddlers for a bit to take a shower. I certainly do that. My kids know that if they really need something or if they are scared etc... they can always come in and get me. I'd be sure to tell your kids often that they can wake mommy up if they need anything. This is getting long, but another thing I've done is to keep a basket of kids books by the bed so they can come and crawl into bed with me. I can read them without actually fully waking up. It's still very restful.

Elena said...

Thank you sooo much for admitting that you do this. I, too, stayed in bed with baby until my husband left for work. There's something so restful about those last few hours. My kids have certainly made a few breakfasts and even some pb and j lunches. It's always reassuring when another mother admits that she isn't a supermom who can live life on 5 hours/night.

sophie said...

I suppose the question you have to ask yourself is this: If you were awake would you think it is a good idea that they get their own cereal? If the answer is yes, then no guilt, right?

I don't know anything about Maria Montessori, but I think it's always a good thing to teach children skills they are developmentally able to handle!

As for staying in bed, I think it's a matter of personal holiness you have to decide on your own. If it's truly a necessity for you to get the extra rest, then do it and do it guilt free! If there are things we could be doing to get rid of that need, it's a matter of personal holiness to do it, no matter how much we don't *want* to. If it's just plain laziness and sloth, well, then to put it bluntly it's a sin to give in to that temptation.

All said in love and coming from a woman who will (and has gone to) great lengths to grab a few more minutes of shut eye in the morning. I just know that for ME my motivations are often selfish, or coming from my own lack of self-discipline the night before (like staying up late to do something I felt like doing).

I think it's something we have to figure out on our own, but as a general rule, we should all be striving for more personal perfection and holiness. And if those extra moments in bed are bringing you more holiness in your vocation, only you and your spiritual director can help you figure that out!

B-Mama said...

Sophie offers some great personal reflections above for deciding the motivation for your need for extra sleep... But I would say, if you feel anything like I have for the past two months with a new baby, sleep away and get as much sleep as possible!! You need to be well-rested to handle the ups and downs of a day with three small children, one of whom is nursing!! No small task!

And how fabulous that Bella is acquiring such great mothering skills in the process?! Makes me wonder if I should start something similar with our boys even if I am around? The more responsible independence, the better, in my book! I remember MA talking about investing in plastic dinnerware so that her oldest kiddos could practice setting and clearing the table without worry of breaking dishes. Brilliant!

Sophie said...

I hope my above post didn't come across judgmental or lacking in compassion. It is certainly not my intention! Just trying to say that we all probably have different standards, based on our motivations and we need to set our own rules for ourselves.

But hey, 2 months post-partum, there are going to be those days that we have to say it was a success if we made it out of bed at all!

Juris Mater said...

Sophie, I think what you say is very important and true. And you're totally right that this is a matter of personal discernment, day by day. I have always liked how St. Josemaria talks about the "heroic moment" of each day, which is the moment that we've planned to wake up. And we can decide to demonstrate heroic virtue by getting up and starting the day as planned, at that moment, not slothing (is that a word?) around in bed, hitting the snooze button, being lukewarm and non-intentional toward the new day.

However, I have found that these goals can turn into my being overly scrupulous at times when I need to ease up on myself (new baby, seasonal moodiness in full swing, etc), which can lead to serious despair and exhaustion that cripples my ability to live out my vocation. The solution during these times is usually a very simple and human and temporary one--a glass of red wine after the kids are in bed every night, or letting the kids watch an hour of TV in the late afternoon, or staying in bed for an extra half hour in the morning, even if needing that extra half hour of morning sleep is a result staying up an extra half hour at night to do something I enjoy. I have found that these ways of cutting myself slack can totally turn my life (including my spiritual life) around. Parenting several young kids is REALLY intense, and those of us who are already intense in temperament can wind ourselves so tightly that everything starts to fall apart. Does that make sense? I've only been at this for four years, but I have found this to be the case so far. Oh yeah, and I just remembered, a friend of mine with a similar temperament told me that her excellent confessor and spiritual director once gave her the penance of reading a Jane Austen novel with a glass of wine every night for the next week. I liked that one : )

Juris Mater said...


Anonymous, I really like your suggestions!! A basket of books is such a good idea, too, to combat the tendency of that darn TV to turn on during the survival-mode mornings while I'm slowly getting my act together.

And Elena, yep, getting a little break in the morning can be so restful and restorative. I think it's fine for our kids to see us doing this, too, when it's an occasional thing. I feel like a non-human taskmaster if I'm always awake ahead of them with breakfast ready and the morning's projects laid out. I think most of us probably tend toward this Supermom routine, but it doesn't hurt for kids of Supermoms to be reminded occasionally that their moms are delicate and sometimes need extra rest.

Elena said...


Again, thank you for this post. Your words have gone straight to my heart as we seem to share very similar temperaments. My husband always tells me that I'm a lot easier to be around when I'm not trying so hard! Also, my father continually tells me that my problem is the absence of red wine in the evening!! I am always amazed that when things are going the way I think they should (i.e. I'm up early, prayed before the kids are up, have gone for a run etc. etc.) our life seems to suddenly fall apart when of those things falls out of whack. My husband keeps reminding me that these years are a lot about survival and that I should stop expecting so much of myself and just allow myself to be. The funny thing is that I actually enjoy being around myself a lot more when I cut myself some slack. Sorry to go on so long but your post really hit the nail on the head. As one of my NET teammates said to me, "Boy am I glad that you're not God, because you sure are hard on yourself."

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as "extra" sleep for mothers of young children! Your children are safe, healthy, and happy, and building their independence (as well as their relationship with one another) in the process.

Mary Alice said...

JM, this is not to encourage you to be hard on yourself, and I will start by admitting that I have done this, and also that I have slept while my kids had quiet time, but I have a few red flags going off:

First, your children are very young, perhaps younger than some of the commenters realize when they talk about independance. I do think that having them able to get their own breakfast is great, and I think that even being in bed would be fine, but if you are actually asleep, your children are not really safe, unexpected things can happen very quickly. I think hanging out in your room with a basket of books is a better option, and would get you gradually out of bed sooner.

Second, even if you had no other children, I want to get a discussion going about the sleep issue.

Is there a time when you need to wake up? Being up before your husband leaves for the day so that you could sit with him while he has breakfast would be very nice for both of you.

How much sleep do you need? Take into account that your sleep with a newborn will be interrupted.

Now, count backwards and work very hard to develop the habit of going to bed!

I am not saying this to be judgemental, but because it is something that I am really struggling with right now.

My brother, who is a newlywed living in the city, and his wife, do this, and he recently told me that they often go to bed as early as 9! I was in shock, as my brother was a total night owl.

Get this, he doesn't have to leave for work until an hour later than his wife, but they set it up so that they can go for a run, come home, shower and dress for work, and leave the house together, he walks her to the train and then reads the paper in a coffee shop until it is time for his train.

He was training for a marathon, and the rumor was that when he did a few early morning long runs she would go for her walk and then greet him at home with his post-run chocolate milk and banana.

On the one hand, the sweetness of this may turn you off, but really think about what they are setting up by establishing this habit before they have children. They are very busy people, and they clearly work hard to make the most of the little bit of time that they have alone together each day.

Len and I know that our whole day goes much better if we have good mornings, and I have resolved many times to do better with this and failed. I think that the bedtime is the key. Rarely do I have anything that truly needs to be done after 9:30 pm. Even the "alone/down time" that I have then is not that refreshing because it is usually spent watching TV or on the computer.

Kat said...

JM, you know Bella and Bean and have a good sense of their abilities and limits just as all of us also know our own children's...My only caution in this discussion is that sometimes our kids do things that we never thought they would do. I experienced this when C was 3 years old...He had never shown any interest in electric sockets, so I was not overly careful in childproofing them when we moved to our new home - he was 2.5 already, and I thought that he was over that phase in any case. Well, one day I was getting ready to grill and had set the grilling fork on the counter. In the blink of an eye, C had gotten the grilling fork off of the counter and stuck it into the prongs of the electric socket. Fire shot out and sparks flew, but praise God he didn't receive a shock because the fork had a wooden handle. This is the type of behavior that C had never shown before and hasn't shown since, but he did it once and it could have been disastrous. So, now I tell moms that sometimes our children do things that we would never expect, both good and bad, so we should try to be prepared.

Juris Mater said...

Agreed, MaryAlice and Kat. This is definitely a routine that we're trying to work our way out of, and I originally intended for this to be a humorous post and not one praising this survival-mode (and potentially dangerous) way of life. Sorry to alarm you. My kids are safe--I'm usually up well before my husband leaves, and always by the time he leaves (with the exception of the mornings I mentioned in this post)--but I like the books in the bedroom idea A LOT for the extra-sleep mornings.

MaryAlice, I agree in theory with the going to bed earlier and waking up earlier, but every time I try to do this I end up getting depressed. I feel like I really, really need some personal, quiet time at night to do my own thing, and I really, really, really dislike mornings, especially early mornings. I have found for my whole life, regardless of bedtime, that I truly get going--energy-wise, mood-wise, etc--in the middle of the morning. What do you make of it?

Mary Alice said...

Okay, I was thinking about this some more and I tried an experiment which I would like to call Sprint to the Finish, in honor of my brother and his marathon. If he can run 26 miles, I can get through my day!

I had a focused morning of school with the children, a very easy lunch of PB, flax seed crackers and carrot sticks, and then a trip to the apple orchard. We had lots of super outdoor playtime in the barn, corn maze, etc. We had a snack of cider and ginger snaps. We came home and they played while I started dinner, then I joined them for a while to build a marble run. The twins set the table while P and H cleaned the playroom. We ate. Half way through dinner I made the big announcement: Dad says you do better when you are in bed on time, and he is right about that, so bedtime is bedtime whether you have had your story or not. That got them moving. We did baths, pajamas, brush teeth and stories, I tucked them in and straightened up the kitchen. I barely took a breath the whole time, but it all got done.

Here I sit, at my computer, at 10 minutes after 8. I can have an hour of "personal time" and it will be about 9. I can then get in bed, read for a little while and go to sleep before 10. I hope to be up at 6:30. That will be 8 and a half hours of sleep, which should be more than enough.

A few considerations; Mon, Wed and Fri I do laundry and will have to stay up later. Laundry folding becomes personal down time when it is done in front of Tivo'ed episodes of John and Kate Plus 8 and the Office.

If my husband gets home before I am asleep, I will probably lose some time spending time with him. While this will be time well spent, I have to try not to get sucked in to watching the 11 o'clock news with him.

The unexpected can always happen -- I do not have children who wake at night routinely now, but there are always nightmares, and illness on the horizon, and for me it only takes one bad night to get thrown totally off track.

But, I have already spent 5 minutes of my down time writing this comment, I have to make better use of my time!

JM -- your kids are littler, they help less around the house, and you also have legal work to do at night sometimes, so this all may not work for you, but maybe someday...

Maria said...


I agree that some folks just have different biological clocks. While it is a struggle now to deal with the early to bed/early to rise phase with young children, you'll probably do great when they are teens and like to stay up late talking and sleep in the next morning!