| Family First Feature |

It’s About Time

 Five women took on a two-week challenge to overhaul their toughest time of day

I made a change to: The early morning
Name: Meredith
Age: 40s
Location: New Jersey
Job: Runs a playgroup 

MY youngest is 12, so my children are pretty independent. But I still like to be there for them, make their lunches, and send them off to school with a smile.

My typical morning used to look something like this: I’d get up a few minutes before 7:45, when I needed to drive my son to his bus stop, and put on whatever clothing I could throw on easily. Then I’d help my girls get ready for school, and take them at about 8:15. I’d return home at 8:30, get dressed properly, and use the next 25 minutes to prepare for my playgroup kids to arrive.

Even though I was fitting it all in, I was rushed, barely having a moment to breathe, let alone eat a proper breakfast and daven. I was feeling behind before I even started my day.

There’s a book, The Miracle Morning, in which author Hal Elrod outlines a six-step morning routine, SAVERS, an acronym for Silence (a period of purposeful silence of at least five minutes), Affirmations (programming yourself to be confident), Visualizations (imagine what you want to achieve), Exercise, Reading (learning from the experts who have achieved what you want), and Scribing (documenting your insights). The idea is to wake up an hour before you need to start your day and do these six steps in a relaxed way. When I was first introduced to the SAVERS concept, it sounded amazing. Practically, I knew I’d have to tweak it to fit my lifestyle and personal goals.

I decided to aim to wake up before my family so I could read an excerpt from a book while drinking my morning Snapple. Then I’d daven, exercise, shower, and get on with the rest of my day.

I began in the summer, when there was less early morning pressure because my playgroup was on vacation, and I was able to ease into this new routine slowly. Instead of waking up a full hour before I needed to, I got up half an hour earlier. I used the time to read a book and daven, and it felt so calming to do this in a quiet house. One day I managed to get in some exercise and journaling, too. It was incredible to feel that accomplished so early on in my day.

Eventually I began waking up at 7:00. “Thank You, Hashem, for my seven a.m. wakeup,” I wrote in my journal one morning. I was really feeling the benefits of this small slice of time. One week, on a Friday, I made an entire simple Shabbos in those 45 minutes between 7:00 and 7:45. What a brachah that was!

I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and while I’ve had some off periods, I’m now back on track. I hope to do two to three of the SAVERS steps each day, and when I’m ready, to throw in the exercise routine as well.

The key to my success with this program was that I took a laid-back approach. In the past, I used to be hard on myself, saying things like, Why aren’t you doing more? Why can’t you stick to something for real? We often speak so negatively to ourselves. We wouldn’t speak that way to our good friends, so why do we speak that way to ourselves? After making this commitment, it was Yom Tov time, when I was totally out of whack, went to bed late, and definitely didn’t get up early. More recently I had a simchah to attend, and I hosted a sheva brachos. There were no routines the next morning. But I didn’t beat myself up for it, so I didn’t lose steam easily.

I’ve learned that you need to set goals, but also be realistic about your ability to achieve them, and celebrate the victories along the way instead of beating yourself up for your failures. I cut myself a lot of slack and gave myself a lot of positive reinforcement — and that method worked.

I made a change to: The morning
Name: Rachel
Age: Early 20s
Location: New York
Job: Clothing store saleswoman

I’m expecting my first child, which comes along with blessings and physical challenges.

When I was asked if I’d participate in this challenge, I figured it would be a good idea for me to create a morning exercise routine.

My regular day in the clothing store where I work had me on my feet from 10:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. I was coming home utterly exhausted, with zero energy for anything. I decided to cut back on my hours and work 1:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.

Still, standing for so long and squatting to pick things up from the floor on a regular basis was becoming hard. I wanted to start my day in a way that would improve my overall health and set myself up for success down the line in pregnancy.

From the get-go, I had my husband’s full support. He’s a personal trainer, so he was super-enthusiastic about my commitment.

For me, on the other hand, it was a bit of a stretch (pun intended). Even though I used to get a lot of physical activity before I got married, it was usually because I took long, brisk walks. I’ve done some professional workouts with my husband’s guidance, but this would be my first experience doing a self-led exercise regimen. I was skeptical about carrying it through, but open to giving it a try.

I designed a daily program of Pilates exercises, which I did at around 10:00 a.m. First, I watched some videos to learn the exercises, and then I drew instructions on the mirror in our workout studio. After a few times, I knew them by heart, and the exercises became easy and enjoyable.

One thing that made this commitment so attainable was that it took me all of about ten minutes, so between the preparation before and after, this wasn’t a huge time commitment. Even so, there were times when I didn’t follow through with my plan and felt bad. But it’s not as much about keeping a straight record as it is staying dedicated to the cause. When something is very important to you, even if you mess up, you’ll just get right back into it the next day.

And it was important! Aside from the physical benefits of helping with back pain and giving me extra energy, I was mentally energized from the exercises. The routines set my day in motion and left me feeling productive. It was like, I’m already moving, so what can I do next?

Having this in place pushed me to make a more structured daily schedule for myself, bringing more productivity to my day overall.

I also found this to be a way of connecting to my baby. While I’m working out, I listen to soothing music. I’ve read that this is beneficial for the baby, and that the same music you listen to when they’re in utero can be comforting for them when they’re born.

Now I’ve cut down the exercising to a few days a week, instead of daily. Sometimes I do it at night, and it helps me settle down for sleep. Overall, it has had a positive impact on my days, and I’m happy I’m keeping it up.

I made a change to: The afternoon
Name: Mindel
Age: 30s
Location: Yerushalayim
Job: Graphic Artist and writer

The opportunity to make a change in my day intrigued me. Wake up earlier? Go to bed on time? Spend the early afternoon making a great dinner? Each was so enticing, but what could I most realistically put into practice for a two-week period?

I decided the most challenging time of day was late afternoon, when all three of my wonderful, lively children are home. It could be such fun to hang out with them — if not for the endless number of things that get in the way, like dirty dishes, dinner, and a ringing phone.

Getting on the floor to play with the Magna-Tiles and Menchies wasn’t my idea of a productive afternoon, and it was hard for me to stay focused on it — as important as I know playing with your children is. I tried to steal time in between looking after my kids to get stuff done, and found myself frustrated and disappointed because I wasn’t accomplishing much. The kids inevitably got into trouble during those few minutes I left them to attend to things, and each afternoon became more stressful than the next — culminating in a living room filled with unfinished books, and games and puzzles angrily staring me in the face.

I decided to make 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. a time where I’m fully present — avoiding distractions, putting my phone away or off, and without any other plans for that hour other than spending time with my kids.

The first day, when 4:00 came around, it took me by surprise, and there were too many last-minute things to get done for me to sit down with them. So going forward, I decided to set an alarm for 3:30, to remind me to tie up any loose ends.

The next day, I only made it for half an hour before I conceded to some chore. But then I rushed back into the living room to find a crisis had developed in my absence, which reinforced the importance of my commitment. The following afternoon I was ready to play, but my kids had disappeared to a friend’s house. So much for quality mommy-time!

It took me a few days to see that while my plan wasn’t going exactly as I’d envisioned, the difference it made was tangible. If I answered a call, I tried to make it quick. When the older kids were gone with friends, I spent time with my baby tapping her nose and doing funny dance moves. And even a few minutes here and there of an uninterrupted story book were precious.

One day we went on a special trip; on other days, we had relaxed afternoons at home. I invested in a joke book just to tell them corny jokes about bananas and elephants. As soon as I removed the pressure that the afternoons had to look a certain way — that they all had to be home and playing intently with me — I found I was able to enjoy them more.

With just an hour of bonding time, I’m getting to know my kids better, and a prime time of stress in my day is slowly becoming more fun. One week, before candlelighting, I gained clarity on the impact my new arrangement was having on me. My husband stood next to me and commented on how much better one of our kids was doing. I felt delight that I was able to reply, “Well, I’ve been spending more time with him lately…”

I made a change to: The evening
Name: Gila
Age: late 20s
Location: Jerusalem
Job: Sheitelmacher

Bedtime in our house was a disaster. At 7:30 p.m., I’d spend 60 seconds max saying good night so I could have some time to myself before going off to my salon. Sometimes I’d attempt a story, but they were so terrible, something along the lines of, “Mommy took Moishy to the park. The end.”

On top of that, we’d recently moved apartments, so everyone was adjusting to a new setting. My toddler, who’d just upgraded to a bed, kept escaping, which was entertaining for the other kids (ages five and four) and a pain for me.

I had no patience for any of this, but I knew what my kids actually needed was attention, not their mom shoving them into their bedroom so she could have space. I wanted to leave them with a feeling of calm, a feeling that I was present even though I wasn’t going to be home.

Participating in this challenge was really exciting for me. It wasn’t news to me that my kids’ bedtime routine needed improvement, but I didn’t have a strong enough motivation to make the change. The fact that this was a commitment, that I’d have to report back later, got me on the track toward a solution.

My first realization was that I’d been rushing out of the bedroom for no reason other than a lack of patience. I started spending more time with the kids when I put them to bed. Not too long, about five minutes, but the difference was huge. I’d make conversation with them, ask them how their day was. They’d answer; it was adorable. We began singing Hamalach — the whole thing, not some rushed version that I wanted to get over with. We even added in the English part, “Remember that you’re special, too….” Bedtime was slowly becoming a meaningful experience for me and my kids.

We added in a book. When it’s a very long story, we do it over a few nights. I invested in a storybook with Torah values, the kind with a full-page story and a picture next to it. It’s perfect for this kind of thing, and they love it. Sometimes I tell them about the parshah so that I’m learning with them, too.

My initial commitment was for two weeks. Now it’s become our new nightly routine — actually, it’s not even new anymore — we’ve been doing it for a few months, so this is what they’ve become used to! I’ve learned that they don’t have to be sleeping or even totally settled when I walk out. What’s important is that I’m leaving them knowing that their mommy put them to bed.

I made a change to: The night
Name: Yocheved
Age: 50s
Location: New York
Job: Runs a Hebrew School and teaches in a boys’ yeshivah

I’M a person whose loves keeping busy. During the school year, I couldn’t have dreamed of changing my bedtime routine — there’s just too much to do and not enough hours in the day.

But this past summer, when things were a bit quieter, I was open to trying it out. I decided to improve my bedtime routine. From the time I began thinking of easing into bedtime more slowly, I already started to become mindful of which things needed a change.

My nights seemed very full, but there were a lot of holes — and if I could fill in those gaps, maybe I could be left with more time to “shut down” at the end of the night, instead of just collapsing into bed.

I started paying attention to where my time went, structuring my night so that I could begin settling down into sleep about an hour before going to bed.

At first it was kind of like that diet that’s always starting tomorrow. But one night, I buckled down and said, “Okay, I’m starting.” I joined a Tehillim chat so that I’d have the motivation to sit and say perakim I’m not used to saying. Then, instead of making my regular to-do lists for tomorrow, I’d make mental lists that brought me positive thoughts.

I thought about what I’m grateful for. About what I accomplished today. In place of my regular “force quit” on my mental computer screen, I was doing a slow shutdown, and it felt good. I woke up the next morning more refreshed because my brain was put to sleep in a better way.

Around the same time as this schedule change, I was taking an online course with Mrs. Esther Wein on teaching children to have a real relationship with Hashem. She encourages people to set aside time that is just for you and Hashem.

So much of what I was learning from Mrs. Wein was fitting in beautifully with what I was trying to accomplish. I was able to weave the two aspirations together to increase my own level of G-d-consciousness in those nightly moments of quiet relaxation.

Old habits die hard. When I began the school year, the bedtime routine became a fond memory. Like I said, I’m a person who likes to keep busy. I work in three different schools and there’s just not enough time in the day. But truthfully, I’d like to revisit this and incorporate it into my regular hectic life, when I need it most.

After doing this, I was left with a feeling that this is something that every frum Jewish woman should afford herself — a slow easing into bed, or some period of the day where she can spend time being mindful, self-aware, focused on what matters most.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 822)

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