Anyone with very small children – think, 0-3 years old – knows that things often do not go according to plan. There’s the blowout diaper right as you walk out the door. The nap-strike that leads to an emotional meltdown when dinner needs to be made. The relentless demand for a story when a deadline looms. Yet, we’ve all heard the adage “kids thrive with schedules.”
The fact is that we parents, especially those who work in or from the home, set the tone for our families. As daunting as it seems to institute order into life with small children underfoot, it is something we must do for our good and the good of our family as a whole.
Incorporating order into family life
Parents are responsible for setting the tone and pace of family life. Toward this end, we need to use all of our God-given gifts, including the gift of time. St. Josemaría Escrivá, often called the saint of the ordinary life, said, “Order will bring harmony to your life and lead you to perseverance. Order will give peace to your heart and dignity to your composure” (Forge, #806). The virtue of order helps us to use and live our time well. It makes room for peace, nurtures charity and love in our hearts and makes way for the growth of other virtues in our lives.
In short, order is an excellent virtue for the self, the home and the family. Living order can look different from person to person and home to home, but there are a few common themes.
Most importantly, virtuous order requires a deliberate dedication to planning ahead and maintaining certain routines and schedules. Rather than living life according to our whims or the demands of urgency, routines and schedules set a pace for the family and help us tackle the predictable needs of family and home. By identifying priorities and setting aside time to attend to them, we can prevent unnecessary stress and chaos. (The operative word here being “unnecessary” because stress and chaos inevitably arise wherever two or three are gathered!)
As great as order may be, it is equally important to remember that our vocation is not to have a smoothly running life and home; our vocation is to love the Lord and our neighbor, especially through our children and spouses. The virtue of order is a tool that enables us to do that more peacefully and in a way that enlarges our hearts.
For anyone—but especially parents of very small children—it’s incredibly important to incorporate flexibility and simplicity into the way we live order. We expect change to happen along the way and thus build into the structure of family life only those things that need doing. We don’t plan every minute of the day because we know that things come up. Some surprises (like those sudden blowouts) are unpleasant, but others (like extra snuggles between siblings at bedtime) are amazing gifts. We make room for both.
Our culture focuses so much on productivity, but God calls us to love. As important as order is, it is equally important not to make an idol of or be a slave to it. If we struggle with order, we do well to remember that God brings good out of everything. We can also take time to refocus and listen for what our Lord may be trying to give us even in the chaos. Perhaps he’s reminding us that God is the master of our time, not us. Perhaps he is asking us to unite our struggle with his redemptive suffering on the cross or preparing our hearts for a future life event. Or, perhaps he is simply trying to remind us of his love and that all things are ultimately ordered to him and his loving plan.