#realmothersdiversevoices : Jessica Lewis Stevens
I am thrilled to be sharing a new interview series with you each and every week: #realmothersdiversevoices. In this series my intention is to reveal the endless ways our family values can inform our Daily Rhythm. The mothers I have interviewed lead diverse lives but they each have a huge sense of clarity about what their Family Values are (even if they change over time) and consciously and creatively strive to create a Daily Rhythm in alignment with those values.
It is my hope that through these stories more Mothers feel inspired to explore what their own family values are, to question them and bring them to life in their everyday experience. I know that seeing the world through another Mother’s lens will develop more empathy, understanding and compassion between us.
Today I warmly welcome Jessica Lewis Stevens to the Whole Family Rhythms circle. Jessica is the maker behind Sugarhouse Workshop – a beautiful shop that features handmade quilts, bunting and clothing as well as seasonal cookbooks. Jessica and her partner homeschool their two young children (inspired by the unschooling movement, the forest school movement and Waldorf education to name a few) in southern Vermont. You can follow her creative pursuits and handmade items as they become available in her shop on Instagram @sugarhouseworkshop as well as her homeschooling journey @sugarhouseschoolhouse. Thank you for being here, Jessica.
Who are you? Can you introduce yourself, your work and your family?
My name is Jessica Stevens, and along with my husband Stuart I have two sons: Henry aged five and a half, and River who is about to be seven months. We live in southern Vermont in a little cabin on a big hill where we tend chickens and gardens and homeschool our children. I am the maker behind Sugarhouse Workshop, making quilts, clothing, and other useful, joyful objects from plant-dyed fibers. Baking is my favorite work, and I am currently working on the third volume in a series of handmade baking books that celebrate seasonal recipes and baking with little ones.
What is one of the greatest joys you experience as a Mother?
There are so many joys in motherhood: watching our children’s personalities bloom, seeing the way they interact lovingly with one another or share smiles first thing in the morning, planning celebrations together small and large, sharing home-cooked meals. One aspect I love best is creating a warm and nurturing home for them. I love curating special spaces for my children to learn and play, decorating with the seasons, and making them feel safe, beloved, and comfortable at home.
What is one of the biggest challenges you face daily as a Mother?
I have found lately that some of my biggest challenges come with co-parenting. I am home with the boys all day and my husband works various shifts, and in addition to the differences in our daily lives we both bring varying perspectives and personal histories to our parenting. Sometimes I find it difficult to allow my husband to parent independently, and on the flip side also feel like I’ve had to develop some specific skills when it comes to communicating with him about my parenting goals, strategies, and feelings so we can work well together. I think this is something not everyone talks about, but it’s likely very real in many homes. Co-parenting, even with someone you love very much, can be difficult, but in the face of the challenge I feel like we’ve both experienced a lot of positive growth.
What does having “Rhythm in your Home” mean to you?
Rhythm to me means having the comfort and the freedom to not be making decisions all day. I am much more relaxed when I feel we can move fluidly from one part of the day to the next without having to wonder or decide what it will be. I like to integrate rhythm in a daily sense but also a weekly one – each day of the week has its own work and its own meals. For example, Tuesday is our “Water Day.” This means we wash our laundry, we paint with watercolors, and for dinner I make a hearty soup. It may sound a little silly, but it means I spend the rest of the week knowing everyone’s clothes are clean, and it makes meal planning an easy task. For me, it all comes down to feeling free from constant decision making, and for the children I think the predictability makes their days calmer and richer.
Can you give an example of some of your most cherished ‘Family Values’?
Loving each other, making and eating wholesome, healthy food together, caring for those around us, and caring for the earth. These are the values that drive so much of what we do. They influence how we communicate, the ways we spend our time, the place we’ve chosen to live, the communities we surround ourselves with, the clothes we buy and make, how we spend our afternoons.
How do you hope to pass these values on to your children? Or in other words, how do you manifest these family values into your daily rhythm?
So much of our day to day living reflects these values – we spend lots of time outside, we cook and bake together often, we share in the work of our home. I feel as though we’re always working to create a life with our children that directly reflect the intentions and ideals we hold in highest esteem, and in doing so I try to build our days around them instead of just discussing them in the abstract.
Can you outline a typical ‘Weekday Rhythm’ for you and your child(ren). Specifically when/where/how do you and your little ones eat, sleep/rest, play inside/outside, work/learn and make time for selfcare?
6-7:00 a.m. – Wake up and snuggle in bed for a few minutes, nurse the baby, and chat about our upcoming day, followed by dressing and taking care of our animals
7-9:00 a.m. – Breakfast and meal prep for the day ahead such as making dough or setting beans on the stove to cook, and typically some baking. We all love breakfast, so we tend to have something first like yogurt and fruit or granola and then work together on something more substantial like baked eggs or a big dutch baby to share a bit later in the morning.
9-11:00 a.m. – Baby takes his first nap, and Henry typically works on an activity or project depending on the day of the week. I also use this time to answer a few emails or do a bit of work or planning alongside Henry.
11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. – Snack and outside time, either playing or working in the garden
12:30-1:30 p.m. – Lunch and clean up
1:30-2:00 p.m. (or so) – usually finds us back outside for a bit before the baby’s next nap
2-4:00 p.m. – River takes his second nap and Henry has free play, typically a combination of quiet indoor
4-6:00 p.m. – Dinner preparation together and dinner
6-6:30 p.m. – Cleaning up from our day, washing dishes and picking up toys
6:30-7:00 p.m. – Evening walk
7:00 p.m. – Brushing and washing, and I put the baby to bed. Henry reads with dad before coming to bed around 7:45 p.m.
8-10:00 p.m. – I use this time to knit or work on creative
How important are higher belief systems, stories, literature, art, family history and creative expression to your family? How do you weave these into your family life?
We look for meaning in the natural world, stories of people living simple, meaningful lives, and making things we need ourselves. This looking means we are outside every day, selecting our stories, books, and exposure to media carefully, and working together daily on tasks that are important to us and our home, most especially growing and making food, baking and sharing bread, and helping one another with projects.
When does your family rhythm get thrown off kilter?
The best part of establishing a rhythm is the way it becomes quietly ingrained, so that when one of the children is sick or sleepless or we travel to visit grandparents for the weekend, we can slip back into it when we’re ready. Welcoming River into our family last fall was the biggest shift we’ve made – we’ve had to rethink our rhythm often as he has grown and changed.
Do you consciously re-evaluate and change your family rhythm with the seasons and ages and stages of your kids?
Certainly. When it was just three of us, it stayed the same for a long time. But baby naps and lots of nursing and big seasonal changes have meant lots of changes in the way we structure our days together, too. I have found that the longer we’ve been working at maintaining a rhythm, the easier it has been to renegotiate the way it looks from day to day. It’s like a puzzle, with one or two pieces shifting with each season or developmental change.
When you’re feeling stuck, tired, frustrated with your role as Mother, what do you need most to shift your energy and perception?
When I’m feeling stuck or drained, I bounce back best when I dig into it. While certainly space and self-care are not to be ignored, I find when it comes to really feeling frustrated in motherhood, the more I put in, the more I get out. So I seek out reliable resources, I look to and talk to other mothers for community and inspiration; I revisit advice that is tried and true. The more I know and the more tools I have, the more empowered I feel to be the mother I aim to be.
If you could recommend one book to ALL Mothers out there what would it be?
Choosing just one is tough, but I’m re-reading Home Grown by Ben Hewitt right now as I prepare to begin first grade at home in the fall. You are Your Child’s First Teacher is another one I turn to from time to time, and when I want to mother myself a little bit I sit down with Mary Oliver’s poetry.
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