Ah, routine. It happens. Sometimes it’s a routine that we fall into and it works, so we run with it. Sometimes it’s a routine that we try to set up and it doesn’t work, so we scrap it.
Either way, routine happens.
Take, for example, our current morning routine. I get up before the kids, do what I need to do, then I wake them up. I always allow time for snuggles before they get out of bed (and if I’m lucky and one of them has snuck into bed with the other at some point through the night, I can snuggle both of them at the same time and make sure that no one is left out or that one doesn’t get more time than the other). They are close enough in age that their sleep requirements are about the same and they go to bed within a half hour of each other and wake up around the same time together. This simplifies things. It wasn’t part of the plan, but it has worked out nicely and I’ll take it with a giant dollop of gratitude.
Then we all head to the kitchen for breakfast. After breakfast, we tidy up the kitchen and head back upstairs to get dressed and ready for school. This can sometimes take half an hour. There will inevitably be fights over who gets to use the bathroom first, how much time there is for play before getting dressed, whether or not we’re walking or driving to the bus stop, etc. But generally, if I plan right and allow enough time for them to move themselves through their morning routine, they manage themselves fairly well. (And isn’t it all about teaching them those executive function skills so that they can manage themselves and won’t always expect me to do it for them?)
Our morning routine is something that just kind of happened. Obviously, I had to originally do some planning to get them up and out the door for school (and in my current, somewhat disabled state, the help of my parents is mostly what gets us through our morning routine), but this is the routine that we have fallen into and the one that works (right now):
- Mom gets up first and completes basic morning prep (mostly sitting for five minutes in a mindful state, splashing cold water on face to wake up, brushing hair, getting dressed)
- Wake kids up and have a morning snuggle (this reconnects us after a night apart in our own beds)
- Head down for breakfast, eat and tidy up together
- Head back upstairs to dress and get ready for school
- Head back downstairs to pack lunches and school bags
- Head out the door
The thing about routine, though, is that sometimes it needs to change. I had to let go of our old way of doing things when I realized (after way too long) that it wasn’t working for us.
I used to get up at the same time as the kids and insist that they get dressed before they ate breakfast. After breakfast, I would send them upstairs to brush their teeth and wash up while I packed lunches and school bags. That turned out to be a stressful routine for us. I was constantly yelling up the stairs for them to hurry up. They weren’t taking responsibility for their school bags (and really, they are the best ones for that because how do I know what books are supposed to go back to school and which ones can stay home on any given day?) So I let go.
And we floated for a bit, without a routine. It was a bit chaotic, and my condition and the extra adult or two in the house were also contributing factors to the floating, but the extra help made it easy to float and to slowly, intentionally drift toward another routine that could work.
We ended up landing in a nice, comfortable routine that is working…for now. It’s comfortable, safe and works well for everyone.
I remember when Little Brother was about five months old. I caught him napping in his baby rocking chair a few mornings in a row at around the same time each day. I remember being surprised that he seemed to dose off at precisely 10am morning after morning and wondered how I could have missed this napping routine that he had created for himself. So I started taking him out of his chair just before 10am and putting him in his crib in his bedroom. And sure enough, he’d fall asleep in his crib at precisely 10am and he would sleep until about 11:30am every morning.
Of course, that napping routine didn’t last forever (and I was very sad when he gave up his morning nap), but it was a routine that we enjoyed for many months and was one that I didn’t force or try to create to suit me. It just worked.
And that’s the point, I think, with routines. Routines are necessary, especially for children. They create a sense of knowing what’s coming next. But in order for them to be effective, they have to be kind of natural. Forcing a routine has never worked in our house. All it has done is forced me to re-evaluate the reason and need for that particular routine.
So now, we let routines show themselves and then we intentionally and lovingly slip into them until they no longer fit. We’re trying hard not to hang onto old routines once they are worn out and no longer useful and we are all happier because of it.