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Keeping Young Children and Babies on a Schedule (With Lots of Room For Spontaneity)

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Days like these, when routine goes out the window!

Days like these, when routine goes out the window!

We were just getting into the car to go home at 2:45 pm and Margo (almost 3 1/2) was starting to get delirious. You know, speaking tongues and crying over everything… end of the world things like wanting mommy to buckle her into the carseat instead of daddy, etc. By the time we got home and inside, it was about 3:00pm, she cried some more about not wanting to take a nap, or that she didn’t have to pee before she went to bed (even though she did), etc. We all got into bed (queen size, can you say squish), Art rubbed Margo’s back for about 2 minutes, and probably by 3:03pm, she was out like a light.

Goldie (12months), on the other hand, who had earlier had a quick powernap in the baby carrier while we were out, was not so tired. She was giggling and rolling around and then she had to poo (we do elimination communication, so I take her to ‘go’). Back into bed, and then, she wanted to giggle and play and blow raspberries some more. Meanwhile, Art and Margo were snoring away. After about 45 minutes of Goldie and I hanging out in bed, getting up and down to use the loo, and playing some more, I poked Art, and asked him if he could watch Goldie for a while so I could also get a quick nap before Margo woke up. So, we swapped kids and I got to close my eyes for a minute (yay!).

Today was sort of unusual in that we didn’t have our usual mid-day nap, um, right at mid-day. We were out eating lunch with some friends and the day sort of slipped away. But, it got me to thinking about what a friend of mine asked me a few weeks ago, if I keep my kids on a regular schedule… My first reply to her was ‘No, we just sort of do whatever‘. But then, I started really observing what we did and I realised that I do, indeed, keep us on a very tight schedule! We eat, sleep, bathe, go for walks, etc. all at very regular times. I was pretty impressed with myself at discovering that I was actually so organised and I didn’t even know it!

Different Schools of Thought on Structure

There are many schools of thought in terms of structuring a child’s day. The unschoolers would probably say, ‘To hell with it, routines are stifling and don’t promote creativity and leave no room for growth‘. On the other hand, when I was at uni, one thing that I heard being repeated over and over again was, ‘Children love routine, they love structure‘. When I was doing my teacher training course, I happened to do a workshop at a Steiner primary school and I learned all about how they beautifully structured their day, according to the natural bio-rhythms according to time of day. They sang and danced in the morning, did their main lesson in the middle of the day, then did some art work or creative things in the afternoon. It made so much sense to me!

Finding Something That Works

Being a stay at home mom is not easy at all! I’ve been back to work too, and I honestly can say that for me, working was almost easier than staying at home (although, it’s certainly not easy missing your baby). You really have to pace yourself when you stay at home, as often you are on your own for long periods of time every day. I have some friends who just go with the flow all day and every day and don’t really adhere to any schedule at all. The kids sleep when they’re tired, they eat when they’re hungry, etc. Also, these mother usually don’t get to rest because one kid or the other is always awake… But, somehow, it’s works for them and they like how they are free to do as they choose without having to worry about naptimes/mealtimes, etc. I also have friends who have their child’s routine written down on the wall, up to the very minute of what they will be doing each time. Who knows probably they might even have their work like kitchen organization, Window Cleaning, cupboard cleaning, etc. scheduled well in advance. I like to do something sort of in the middle. While I don’t think I would have the organisation skills to actually write down a schedule, I realised that I do keep track of time and to try stick to within an hour or so of what we would normally do every day.

I can actually write down what we do almost every day, I’ve formed a schedule and I didn’t even know it! This is what we do every day, more or less

5:30-6:00am wake

6-7:30 breakfast and fart around the house

7:30-9:00 walk or something outside, weather permitting

9:00-10:00 morning tea

10:00-11:00 fart around the house, hang the laundry out, do some arts and craft or books, or something

11:00-12:00pm lunch and get ready for nap

12:00-12:30pm~ 2:30-3:00 day sleep (either we all sleep together, or I do my daily yoga, mediation practice while they sleep)

3:00-4:00pm afternoon tea and tidy up the house

4:00-5:30 outside, walk or playground

5:30-7:00 dinner and showers/baths

7:00-8:00 stories/bed

You can see that lots of the day revolves around eating, going outside and sleeping (VERY important, if you ask me!). Gotta feed those kids to keep ’em happy and wear them out by taking them for walks!

When the Routine Goes Out the Window

I would say the list above is more or less our routine for about 80% of our days. This whole schedule of ours, is pretty flexible and can change at any time, especially on days when Art’s home, when often the entire day goes out the window as we go on little adventures. Those days are ok too! The only thing that I make 100% sure of is that I get to do my daily meditation and yoga at some point during the day. Cause, if mama ain’t peaceful and centered, ain’t nobody happy! I think I’d love to get a backyard studio for my daily meditation and yoga practice sometime in the future; a cozy space that I can paint with tranquil colors and use as a place of retreat whenever I feel like I need some time off. I think it’ll be good to have some breathing space. For now though, I am managing to stay consistent with my practice so I’m doing okay. It can be a little bit hard to accept the first few times that your routine goes out the window. Especially when you’re a new mother with a young baby. I remember so many times canceling or rearranging plans because my baby was sleeping, or I knew that she was going to take a nap, or something like that. I also remember getting really stressed at my husband (sorry Art) when we had to go somewhere and Margo couldn’t eat or sleep at her usual times and I thought she might be unsettled because of it (when in reality it was only myself who was unsettled, Margo was usually fine).

I’ve certainly lightened up A LOT over the past few years. Especially the second time around when I haven’t always been able to stop when one or the other gets tired or hungry and they have to eat or sleep on the fly. Some things that I’ve found that can help when your routine does go out of the window are:

#1 Don’t Panic!

You will be fine, your children will survive, I promise! If they’re going crazy because they’re tired and hungry, take a few breathes and before you bark at them, remember that they might just be tired, and the temper tantrum they’re throwing DOES NOT reflect their overall personality.

#2 Babywearing/Big Kid Wearing

Give your baby a soft place to crash, like on your chest. Babies can sleep on you, or in the car, or wherever. They’re pretty adaptable little beings. Don’t forget that you can wear your toddler or big kid too, they can ‘rest’ and sort of bury their head in your neck and will thus avoid being overstimulated by all the activity that’s going on around them

#3 Embrace the Boundary Pushing

Kids really mirror our actions, as parents. If you’re unsettled because the routine is out of whack, they will pick up on it instantly. So, just relax. If the kids are upset because the routine is not going as usual.. it’s ok! It’s a chance for them to grow and experience something different. If things were always ‘structured’ they wouldn’t even know how to enjoy structure. Having a few unstructured days will really make you and everyone else enjoy the structured days. If they do go crazy and cry over everything, don’t try to stop the crying, just let them get it out. You know how you feel when you’re tired and grumpy! You might find they will actually fall asleep (in the car, or wherever) if they’re carrying on. Crying is their way of handling their stress and/or tiredness. And, don’t take the crying or crazy things that they’re saying personally…

#4 Be Prepared for Your Kids to Impress You!

Twelve month old Goldie had twenty minutes of sleep all day today! That’s the least amount of sleep she’s ever had in one day in her whole life. And, do you know… she was so delightful all day! I was shocked (although I had seen Margo do the same). She wasn’t even grumpy at dinner, the time of day when she tends to loose it. Kids are really resilient creatures!

The Golden Rule: Rest When They Sleep

Probably my biggest rule of thumb, and something that I always tell to new mothers is that you should always rest (if you can) when your child is sleeping. Not always possible if you can’t get all the kids down for a sleep at the same time. Although, I’m freakishly notorious for getting my girls to sleep at the same time because I really want that opportunity to rest, so I sort of manipulate the day in order to do that. I know lots of people who run around and get stuff done and clean and cook while their baby or child is asleep, and I just have to say that that doesn’t work for me at all. When I put my girls to sleep for their day sleep, we all go in the bedroom and nobody leaves until we’ve all had some sleep or rest. I sometimes sleep with them, or if I haven’t had a chance to do it yet, I do my daily yoga and meditation on the floor next to the bed, while they’re sleeping. All the other stuff, dishes, cleaning, and laundry can wait! Actually, my girls love doing all that stuff with me. For me, there’s nothing worse than the kids waking up from a nap, if I haven’t had a chance to recharge. Then, I spend the rest of the afternoon in a zombie-like trance and start watching the clock, waiting for my husband to come home.

Do you have a schedule or routine for your young kids on the days that you’re home? Or, do you like to wing and see what the day will bring?

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