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The Importance of Routine When You Have Small Children (and How to Make One)

Routine is golden. And for moms, it can be the guiding light in a frazzled world full of meal prep, butt wiping, and wrenches thrown in every system. Routines help us keep our heads above water and for that reason, I adore them.

I will say: routines are not schedules. Schedules are by the book, minute-by-minute. If you don’t keep up with them, it’s disappointing and stressful. But routines are guidelines. They’re helpful friends that are flexible and forgiving, ready to steer us back on track when we’ve lost focus or gotten behind. Routines work for us, not the other way around.

I used to love schedules, but they don’t work in my mom world. When my first son was born, I belonged to a Navy spouses’ bible study on the base near my house. I would try (TRY!) to get there on time, right at 9:00, but my little Steven wanted to nap close to his mama around 8:30. The first few times, I pushed and insisted we get to bible study on time. And it only caused stress. But when I embraced nap time at home and snuggled that little 3-month-old while he napped and nursed, life became peaceful again, I got to bible study eventually, and no one really cared when it was that I showed up.

That’s what’s funny about moms with young children. People don’t really expect much of you when it comes to being prompt. But we forget that and try too hard anyway. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be timely, just that it’s not worth the stress to count minutes.

Nowadays, I have a (pretty minimal) routine for day in and day out with my kids. I also have “daily do’s.” These are not a checklist, just goals. They’re good things that ensure my kids get poured into daily, that I’m spending quality time with them instead of always in do-the-laundry-wash-the-dishes-cook-clean-cook-clean mode. If I don’t do all of my daily do’s (there are 5), it’s no big deal. If I do happen to achieve all 5, it’s cause for celebration! Woo!

Here’s my list of daily do’s and my POD (“Plan of the Day” – thank you, Navy!):

POD for reals

Notice how there are some time slots, but more when-then scenarios.

When we’re done with snack, then we get out of the house.

When we return, then we have lunch and do education hour.

When Ruthie wakes up, then we play outside.

Operating this way is helpful. I don’t feel like I’m racing a clock. Instead, I use the time to guide me. For instance, “It’s 9:00 – time to start preparing snack.” That doesn’t mean, though, that everything is set in stone. If we have to be out the door at 9:00 for something, I can do snack at 8:30 or pack a snack for the road. I have the freedom to change things, and it’s easy because I already have a guideline.

We also have weekly routines. We do bath every Tuesday and Friday evenings. Laundry is (hopefully only) Monday and Friday. Library story times are Tuesday and Thursday mornings. These things don’t go by the way side and we don’t have to think about them because they’re what we do every week. They also make life easier since all we have to do is execute based on what day it is.

A few tips:

  • Think about your family’s natural rhythm.

When is wake up time? When’s the best time for dinner – to accommodate bedtime, but also before they (and you) get hangry?

  • Think about the times you need to be home.

For lunch? For the baby’s naptime, if he won’t sleep in public? Then schedule much of the rest of the time out of the house, or at least doing concentrated activities that are fun.

  • Think about how many times your kids need to eat.

Dinnertime was a struggle for our family until I realized my kids didn’t need to eat 7 times a day! They weren’t hungry for mealtimes, and as a result, they ate poorly. Now, we eat 4 times a day, five if we need it. I find they eat better – more of the healthy stuff – when they’re fed less frequently. When creating a POD, I start with our eating times and naptimes, then I base everything else on those necessities.

  • Be willing to change.

My routine changes when my kids do – about every 6-8 weeks (seriously). I’m constantly tweaking it. Acknowledging that they are changing, growing individuals helps me stay flexible and helps us thrive within our routine.

I imagine this idea is especially important for a working mom (though I have no experience in that realm!). The pressure on working moms is extra intense, so if I were to start work tomorrow, I would make a separate POD for weekday evenings and for the weekends. Weekday PODs would be about getting everyone home safely, fed, and into bed efficiently. But weekend PODs would be about what we do to enjoy each other as a family. I would also give myself some slack and do “weekly do’s” instead of daily ones, in order to spread out my goals over the week. Then the particularly busy days won’t be wrought with guilt over what I didn’t accomplish for my kids.

In the end, it’s what works for your family. You are the expert in that area, so go forth, make routines, and prosper!

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