Sunday, 24 January 2016

A post in favour of routines

Before I had kids, I didn’t realise that routines were such a controversial, touchy subject. But apparently they are, so I’m going to out myself in this post as a routine aficionado. I love routines. I’m a routine junkie. “What’s happening next, Davina?” “I know! I know! I have a ROUTINE.” I actually didn’t start out on the parenting journey thinking I am going to have a routine. It just kind of happened, and it actually happened because, like a lot of babies, Toddler Taylor was extremely fussy from around 5pm every day. He would have a breastfeed on the sofa at 5ish and usually fall asleep when he was done. But he wouldn’t stay asleep for more than about half an hour, then he would wake up crabby and he didn’t want to do anything. Everything made him cross. Except, inexplicably, watching In The Night Garden (which I fucking hate because come on; what is it even about, really?). So we would watch that and then I would muffle him up (even though it wasn’t that cold because it was, I think, August), stick him in the pram and I would walk to the next village and back and he would usually sleep a bit. Then when we got home he’d have a bath, a bottle and go to bed. Eventually, he naturally started to happily stay awake after his 5pm feed and I could put him straight to bed at 7pm, which is what time he still goes to bed now.

He also had a nap schedule which was adjusted as he grew and his sleep needs changed, but I can’t really remember what it was. Which is weird because it wasn’t all that long ago, but there it is. I’m really tired. I don’t remember much of anything these days. It broke the day up into manageable chunks so I could get other stuff done while he was napping, and it also meant that he knew what was coming next. Baby Taylor also has a nap schedule, which is largely modelled on what I can remember of Toddler Taylor’s schedule, but his medication makes him very tired sometimes and so I think he naps a little more than his brother did at the same age. He knows when it’s time for his nap and will often go and stand at the bottom of the stairs, waiting to be taken up to bed (even if he does thrash like a seizing shark when we actually enter his bedroom and he realises this shit’s for real).

All that being said, I wouldn’t want you to think that I enforce this routine with an iron fist. Because I don’t. I know my children and I can read their behaviour. If Baby Taylor doesn’t look tired when he’s due for his nap, he stays up until he starts rubbing his eyes and grizzling. As soon as he does that, I whisk him off to bed and he’s asleep before I’ve even left the room. Similarly, if he’s already exhibiting sleepy behaviour before his usual nap time, I don’t make him stay up until he’s screaming the house down with exhaustion. And, contrary to the belief held by one particular member of my family with whom I no longer have a relationship (for reasons unrelated to this issue), the fact that my kids have a routine does not stop me from getting out and doing stuff with them. It simply means that I plan ahead a bit so I know what little adjustments to make during the rest of the day to avoid a bedtime meltdown in the evening. Because that’s no fun for anybody.

I don’t have these routines to make life easy for myself, although it does sometimes help to know that I have pockets of time during the day in which to get boring, necessary shit like cleaning and ironing done. The reason I’ve stuck to the idea of having a schedule for my children is so that they know what’s coming next. The thing about kids is that they don’t have any concept of time, so Baby Taylor’s nap schedule has been particularly handy in helping Toddler Taylor to understand the layout of the day a little better. For example, right now he loves to play board games, and he has an impressive stack of them. Board games have lots of pieces and they are often quite small. You can see where I’m going with this. Board games simply cannot be played while Baby Taylor is awake and likely to, at best, steal and lose the pieces and, at worst, steal and choke on them. Most afternoons Toddler Taylor will ask me “mummy, can we play a game?” and I will reply “yes, when your brother has gone to bed we can play a game.” So he then knows that he is going to get some one-on-one time with me to play board games while his brother is sleeping. He knows that it is a certainty, a “when” rather than an “if”. And I feel like that’s important for kids, for them to know what to expect from their day. It’s jarring enough being small and not having much control over your emotions without people surprising you all the time.

However, none of the above is to say that I think there is anything at all wrong with not having a routine or a nap schedule or whatever. It doesn’t work for everyone, just like co-sleeping or baby-led weaning. All of these things are choices that we make with our specific – and very individual – children in mind. For my part, both of my children are largely very happy and sociable little people. They thrive on their routine and we all work better as a family because of it. When anybody else looks after our children, we can tell them what time they usually nap and eat and nobody has to play the tired-or-teething game with Baby Taylor. My husband works different shifts every week, so in the midst of that chaos, having a routine for my children helps me to at least have control over one aspect of our life as a family unit. It helps me to plan. It works for me and it works for my family. I am pro-routine, but I am also pro-doing-whatever-works-for-your-family. So my one teeny little bit of advice here, at the close of this post, is to parent your children in a way that takes care of all of your best interests and not give a toss what anybody else thinks. Mother (and father) knows best!

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