When Simon was still an infant, I used to guilt myself about our daily routine, or rather, the lack thereof. I would constantly say “I need to get us on a better schedule.” and feel badly that things never happened the same way from day-to-day. I would read parenting magazines and online articles that preached the value of a rigid routine for children, and made it seem like I was failing because I couldn’t get Simon and I out for a walk every single morning, or squeeze in a bath before each bedtime. I would compare myself to other moms and mentally beat myself up for not fitting enough into our days.
One day, I am not sure exactly when, I decided to let go of that notion. Once I did this, I felt free. So what if one day we made it to the park, and another day we barely even managed to get dressed? As long as I was meeting our basic needs, and spending quality time with my child, wasn’t that what was most important to his development? Even more so than having his Mumma stressed about forcing a daily outing sometimes? Wouldn’t it be better to favor sanity and harmony over routine?
So, now I take a more relaxed approach, and base the events of the day on our moods, the weather, how much sleep we got the night before, etc. For example, if he is cranky because of teething, it does not make sense to contribute to his bad mood by putting myself into one too and becoming stressed out over making it to Storytime at the Library. Instead, I try to go with the flow. If it is raining, we make the most of staying inside. If time is short one day, I might put off dishes until tomorrow and choose to just play with Simon instead.
Now, this is not to say that some routines are not important. There is some comfort in routine for children, and it does benefit them to have a healthy dose of it in their lives. For example, nap time may not always end up occurring at 11 o’clock on the dot (for various reasons), but when nap time does arrive, I perform the same ritual. I always tell him, in a softer tone than my regular speaking voice, that it is time to get ready for nap, change his diaper, close his curtains, and turn off his lamp. We then check his room for kitties, get his stuffed bunny, and snuggle for a minute in the rocking chair. I sing him the same lullaby at nap time every day, and then tell him I love him before tucking him into his crib, and finally leaving the room. By doing this the same way, it helps him to relax, and creates some security, so that he can settle in more readily. We have a similar ritual for bedtime.
While these little rituals are a good thing, and definitely important, I do not believe in structuring an entire day on them. I have tried it, and it leaves no wiggle room for the many variables life throws our way. No parent needs that much pressure, and when things don’t go as planned, as will undoubtedly happen, no one needs to feel that much guilt either.
So here is what I have learned: Know what is most important. Take on each day separately, and embrace the differences in each one. Know that every child, parent, and set of circumstances is different, and that magazines are not always the best places to find advice for your unique family. Allow for chaos, and even embrace it sometimes. If you have to cancel a playdate, if your child would rather crinkle the paper than color on it, if you decide to take a nap too instead of folding the laundry-just go with it. Otherwise, you just might break down into tears when the pasta falls into the sink, instead of laughing about it while you make peanut butter and jelly for dinner.