Are your routines working? We have routines for bedtimes and getting out the door in the morning, for homework and meals to make life easier. As kids grow and family situations change, we need to adjust our routines. Sometimes routines evolve, but other times you’ll need to fiddle with things to find a new solution.
As you try to sort out meaningful routines, you’re likely to get lots of advice from family, friends, other parents at the park and the stranger at the store. Asking for suggestions can be helpful, but tune out all the ‘you shoulds.’ Tune in to the unique needs of your family to find the answer.
It’s time to shelve conventional wisdom along with your old way of doing things and get creative. Take a look at how some real parents rocked routines to get your ideas flowing.
Food for thought
Have you ever struggled to get dinner ready as kids melted down around you? New mealtime routines might help:
Eat earlier. Julie Elias started making dinner shortly after her kids got off the bus. Dinner at 4:30 may sound crazy, but an early dinner can cut out a lot of crankiness in tired kids.
Switch to an evening snack. If you’re tired of hearing your kids ask for ‘just one more’ snack in the late afternoon, you’ve got another reason to try an early dinner. Follow up with an evening snack. If you don’t want to miss out on a family meal but can’t get everyone to the table that early, feed young kids in the late afternoon and then offer them a healthy snack at the table when the rest of the family has dinner.
De-stress dinner prep. Getting dinner ready in a rush when everyone is hungry can make everyone cranky. Start with a plan. Then try moving most of your prep to another time of day. If you’re home, prepping for dinner right after breakfast or lunch makes sense because you’re already in the kitchen and nobody’s hungry. Another option is to use post-dinner time to prepare a meal to stick in the oven or slow cooker for the next day. Either way, you cut the clean-up in half by doing the dishes from the meal you ate and from your prep together.
Bedtime not by the book
Bedtime routines are some of the earliest we create with our children. They often include baths, cuddling, stories and early lights out, but do they have to?
These three families created bedtime rituals that went against the norm:
Juggle bedtimes to suit you. Older kids get to stay up later, right? Not at Sarah Motta’s house. Sarah puts her older boys to bed at 7:30, but preschool-aged Anna still naps. Sarah could have cut the nap, but she really liked that time to herself during the day. Instead, she puts Anna to bed an hour later. “Anna shares all her attention with others, so that hour when my husband and I get alone time with her is one of my favorite times of the day.”
Play with naptimes. Lisa Ahrberg had a different solution for juggling bedtime. When her kids were toddlers, she kept them up, even when she knew they were tired much earlier. “My husband doesn’t get home until 7:30, so if they were in bed when they wanted to sleep, he didn’t see them for days at a time.” To make up the difference, she played with their nap schedules until they were getting enough sleep even with the later bedtime.”
Take the bath out of bedtime. Baths are often part of the bedtime ritual, but since I put both my kids to bed by myself many nights, bedtime was often hectic. I started giving my older daughter, Kathleen, her bath in the afternoon while her baby sister napped. Kathleen got more playtime in the tub, and I got a streamlined bedtime making ‘tubby time’ and bedtime more relaxing for both of us.
Things we have to do
Homework and errands are a necessary part of our daily or weekly routines. With creative thinking, you make these routines less of a chore:
Everyone goes on errands. Are errands squeezing all the family time out of your weekends? Try combining the two. Although going solo or taking a divide-and-conquer approach might be more efficient, having an ‘everyone-goes’ policy allows for time together. To keep family time from being all work, play games in the car or stop for a treat when you’re done. Or plan a fun activity for when you get home and build anticipation during the trip.
Leave homework to the last minute. Some families have a homework-before-play rule, but some kids need a little downtime or activity time before they can sit and do more work. Others may need a different schedule altogether. Instead of settling on after school to do homework, Ellen Weiner’s son does his in the mornings. “After a full day of school, he’s too tired to focus, and his work is of a much higher quality when he does it in the mornings.” Ellen adds that it’s not an ideal solution, but “it’s what works best for him this year. We’ll take each year as it comes.”
Ready to revamp your own routines? Forget what you’re ‘supposed’ to do and find what works for you, your child(ren) and your family. Then check in periodically to make sure it keeps working. Pretty soon you’ll be a pro at coming up with creative routines that keep your family running smoothly.
Sara is a freelance writer and mom. She and her husband both work non-traditional schedules and have become very creative with scheduling their own family routines.
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