I really hope I am not opening a can of worms here. The concept of routine is one of those parenting debates that polarises.
You have on one hand the military precision of forcing a baby or child to do exactly what you want when you want, and on the other the airy-fairy, vagueness of let them do whatever they want whenever they want.
Or at least that is how the different sides perceive it.
Well I don’t want to enter into that particular arena.
All that happens is that people are alienated from each other and no-one actually looks at what is best for the parent and the child. It’s all about the language that we use. Looking at it through the lens of the debate neglects to properly examine the issue.
We have ‘routines’ in my house. For sleeping, for eating, for getting ready to leave the house, for screen time, for getting clean, for most parts of our days. For getting through our days. They are a key parenting tool that I use or ignore at my peril. Not a dogma or a doctrine, just a tool.
Routine for structure and stability
My definition of a routine is doing something similar at a similar time and in a similar place. Note the use of similar rather than exact. Not complete rigidity, but structure. Sometimes routines are strict and sometimes they are flexible.
They give our days predictability. I know what is happening and when, which is vital to prevent myself getting caught up in the maelstrom that is parenting.
In a world of much uncertainty that is something to be prized. Children are often faced with new and strange situations; after all they have only had short lives. It gives babies and children the confidence to know what to expect, and how to deal with it.
I can recall two particular incidents from my childhood where I found myself in unfamiliar situations. Alien environments and unaccustomed tasks. I had no points of reference, nothing to guide me.
Have a think back to when you were in such a situation either as a child or as an adult. How did you feel? Do the negative emotions rise in you like they do in me?
Familiarity is a comfort. The importance of that should never be underestimated, especially for children. They like to know what is coming.
When they don’t it gives rise either to the endless questions (the what, why, how that I’m sure many parents will recognise) or a meltdown/sulk. The more of the unfamiliar a child has to deal with, the more likely they are to have one of their ‘moments’. The same can be said for me as well!
Routine as a method of teaching
To me routine is not about using force to get a person smaller than you to do what you want, rather it is using the knowledge and skills learned through experience to provide that smaller person with a framework to live within.
Any child or baby learns by repetition, and then exceptions to the rules. So a routine gives them the constant repetition of doing things day in, day out. Every little variation from a usual routine, will allow a child to learn, but within a controlled environment. It prevents that feeling of being overwhelmed. (Ha! I know it well!).
My girls have learned many things though their routines. The list would be endless, but in the end it is both skills and knowledge.
Sticking to routines has the criticism that it doesn’t allow a child to develop the ability to deal with change, and that has a small truth in it. But it is only so where there is no flexibility within the routines at all. We can build the learning of this within the framework of a routine.
And can you truly adapt to a life of chaos? And indeed does it really exist?
Routine as a tool for prevention or cure
If I truly evaluate the times when we have encountered particular childhood issues, they have been those times when we have veered away from our normal routine, like holidays or when we had work done to our house. And when I have dug deep and made changes to our routines, issues have improved.
That doesn’t mean that I think you shouldn’t do those things, but that the impact of them should be considered before you do them. How you can keep to your routines as much as possible, where you can afford to be flexible and where you can’t, how you manage our children when things don’t go to plan.
Parenting is a trial and error proposition. We don’t know exactly what is going to work for our children. But we can provide a framework to experiment within. Routines can allow us to do just that.
Whatever your current parenting issue (I challenge any parent to be without one), I would take a look at your routines, from everyone’s viewpoint. Look at what changes have happened around the issue, how they have affected family members, and what options you have to try.
I don’t have the answers as to what is right for each individual child or baby, that is up to you as a parent. Just consider, whichever side of the argument you favour, I doubt anyone doesn’t have some kind of routine for some things, and I doubt anyone has such a strict routine that they don’t break it sometimes just a little bit.
They help me parent. They help my children survive my parenting. They help us all grow, together.