How do you feel when you think of the word routine? Do you feel a sense of being controlled, or does it bring about a sense of organization?
People have various experiences with routine and really, we can make it what we want. In my parenting experience I have seen over and over that small, flexible routines can make a big difference towards harmony in the home. I’ve also seen that adherence to a routine, as if it is more important than the experience of and between the family members, can cause frustration in the whole household.
Here are some ways to embrace helpful routines in your parenting and life experience…
Notice what routines are already in place. Sometimes we have routines that don’t work too well, take too long, or drain the life energy from our days (or nights). If you have some like that, consider chucking them out the window to start fresh. You can also keep parts that work and re-create from what you have. Neglecting this step can create more work later so start here and make a list if it’s helpful of what’s in place, what doesn’t work, what does, and what you want to continue.Focus on what’s really important. Especially during stressful or busy times, determine your priorities. Some people can have life so compartmentalized with routines that if anything falls apart, they feel lost. For others a collection of routines provide direction and space, even when they cannot be followed. Know what’s important to you, why, how you can facilitate it working for everyone in the family, and make peace with what doesn’t get followed.
If you’re just starting some routines or beginning fresh, choose routines you feel good about when you put them into place. Consider leaving out those that feel stressful just thinking about, then gradually add them in as you feel grounded with what you already have going.
Keep routines small and flexible. Routines are generally something we do at the same time, in the same way, or something like that. The point is to create a habit, something that we do without having to think about it much, and to instill a sense of matter-of-factness about activities. This is just what we do. Routines can be all their own, though. Remaining flexible, changing up when it’s just not working, or piecing the routine down a bit can help avoid the tendency to adhere to the routine as if it is absolute truth (it’s not, it’s just a tool to make life more smooth and simple – if it’s not doing that, consider re-evaluation).
Some examples for small routines may include: what you do when you get up (meditate, exercise, read, brush teeth, fix breakfast, put in a load of laundry, check email, whatever), what you do before resting for naps or bedtime (eat, read a book, whatever), after mess clean up, preparing food at a certain time, doing chores in the morning before lunch, feeding the dogs before taking the kids to school, etc.
Notice the tendency to create and/or follow a routine solely to get a result. It’s quite human to look toward the end result. This can be helpful in many situations, at least partially since to know where we’re going is of benefit. At the same time, all we ever have is the present moment. Just let that soak in for a bit, really soak in.
A bedtime routine that ends up with a child sleeping can turn not so fun for parent or child if the parent is solely focused on the child just getting to sleep already. The dishes become a mundane task when we feel disgruntled that it takes so long for such a repetitive chore. It is easy to see how this can lead to frustration and resentment if the routine does not meet our expectations or time requirements.
One way to resolve this tendency is to bring one’s attention to the experience of the moment, with appreciation. Notice how your body feels, the love you feel for your child, and the right here and now. There’s no doubt that you will enjoy the time more and whatever task you are working on is bound to move along more quickly than if you are solely focused on frustration and/or in the future.
Visualize the benefits of implementing a particular routine in your life. Taking time to mentally rehearse routines (and anything else in life) prepares us for success. It may sound silly when talking about a routine, but imagining ourselves putting the routine into action can help us flush out any potential fears or aspects that need attention. It also allows us to see it working! I have found it especially beneficial to do this right before starting an activity (bath, clean up, whatever). It provides the impetus to get going and a positive mind frame for moment-to-moment completion.
15 minutes maximum with stuff you are learning to appreciate and enjoy. Don’t overdo it! It is so easy to see all that we feel is not working in our families or home organization and think routines are the answer. While they may be helpful it is much more beneficial to start small, in short time frames, and enjoy the experience. The kids are more likely to want to be in our presence and involved with such routines, too.
Amy Phoenix is a gentle yet direct parenting guide, healing facilitator, creator of Presence Parenting, and mother of four dedicated to sharing insights and practices to transform frustration and anger, heal the past and nurture conscious relationships.