A Love-Hate Relationship With Routines

posted by Andrea | 07/5/2017
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As many of you know, our family is very “routine oriented” — it seems to suit us all quite well.

Dave, the kids, and I all have various morning, nightly, daily, and weekly routines that help to simplify, streamline, and de-stress our lives.

These routines work wonderfully… until they don’t! 

For example…

Bedtime Routines:

For the last 18 months, we’ve had the most magnificent bedtime routine that almost always results in all 3 of our children soundly sleeping by 7:30pm EVERY night with little-to-no fuss!

However, whenever we go on vacation (like we did 2 weeks ago) or need to sleep somewhere other than our own home, the whole bedtime routine goes completely out the window and bedtime becomes a massive struggle — sometimes lasting hours.

James is the worst, but even Nora and Simon get all messed up when we’re “out of our normal routine”.

We’ve tried keeping the routine as similar to home as possible and we’ve tried completely throwing the routine out the window to let the kids stay up “extra late” on vacation — either way, the bedtime process is such a chore and often makes me wonder if it’s really worth taking small children on vacation in the first place.

Meal Planning Routine:

I have my weekly meal planning routine down-pat — to the point where it only takes me 20 minutes on Sunday afternoon to make the meal plan, scan our fridge, freezer, and pantry for anything I’ll need to buy, and add those items to my weekly grocery list.

I don’t necessarily love meal planning and I certainly don’t look forward to doing it every Sunday, but thanks to my routine, it’s not horrible — and I know it saves me so much time and effort during the week.

But then we are gone for a week (or a weekend), we tackle a huge home renovation, or Dave and I have an extra busy week of work and I plan freezer meals or take-out every night… and just like that, I’m out of my normal routine and meal planning feels like a huge chore that I hate doing and procrastinate on until I realize we’ve completely depleted our freezer stash and spent more than I’d care to admit on fast food, pizza, or other convenience foods.

Bedroom Routines:

We are currently in the process of switching bedrooms at our house!

The kids are so excited to change things up again — but I’m honestly not sure how the switching process will go.

Nora has been sleeping in her new bedroom for almost a week now — and she and Simon miss being “roommates”. I know they will get used to being separated, but it was so sad to see Simon cry that first night because he missed his big sister.

And just 3 days ago, we moved James up into Simon’s room — the first 2 nights were VERY rough! Simon is the type who just lays down and immediately falls asleep. James, on the other hand, could babble, talk, and move around for up to an hour before he finally settles down to sleep. I think Simon is sleeping through James’ talking and singing, but Simon told me he could hear James.

Dave and I thought about putting James in the new bedroom by himself (and who knows, we still might end up doing that) but we’d really like Nora to have her own room since she’ll need to wake up early for school next year… and I definitely don’t need Simon waking up early too!

Morning Routine:

Speaking of Nora starting school, this will most likely change up our fabulous morning routine.

Currently, I let the kids watch a show while eating a leisurely “first breakfast” (usually grapes or dry Cheerios). I finish getting ready during this time — and then get our “second breakfast” ready.

We almost always have a hot breakfast of eggs, sausage, pancakes or waffles — the kids LOVE their hot breakfast and they eat so much!

I know we will not be able to continue this routine once Nora starts Kindergarten in the Fall. As of right now, she will most likely need to leave the house shortly after 7:00 am 3 days a week — and my kids take FOREVER to eat, so everyone else would need to be awake and ready for a hot breakfast by 6:30am. That’s not going to happen!

So our routine will have to change again — probably involving hot breakfasts on the days when Nora isn’t in school and something I can make in “shifts” for the days she needs to be ready for the bus. I’m not sure how it will all work yet, but I do know our morning routine will look different this fall.

Family Life Routine:

It’s hard to think that in 10-12 weeks, we’ll be adding another person to our family — which means all our routines and our “normal” family life will change considerably.

Yes, I realize the new baby will often be “forced” to adapt to our current schedules and routines… but there will be many occasions when the baby’s schedule trumps everyone else’s schedule and our whole family will need to change or adapt to accommodate this new little person.

Honestly, I think the change of family life and routines is the hardest part for me after having a new baby — but I do think the fact that I’ve done this 3 times already will help smooth over this HUGE transition (at least that’s what I’m telling myself!)

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So you see, I LOVE how routines help to simplify and streamline our everyday lives — but I HATE how much of a disruption it causes when we’re forced to (or choose to) change up our routines. 

Obviously, I realize life is always changing and I truly don’t expect us to have the same routines forever and ever… however, I sure do appreciate how much simpler and easier our lives run when basic routines are in place.

The trick for me is to develop our new routine as quickly as possible!

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Dave and I have a few friends and relatives who are basically the EXACT opposite as us — maybe they are “Type Z” instead of “Type A”!

They often give us a hard time for all our routines, especially when we talk about kids not sleeping well on vacation or how much our routines will change once Nora starts school and once this new baby is born.

We laugh off their jokes because we know that although it IS a pain when our routines are “sabotaged”, I am 100% positive our various routines are a HUGE asset to our lives 98% of the time. 

They reduce decision fatigue, they reduce arguments and push-back from our children, and they reduce the amount of effort I need to plan and prepare for each day.

So even though I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with routines at this point in my life — there is NO WAY I plan to abandon our beloved routines any time soon.

That said, I would love to know how you handle times in your life when your routines need to change for whatever reason.

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34 comments

  1. Karen Jeanne

    07/23/2017

    My sons are mostly grown now but I still try to practice a routine change on my own – if possible – a week or 2 before everyone has to do it (when school starts, for example) that way I know I’m prepared for my part. I also often make a list of times and activities, then go over them with everyone else in the family so they know what to expect ahead of time.

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  2. Lori Gilmore

    07/06/2017

    We moved houses when our boys were 15 and 13. They each had their own room finally! Each one would come into our bedroom at bed time and say how they couldn’t sleep without the other! It was very sweet. They eventually adjusted.

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    Andrea Reply:

    aw, that’s sweet!

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  3. Luba @ Healthy with Luba

    07/06/2017

    Andrea, you are an amazing mom! Here I am struggling with routines, and it’s just the two of us (my husband and me).

    My husband just switched careers a few weeks ago, and that means he’s home as much as three hours early sometimes. Actually, he leaves at almost the same time every day, and I have no idea when he will be home. Much of that is contributed to traffic.

    I’m making the most of having him home earlier and being able to spend time with him while being creative in coming up with a new routine. 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    Well, a new job is definitely a HUGE change for any size family — glad to hear he’s home more often now!!

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  4. Hannah Beth Reid

    07/06/2017

    I love routines! Just knowing and acknowledging that my routine will be different (temporarily or for the foreseeable future) helps me accept it and make the different time work for me and my family. The change doesn’t have to take me by surprise!
    We added a fourth baby to our family this spring and having some routines, like bedtime, already in place made part of that transition easier. When our family participated in VBS every evening for a week at our church last month, we knew it was be a change for our early bedtime, but we also wanted to be involved to help and for our children to attend. The week before I started pushing bedtime back a bit to get them in the habit of staying up later and by accepting the loss of a long, relaxing evening, it worked out. It may sound like a lot of trouble, but it was worth it in the end and made the week less stressful for all involved. I worried about getting the early bedtime back, but a no-nap Sunday put us right back on track (though I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the none napped toddler).
    Thank you for this well thought out post!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I think that’s key — just acknowledging that the routine will be different for a while. I think that’s my mindset going into a period with a newborn again — I KNOW it’s going to be so different and I KNOW there is nothing I can realistically do to fully prepare 100% for the change.

    yes, I can make meals for the freezer, I can take time off work, I can keep the other 3 kids on a great schedule, but there isn’t anything I can do to fully control this new baby’s life and schedule — and I just have to be OK with that!

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  5. LEANNE HEERN

    07/06/2017

    I think the biggest hurdle of changing routines is the mental part for parents…
    When we went from homeschooling to Christian school (AND Mom working part-time) this year, we knew there would be changes but we were not exactly prepared for the FATIGUE and the days feeling very L-O-N-G sometimes…and Mom-guilt– lots of Mom-guilt….so, here is what I kept telling myself…
    1. My children are adaptable and resilient…. nothing is a crisis, except a crisis… this meant all A’s, hot breakfast, sometimes hot dinner, and eating the school lunch were not marks that I was a bad mom… my children had food, we helped them with their work when it was appropriate, and we had the occasional (maybe more than occasional!!) cereal for dinner (or frozen pizza)…
    2. This a SEASON OF LEARNING…. there was really no point in the school year where I could “switch things up” or “start over”…so, we just decided that we would get through it and re-evaluate when summer came… we did… I’ll have different hours this fall and we now KNOW what we’re in for, so I’ll keep my calendar of activities much differently than when I originally started out last year…
    3. This too shall pass…. its really not forever… even if it feels like it…
    4. I eventually broke down and bought frozen pancakes, pre-cooked sausages, prepackaged snack foods, and extra socks and extra underwear… I even kept the prepackaged snacks in my car because my boys (ages 12,10, and 9) could not wait the 10 minutes to get home for a snack…and it was worth it to me to let them just eat in the car!… it was quieter, too!
    5. FINALLY… I just let go my own “its not enough” attitudes… the “I’m failing” attitude… “I’m irritable because I’m exhausted” attitudes… I was not falsely chipper… I just decided sometimes you have to say sorry for being grumpy, cry when you’ve had enough, and relish the moments when things are “smooth sailing”…. and remember God is in the midst of it and we’ll all make it!! and have a stash of chocolate at all times…
    For me the biggest stride I made was in not judging other parents for their choices and not beating myself up for mine…. 🙂
    btw… I love kindergarten!! I’d totally go back if I could!!!! 😉

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    Hannah Beth Reid Reply:

    Yes, you are so smart to see the mental/emotional side of changes in routine!

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  6. Nicky

    07/06/2017

    Perhaps the best routines come from observing the chaos? I think of the analogy of town planners who wait until after the people have moved to a new build area to finalise the paths – the best designed are those which follow the natural ‘rabbit’ paths people have created whilst waiting for the formal ones to be established. Trying to guess in advance what will work is likely to mean building a path no-one uses.Sure there is a ‘messy/ experimental’ period but then a functional process emerges. So the final routine works because it is actually the thing everyone needs. I try to remind myself of this whenever I get too fixated on controlling routines telling myself that chaos is good as its all part of the plan for getting a better plan!! (Can be jolly frustrating though so I set a time limit after which the new routine must be in place – is that controlling?)

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    Andrea Reply:

    This is SUCH a great analogy Nicky — thanks for much for sharing! I do think I’ve gotten some of my best organizing ideas AFTER waiting and watching to see how my family uses certain areas of our home. I might have one idea, but after a few weeks of watching how they play, work, color, craft, etc. I realize another method of organizing would work much better.

    So, I think you’re exactly right about creating schedules and routines AFTER observing people’s natural habits and patterns.
    Hmmmm… I might have to write about this in the future!

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    Iliana Reply:

    Very insightful analogy Nicky!! Also, it is a good example of going with the flow.

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  7. Shelly

    07/05/2017

    We are right in the midst of two of those things too! A vacation a couple of weeks ago threw my kids off quite a bit, and we’ve been trying to find a way to get our two and three year old to share a room so there’s a room for the baby on the way, and it is not going smoothly at all. The two year old is way too excited to have her brother there, and goads him into giggling and playing. I live on routine and my three year old really needs it. Life has been such a headache around here lately. I feel your pain.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Well, we’re in the exact same spot because James and Simon (2 and 3) just started sharing a room too. The first 3 nights were ROUGH, but the last 2 have definiteliy been much better. It helps that Simon is a really fantastic sleeper, but it has definitely been draining on my nightly energy levels!
    One thing we did was to take James’ nap away. He did totally fine during the day — playing with his older siblings — and then totally crashed when we put him to bed at 7:00pm. he didn’t cry, sing, talk, or make any noise to keep Simon awake!

    Not sure if the no nap thing will work indefinitely, but it has worked the last 2 days 🙂
    Oh, and congrats on your soon-to-be new baby!

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  8. Heidi

    07/05/2017

    My husband and I both teach and our kids are both in school and we try to do the hot breakfast thing at least a few days a week. Overnight crockpot breakfast casseroles or oatmeal and breakfast items that I can freeze ahead of time are game changers for us! My kids favorite are the sausage muffins that we freeze and warm up in the microwave. Not exactly bacon and eggs but it’s not cereal! 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, Nora loves sausage, so I was thinking of ways I could prepare sausage items ahead of time and keep them frozen (or even in the fridge all week) for her breakfasts!

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    Karen Jeanne Reply:

    This is a great idea! My son doesn’t eat right when he wakes up for school but he loves a sausage biscuit on the way out the door. Another good school day breakfast is a smoothie or breakfast shake – anything drinkable is a great portable option for the drive to school.

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  9. JJ

    07/05/2017

    We have 3 small children (4,3,1), and we don’t travel much either. Like you, we really enjoy routine and being home. This has nothing to do with your post, but as a side note when kids have the opportunity to play with a toy for a longer period of time, it gives them a deeper level of play and creativity(an article I read). So being at home for long periods in the day helps your kids! No wonder your kids are so smart! As for when we do travel, my husband sleeps with our oldest boy, our daughter sleeps with me, and our youngest sleeps in the pack ‘n play. They go to bed when we do on vacation, because at this point we only fight the battles we can win. And they end up sleeping in, which is helpful for us getting ready. So we just roll with it. It really messed my daughter up when I put my son’s Kindle on with his Baby Einstein lullaby music(which ironically is what the older two went to sleep to until they were about 2…then their Scout and Violet dogs’ music took over). So I’m not sure what that was all about. Haha! I love love love your blog and posts! They always encourage and motivate me!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much! Glad to be a source of motivation and encouragement for you!

    And yes, Dave often sleeps with Simon and I’ll sleep with Nora if we’re in a hotel room. This last cottage vacation we went on was the first time Simon and Nora successfully shared a room the whole week without much trouble. James, on the other hand, was a pistol the whole time and needed me to lay with him in OUR bed to fall asleep (usually not falling asleep until 10pm or later every night. It was exhausting!

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  10. Amy

    07/05/2017

    We travel with our sound machine. It totally saved our vacation last month and kept the kids from waking each other up.

    I struggle with routine honestly. My oldest is totally a routine person, so much so that I have to be cautious not to let ‘non-routine’ things become the norm if I don’t want them to be!

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    Anna Reply:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who struggles with it!

    I do see the benefits of routines however I also had a strict routine up bringing so I am constantly wanting to break free from it. Even now 20 years later.

    I love when my kids are on a routine but I agree I hate it when they are not. But I have learned to not dread the non-routine moments and have even worked some in. (Sounds weird I’m sure.)

    For example, every few months we camp out in the living room and stay-cations and that has taken care of the times we stay at someone’s house or go on vacation because usually the excitement is being all in the same room or doing things we don’t normally do.

    There are also days that we don’t follow our daily routine and just go with the flow. This has helped the kids realize that sometimes we don’t have to do things the same way every day and has taught them how to get back in the routine quicker and with less fuss.

    It is also great to see them be able to go from routine to non-routines in my opinion because my family seriously loses it when things don’t go as planned and they are now adults but we had a strict routine from the time we woke up to the time we went to sleep everyday. My husbands family to me sometimes feels like chaos but they go with the flow much easier. So I’d just like some balance between the two and we often talk about how to do that together.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, there has to be some balance. I don’t think Dave or I grew up in overly-schedule or overly-chaotic homes, so we both have fiarly solid upbringings to pull from (in terms of “how do we do this parenting thing).
    That said, it’s still tricky to find the “right” balance of structure / schedules / routine and the flexibility to go with the flow — I suppose it’s always a work in progress for us. I lean more towards structure, and Dave is better at flexibility 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we have small noise makers that go everywhere with us too 🙂 We also recently invested in 3 very portable (but fairly loud) fans that we take with us in the summer. Lots of extra noise helps our kids sleep better in strange places!

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  11. Christy

    07/05/2017

    I’m huge routine person as well. We had routines when my kids were younger but now that they are all 16+ they run on their own routines most of the time. It drives me CrAzY! I’ve gotten more used to it over the years and try to go with the flow, but on occasion I loose it and need a time out! 🙂

    As for breakfast when school starts…it’s different. What worked for me was to have the waffles and pancakes made ahead and warm them back up for each child when it was their time to eat. Eggs are pretty quick to make for each meal time. I assigned a day for each breakfast so they knew what to expect and I didn’t have to have the “i want pancakes” vs “i want eggs” argument every morning. Monday – pancakes Tuesday – Scrambled eggs Wednesday – Waffles Thursday – fried egg Friday – french toast. I’d change it up if someone requested something but usually that happened on the weekend 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Christy — I live your idea for themed breakfasts. I already do this a lot for dinner, so maybe it will work for breakfast too 🙂

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  12. Roxanna Kowan

    07/05/2017

    When my kids were little, they are 13 & 11 now, we made a nighttime CD. They listened to it every night as they were falling asleep. It was about 45 minutes long. I took it and a little CD player everywhere we went. Grandparents, trips, even camping. We always did a bath, pj’s and a book, even when camping or on a trip and then we’d turn on that CD. It really worked. Bedtime always seemed to go pretty well for us. Both kids had a special blanket that my mom made that they slept with each night, but I honestly feel it was the music. No matter where they were, those songs meant it was time to go to sleep, plus the noise helped cover up other sounds they weren’t used to when we were away from home. They don’t use the CD now, but they did until the turned about ten.

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    Andrea Reply:

    good idea — my sisters and I always listened to a special tape at night 🙂

    right now, our at-home routine is baths, pjs, snack while reading books, brush teeth, go to the bathroom, go to bed. The whole process takes 35-45 minutes depending on how long we let them play in the bath and how many books we read!
    They do use noise makers and fans in their bedroom as white noise — and they sleep FABULOUSLY at home, it’s just those few occasions when we’re not home that are the issue.

    Thankfully, we don’t travel much!

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  13. Amber Woods

    07/05/2017

    Andrea,
    I’m just curious about Kindergarten in MI. Do the iids not have to do 180 days like the other elementary grades? You mentioned just 3 days a week. Does your private school run a bus?

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    Katie Reply:

    I was curious about this too! My son starts kindergarten in August and the bus will come at 7am 5 days a week! Should’t be too hard in terms of wake up time, but I am spoiled because daycare feeds him a hot breakfast at 8:30am now, so I’ll have to pull something decent together for him before he gets on the bus.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I think private schools can basically do whatever they want for preschool and kindergarten… so I have no idea how many days she’ll be going total 🙂
    And yes, we have bussing through the public school — however, our school does have a few busses that they use for kids outside the school district.

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    Katie Reply:

    Looks like kindergarten is optional in Michigan, so whomever offers it can offer it for as many hours or days that they like. It’s optional here in Kentucky too, and the private schools do 1/2 days, while the public schools vary depending on school district.

    In case people think it’s weird, less than 20 state mandate kindergarten.

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  14. Emily

    07/05/2017

    My kids are super routine based as well. It’s great 90% of the time, but that 10% of the time when we want or need to change things up (going on a trip, having visitors, holidays) it is really, really rough!

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  15. Tanna

    07/05/2017

    Routines keep me sane, haha! BUT, we had trouble with our third child not wanting to nap anywhere but his bed. Our biggest struggle was Sundays because of church and enjoying time with friends and family afterwards. A very wise lady in the church nursery told me to put him down for a nap anywhere else but his bed for the next week or so. It was at home so the smell and sounds were the same, just not in his bed. It worked perfectly! Within two weeks he could sleep anywhere I needed. Maybe her wisdom will help someone else.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Good tip — my goal for the next baby is to have her be able to nap other places too — it will make my life so much easier!

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