Having two children myself, I can safely say that no two children are exactly alike. In fact, mine are about as opposite as can be. My daughter loved pacifiers and was addicted to hers until age 3; my son had used a pacifier about 5 times total his first couple of weeks after birth and decided it was just not his cup of tea. My daughter was a very easy-going baby; my son requires attention 99% of the time. My daughter was able to switch from bottle to cup cold-turkey (not to say it was easy, but it happened); my son’s transition lasted about 4 months.
I was able to use a pretty strict routine with my daughter because I didn’t work for the first 9 months of her life, and when I landed a job, I had family members babysit so they could help keep her routine on track. I also worked basically the same hours every day so I was always home at night to be with her and put her to sleep. By the time my son was born, I was still at the same job but my schedule changed from day-to-day and week-to-week. A routine was not an option for him.
The idea of not being able to set one for him bothered me. I thought, as most new moms, routines were necessary to create a well-behaved child who sleeps through the night. That is, after all, what most websites and doctors will tell you. But I learned, thankfully, that not having a routine will not lead to the demise of your child. In fact, sometimes they can create unnecessary tension on both mom and baby’s part if everyday events interrupt them. Here are a few pros and cons of routines I’ve learned from both my kids:
1. Routines can help wind down your child for bedtime. I noticed that my daughter slept much better after establishing a bedtime routine. All TVs, radios, and any other technological distraction would be turned off 2 hours before bedtime. She’d usually have a snack and a night-time cup of milk. Then I gave her a bath, dressed her in her PJs, and helped her brush her teeth. Next was always a bedtime story, and finally, lights out. Once we had this routine going for several weeks, she finally became a better sleeper.
2. Routines, especially bedtime ones, help form a bond between parent and child. When your child expects certain things to go a certain way every day, especially if those things involve spending time with mom or dad, a certain special bond is formed. My daughter grew to love bedtime stories and it was a tradition we kept alive for years, until she decided she could read on her own well enough to not desire it as much. I missed out on this with my son. He could care less if I set a book in front of him and try to read it. This could just be his nature, but I think it has a little to do with not establishing this tradition when he was an infant.
3. Routines make it easy to plan out a day. By always knowing what times your child eats, naps, plays, and goes to bed, you can plan certain parts of your day around those things. It will also let you know when you can have your breaks during the day! (Nap time, anyone?)
1. Routines can also make it difficult to plan out a day. Yep. Routines can be both a pro and a con in the area of day-to-day planning. Imagine telling your girlfriends you can’t make a lunch date at 1:00pm because Susie naps from 12:30-2 and that would mess up her whole schedule. Or you have to plan out grocery shopping trips between Susie’s naps and meal times, which might not be the most convenient time frame for a quick trip. Certain things in life pop up all the time – strict routines don’t allow for much interruption.
2. Routines can be daunting to babysitters/daycares. I have a few friends who are so strict with routines that they literally hand their babysitters or daycares their child’s schedules before they watch them. Example: Jim has a cup of milk at 9am, watches cartoons from 10-10:30, snuggles his blanket and teddy from 10:30-10:45 before napping from 10:45-12…you get the idea. Most babysitters will look at that and go “Really? Why am I watching your child if you think I can’t handle it?” Face it – most kids don’t act the same somewhere else as they do at home. The routine that works at home could be changed to a new one at the babysitter’s, or other children might have complete meltdowns at slight differences in a routine at the babysitter’s. Either way, in this case, it’s easier on your child if the babysitter can ‘go with the flow’ rather than be tied down to a routine.
3. Routines can create a child with less adaptability. Looking at my two kids, my son is much more accepting of change (aside from the bottle-to-cup transition, as previously mentioned) than my daughter. Though I loved participating in my daughter’s bedtime routine with her, when my hours started to change at work to where I was working many nights and she was with a babysitter, many meltdowns ensued. She simply didn’t like the fact that her routine was now changing and I wasn’t always there at night. She still doesn’t easily accept change and she’s now 8. My son, however, was used to the fact that my hours changed and he’d see me at certain times on some days and different times on others. He was okay with that and hardly ever put up a fuss for the babysitter. He doesn’t care if I bathe him at night or in the morning, if one nap is early one day and late the next, or if his mealtimes differ. He pretty much goes with the flow, and I love that.
I am not in any way knocking the idea of a routine. I am just giving my opinions of both positives and negatives of routines based on what I’ve observed with my two kids on the completely opposite ends of the spectrum. I am not against routines. I actually feel they can be a great thing – just don’t take them too seriously! If you allow for some change in a routine, you can avoid meltdowns from baby as well as added stress on yourself when those meltdowns occur. Use routines as a guide for your child, not a be-all and end-all.
What are your thoughts on routines?