On strict and Consistent Schedules and Knowing When to Break Them
Some parents will disagree, but having a consistent schedule–and especially night time schedule–for the kids, is not only healthy for everybody, it also makes parenting so much easier.
My late aunt Rachel was a sort of magician with children. Never having children of her own, she karmically compensated by working her entire life as a nanny and a preschool assistant-teacher. She encouraged the individuality of the dozens of children she had been caring for throughout her career with her enthusiasm for life and her optimistic approach.
When Alex and I decided to have kids I announced to Rachel that I intend to fly her over from Israel to LA when my kids turned six months old, so she might work her magic on them for a few months. To get “some Rachel” into their system. Sadly, destiny worked its ways and Rachel was diagnosed with lung cancer about 2 months before they were born.
In one of our phone conversations a couple of weeks after the kids were born, Rachel was in the hospital, and I was at home, freaking out about about what two do with these two new animals in my life, and wondering whether I’d actually have a life from that point on. Both Rachel and I knew that she’d not be coming LA any time soon, and so she decided to share with me parenting secrets that she had gathered throughout the years.
In that phone call she taught me two simple things: “Have a strict schedule for them, and be consistent – as much as you can.”
Rachel then went on to explain how a defined schedule helps little kids feel safe; they very quickly realize that they know what’s coming up next in their day, and they feel less confused about “where is my Dad taking me now?” It can even help with the painful question “My dad is away. Is he coming back?” A schedule can help keep kids confident that the answer is “Yes.” The more safe and secure they feel, the less fearful they are. And that helps everybody. Especially parents who have to deal with two of these while keeping room in their soul for the “what have we done”s and the “where’s my life gone”s periodically freak outs.
“Be strict about your limits,” aunt Rachel said, “because the child’s job is to explore limits, and the more strict and consistent you are, the easier it will be for you, and believe it or not, for them too. Even if they kick and scream that they don’t like it – they actually need it.”
A couple of days later I already had it all planned: the morning routine, the nanny’s schedule, when they ate, when they slept, when they are entertained with a puppet show I made for them when they were babies to keep them stimulated. Even the puppet show was the same every day. Then bathtime, dinner and sleep. Then Alex and I had our time.
Alex and I were so consistent, that some of our friends who have kids were commenting that we are too extreme. But guess what? It worked. Our kids got to the routine so fast, the schedule had put our lives on some sort of track, and I would not lie if I said that it even helped them sleep better (and longer) through the night, and made everything bearable for everyone. In fact, it made our parenting so much bearable, that in some ways we were somewhat afraid to change horses in the midstream. Why mess out with our free time at the end of the day, right?! we need it so bad.
As the twins grew up, we made slight changes in the schedule, adjusted it to their new needs, but maintained consistency and got very comfortable in it. I think that only now, two and something years after, are we starting to flex it a little bit: if we go to a birthday party or on holidays they can stay up a little later. There are nights when we skip baths (mom, ignore this sentence please! I promise they take a bath… hmmm…every day) or days where we skip the afternoon nap if the kids insist they want to watch TV or play in their room. We play this delicate game of being attentive to their needs and respecting their requests, while never completely ditching the schedule.
I know that a lot of parents are debating whether to even make a schedule, especially a night-time routine. For me, it’s hard to see moms drag their babies or toddlers out to the grocery store with them at 9pm, or to see parents sitting in a coffee shop at 10pm with a stroller covered with a blanket. I think the fact that we are all at home and the kids go to sleep in their beds every night at 7:30pm is respectful to the kids’ needs. And this is my way to teach them respect from an early age. By respecting them.
For us, the schedule not only made our life easier and our babies feel safer – and allowed us to know what we were supposed to be doing when – it also created some sort of a connection between us and the kids, of working together. It also removes the strange and uncomfortable effect to our children of being told what to do, just “out of the blue” when we “feel like it.”
And if you’re afraid that this kind of adherence to a schedule will create obsessive or robotic children… HA! They’re LUNATICS!
What can I say? Aunt Rachel was right. Rest in Peace, auntie Rochal’eh. You are missed. Hope I make you proud.