I have four children ages four and under. I swore I would never be that mom—the mom with the strict schedule. I remember rolling my eyes when a close friend had alarms set on her phone for naps, dinner, bedtime wind down, and bedtime. Good for her, but that would NEVER be me. My kids would be flexible, and we would follow a daily rhythm, our routines fluid. Ha. I think all moms have an idea of what kind of mom they will be.
I also swore my kids wouldn’t know McDonald’s or eat frozen chicken nuggets. Guess what? They know what Happy Meals are and we regularly stock those frozen nuggets in the freezer. The other life lesson I’ve learned?
That mom friend with the strict schedule was on to something.
If I’ve learned anything in a house full of littles, it’s that kids like to know what comes next. They like feeling in control and having a sense of routine. I’ve begun to crave it too. Having a routine and schedule allows for coffee breaks and time to recharge. My husband works full time, and I am in grad school. We have never lived by family. Navigating our large, busy family has always rested squarely on our shoulders.
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This past year we did something we always talked about. We moved out west. It was a huge move, but we were confident it was the right move. However, what little semblance of routine we had was thrown to the wind. Then, well-meaning grandparents came to visit. No one slept. The post-grandparents visit hangover is real. I was in tears and overwhelmed after each visit.
I sat down with a pen and paper and brainstormed what I thought our schedule should look like. I had reached my breaking point. We now lived states away from family, not hours. Visits were inevitable and would be longer. I should be looking forward to these visits, not dreading them. My husband and I were beyond exhausted. Well-meaning, he went as far as to tell me I looked sickly compared to my pre-kid self. Sleep deprivation is no joke.
We got a whiteboard, wrote down what our desired wake time for our kids was, and got to work. And guess what? After tweaking our twins’ schedule to be more developmentally appropriate, they started putting themselves to sleep on their own. No more fighting naps. No more rocking for hours and holding one to desperately try to keep him asleep, so his sleep was on the same schedule as his brother’s.
Our schedule worked!
Our toddler had been fighting naps, and so I tweaked our schedule again. Now her afternoon nap lined up with the twins’ afternoon naps. As I pushed her naptime later, I slowly pushed my oldest’s bedtime so they would still go to bed together.
We bought some rewards and put together sticker charts, holding firm to our desired wake times for the girls. We left them snacks and water for the morning. They could be up and playing quietly in their room, but they didn’t leave until the light turned blue. The sticker chart and positive reinforcement worked.
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I wake up early and get to drink my coffee hot most mornings now. I have time to do yoga and prep everyone’s breakfast. We start our days with a nature walk. There is less screen time and more playtime. I shower more than once a week and feel human again.
The kids will grow and change. Nap schedules will adjust.
But what I’ve learned is how to grow and adjust our schedule with the kids. Having a schedule means when people come to visit, I can tell them when the kids will be awake. Grandparents get to fit into our schedule, not the other way around. I’m looking forward to the next visit because I have confidence in what works for our family. I’ve seen the change.
I believe one of the biggest life lessons as a parent is to learn to never say never. Not only do my kids eat McDonald’s and frozen chicken nuggets, but we also have a schedule. And you know what? I love it.