When you are open about things, you find others facing similar challenges. I’ve admitted to a fair number of people, that one of the biggest challenges for me with having a newborn was the lack of routine, no matter how hard I worked to enforce one. So, if you are a fellow routine lover, this one is for you! If you don’t relate then you are either one of those totally baby-led, spontaneous types whom I’m both envious of and terrified by, or you’re just wonderfully balanced. I’m a bit envious of you too.
I thrive on routine. I always have done. I am not spontaneous, I like order. There’s something about the predictability and ceremony of routine that makes me feel safe. I’ve probably carved tracks in the tiles of my kitchen floor as I dance my way around each morning doing the same thing, at the same time (granted, I’m not actually dancing, especially not pre-Nespresso, but every movement is practiced and familiar). I empty the dishwasher whilst my milk froths (2 minutes…yes, I’m fast, I have a routine for that too), and then I warm O’s milk whilst I my coffee runs (30 seconds). This is merely one example of many small routines that make up my day.
I’m happiest with order. It’s both restrictive and freeing at the same time. It frees you of guess-work and decision making, but you can find yourself thrown when life chucks you a curveball, as it often does (or a baby). Routine lovers are often very efficient, on time and focussed. However, need for routine can stifle the creativity and impulsivity that open you up to new experiences.
Before I had little O, I bought and read a compendium of baby books on routines and schedules. My bookshelf mirrors Waterstones’ ‘New Baby’ collection. I chose the most prescriptive one that I’d inhaled on a summer holiday with a burgeoning bump, and decided that that would be exactly what I’d do. I found it an incredibly comforting prospect. My life ahead as a new mother was full of an overwhelming number of unknowns, but what I DID know, was that we’d immediately put this routine into place, and all would be fine.
Everyone told me that new babies didn’t ‘do’ routine for a while. But, I thought, Hah. ‘Your baby is not MY baby. And you are not ME. I’ve read All.Of.The.Books. I’ve got a plan’
Well, obviously ‘they’ were right. Little O popped out and he didn’t even know what day or night was. He lived by his basic needs. He changed and developed on a daily basis, and his timings with them. Beyond the massive life shift, the sleep deprivation, the post-birth soreness, it was this total lack of routine and predictability that was my biggest mothering challenge. I found it confusing and destabilising. I felt un-anchored.
I have a black book with pages and pages of scribbled down nap times and feed times, evidence of how desperate I was to find some kind of rhythm amidst the newborn chaos. On day 4, we set about instilling THE routine, and it was exhausting. He wanted to sleep when he was meant to be awake, he was hungry at the wrong times. He didn’t always sleep for the right amount of time. I’d spend hours in a pitch black room trying to settle an overtired baby at the allocated nap time. It was a visceral discomfort, a real fear that I’d NEVER have any semblance of routine ever again.
I love how some of you are probably nodding in understanding right now, and the rest of you are probably thinking I’m mad.
I’d read articles on the 4th trimester, and found them really comforting (read here). It’s a brilliant, and true concept that encourages you to replicate the womb environment as much as possible during the first three months by feeding on demand, swaddling, carrying in slings, holding when asleep. I totally got it, and absolutely agreed with it, but it basically challenged me to throw any idea of routine out of the window.
That’s simple enough right?
Not for me. I found it a daily battle, flitting between acknowledging my new baby’s natural and biologically normal, total lack of routine, and my desperate need for one. I’d like to say that I changed my ways, that little O relaxed this bittersweet need in me, that I became completely baby-led, carrying him around in my Caboo like a tiny kangaroo baby. That I fed him back to sleep at every wake up without fearing that he would never ever sleep through. No. It was a daily tussle in my mind until he naturally fell into his rhythms and routines. Little mini panics over days out and mini car-naps, dashes home from town as his ‘window of awake time’ was coming to an end and I wanted him to nap in his cot instead of in the buggy. Because, you know, he might then ONLY EVER nap in the buggy.
So, yes, in time he fell into a nice, predictable, although not infallible routine. And it made it psychologically less stressful for me. However, there are always growth spurts and wonder weeks, and coughs, and jabs, and thunder and fireworks, and jet lag, and daylight saving, and all of the other things that disrupt the norm. Oh, and the fact that they are tiny, unpredictable humans who grow in to slightly larger, unpredictable toddlers.
So, what about Baby C? I wish I could say that I’d learnt from my first and fully embraced the fourth trimester, and didn’t yearn to instil any routine or schedule from day 1. Sigh. I had the same challenge, however this time I was forced to ‘sit’ with it more, and act on it less. With a rambunctious toddler who boasts a very active little social life, there was no time to stay at home and spend 2 hours getting baby C to sleep (plus can you even imagine the carnage a 2 year old could cause during this time?). He had to grab his naps where he could get them, be it buggy, sling, car, arms, someone else’s lap, football class, or amidst a rowdy play date..
Beyond the fourth trimester, routine in and of itself is actually a good thing for kids. It gives them a sense of safety and predictability as they learn their way through life and transitions. It gives them a secure base. They are developing at an astounding rate, and change is always handled better from a foundation of familiarity. However, life calls for flexibility, and whilst it’s good to acknowledge our own personal need for routine and order, it’s also good to work on increasing flexibility and welcoming a bit of spontaneity.
I feel genuinely sad to think of the playdates, the firework nights, the day trips I’ve turned down, or left prematurely for the sake of maintaining routine. It’s so easy to restrict the things that give our children variety and experience for the sake of furiously guarding our need for routines.
So, how do we do this? How do we work on increasing flexibility and spontaneity? Well, we just DO it. We choose to make decisions that challenge the norm. Hopefully, the enjoyment of the experience that you would have not otherwise had, and the realisation that your child’s routine isn’t eternally damaged because of it, will reinforce the benefit of flexibility and you’ll feel more confident to veer from the routine every now and again.
It’s okay for this not to be easy.
But it’s a great thing to choose to work on.
I mean, I must have changed a little along the way as it’s 3.39pm and I was due to wake the kids up 39 minutes ago…
Oh, and I’ve offered poorly baby C about a million extra feeds today in the hopes that he gets some good, bug-fighting antibodies without having a momentary, internal freak out about how it will affect mealtimes