Before I became a parent I was very spontaneous. I once quit my job and flew to Italy to surprise my sister on her 30th birthday. Once there, after the celebrations, I impulsively extended my trip and travelled on to Switzerland and Turkey. It was spontaneous fun! In my early years of marriage, weekends were filled with similar spontaneity; day drives out of town, spur of the moment social outings and many spontaneous Sunday sessions at the pub. Although do they classify as “spontaneous” when you just happen to end up in a beer garden every weekend?
Being a parent and spontaneity don’t sit easily together, at least not for me anyway. When Miss A was born I read Robin Barker’s famed Baby Love, in which she extols the virtues of routines for babies. It seemed to make sense and Miss A easily adapted into a routine. I fed every 3-4 hours, she slept for another 3, and so the cycle continued. This structure held appeal for me, too. I liked knowing what was coming next. I liked being in control, and routines make you feel supremely in control.
The pros and cons of being a routine parent
While Miss A thrived on routine there were times I envied the mums who were feeding effortlessly on demand, having lunch dates with girlfriends and attending mums and bubs movie sessions. But I enjoyed the peace of mind routine gave me too much to mess with it. I often said no to events that didn’t fit within our sleep schedule, but the sacrifice was worth it for us.
When Miss J was born she kicked routine to the curb. She was not going to conform to any sleep/feed/play routine. Cat napping was her thing, and every time I thought I had her “settled” the wailing would begin. And. It. Did. Not. Stop. This destabilised me in the early months as I had no control over my very demanding baby. This is not an easy thing to accept for someone who likes being in control. Miss J wouldn’t have a bar of it. Still, I persisted. I was in a good routine with Miss A so I stuck to my guns, determined to gain a modicum of control.
Slowly, and I mean slowly, the wheels started to change and I got her into the pattern of sleeping through the night and having a big, long, daytime sleep. I was at home anyway and I somehow managed to coordinate the two daytime sleeps so I had some quiet time myself. I was lucky in that Miss A enjoyed her day sleep very much and didn’t drop it until close to four (but please don’t hate me for that!).
Miss H mirrored my experiences with Miss A and settled into a routine quite nicely. Routine works in our family but it’s not without its downsides. For over five years I have been virtually imprisoned, at home, for many hours during the day. The difficulty in getting anywhere in the morning and back in time for lunch and bed has also been a major barrier. I have spent a lot of time at home, when more spontaneous mums have probably been having more fun, or more social time at least.
Groundhog Day is a major disadvantage of the routine parent gig. And routine is a major recipe for BOREDOM. Sometimes I feel quite robotic in how I go about my day. Children enjoy knowing what’s coming next but their desire for routine is often at odds with our need for variety.
I am a routine parent and I’ve become a routine person. I am not sure if parenthood has brought about this change or if it’s simply a by-product of getting older. I now realise I do many things like clockwork. I think I’ve had the same breakfast every morning for at least 10 years. I unfailingly wash all linen and towels each Saturday. I can’t go to bed unless I iron those pillowcases (or perhaps this is better classified as OCD?) and I follow a very strict bedtime routine. Gosh I sound BORING!
I like to think the spontaneous girl within me will reveal herself once more. Control is nice but it’s also very liberating to throw caution to the wind and embrace the unknown. Perhaps when my kids are a little bit older I can take my foot off the routine pedal and accelerate into uncertainty.
How do you feel about routines? Are you a routine parent? Do you love or loathe repetition?