The Seven R's of Parenting: Routine

There are those of us that love routines, and those that loathe the thought of it. The question to ask regardless is: What would we do without routines?

Imagine a day without routines.

There is the spontaneity of choosing to do whatever whenever you want in the moment. Great scope to experiment with new ideas of doing seemingly humdrum things. So, what would it be like brushing my teeth at work, rather than before breakfast at home? Then, it could run into a bit of chaos if there was no bus schedule or train timetable...and we waited at the bus stand or railway platform until the appropriate ride appears...the children would wake up at random to make their own breakfast - that would be good - except that Mum who would consistently have stocked the cupboard every Sunday afternoon was experimenting with the new idea of going to the store only as the children tell her what was gone in the pantry...and so it goes...

Whether we like it or not, our lives are governed by some routine - some more minimalist; others fleshed out in more detail.

Why do we have a routine?

Routines promote trust
One of the simple benefits: Routines foster independence. Independence cultivates self esteem and trust. Routines generate a reliability that certain things will run at a certain time, and certain people will be in attendance when expected. There is less need to communicate as often about items that can be slotted into a predetermined sequence so members can show up at the appropriate times without being reminded.

Like consistent rules, nothing beats a regular routine so we do not occupy our minds trying to constantly re-invent how we do things. It allows for freedom from having to check with a supervisor every time. Let's say we change our meal times willy nilly with a small child - that would be very confusing as the child does not know how much to eat. If he eats too much, and is fed sooner than expected, he experiences force-feeding. If he does not consume enough and the next meal comes too far in between, you will have a whiny, grumpy, hungry child. This is exacerbated when the child is too young to verbalize or signal his/her needs, other then crying and whimpering.

When my children know their routine, they don’t have to ask me.  They each have a timetable for their daily activities - so it gives them the independence to prepare for their school day or activities without looking to me. Structured routine gives predictability and again empowerment to act without constantly checking with the parents. Both Jett and Xian know that their routine is to finish daily homework and music practice before watching TV or playing computer games. So they know they don’t have to ask for permission once they have completed their duties.

Routines kindle innovation
Routine frees our creativity to improve. If we are not thinking of every step in our daily living, it gives us the liberty to explore and focus specifically on one thing at a time to learn, develop or improve. For example, if the child knows where his favourite book is all the time and can get back to it any time, s/he is more likely to look for other books/activities to do with that security in mind.

Routines sustain role modelling
In being a role model, do we schedule a routine for ourselves? Do we make 'me' time - the so-called ‘self-spa’ - where we diarise 2-3 times per week for gym workouts, a regular time to check emails, or watching the 6 o’clock news without interruption? If our children observe that we have a routine, they will learn to respect our time too. It is preferable to co-create a structure in engaging clear boundaries to meet the needs of everyone affected. Routines can be changed through re-negotiation and partnering -  Ken or I take the children to school when we are en route to work. From time to time both of us are unable.  We have negotiated with the children that they take public transport on those days.

Routines are best worked out together
Initially, parents set the framework to guide the children. No matter how young the children are, it is respectful to let them know why a certain routine is good for all (for example, regular sleep time helps parents and children get into healthy regimens of recharging so they can make the most out of their awake times without getting cranky).

Getting into the habit of creating relevance early also demonstrates the importance of spelling out a reason big enough in order to excite or motivate anyone. When the children are able to express themselves, it may be useful to elicit from them as learning partners what good reasons they have in opposing the routine you are suggesting. Many a time, I have been inspired by their perspective. What’s more - they have even come up with a better routine than the one I proposed!

How does it work?
There are naturally daily routines for weekdays, weekends, holidays, ones that occur weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly, six-monthly and annually.

An example of a weekday family routine when Jett was 6, and Xian was 4:
0645 Household wakes - toilet routines (e.g. brush teeth, shower, style hair)
0730 Breakfast for all / pack lunches
0800 Depart for school / preschool/ work
1200 Pick up Xian from PreSchool
1300 Lunch with Xian
1400 Afternoon siesta for Xian
1500 Pick up Jett from school
1530 Afternoon tea
1600 Violin/Piano lesson
1730 Homework/ Music Practice/ Cook dinner
1800 Ken comes home
1830 Dinner for all
1930 Clean up / Xian gets bath / TV or games
2000 Bedtime for Xian
2030 Get ready for bedtime - brush teeth/ shower/ pack school bag/ read stories
2100 Bedtime for Jett - lights out
2115 Parents' free time  - reading/ movies/ TV/ chat time
2300 Bedtime for Parents

Naturally, routines are likely to be more relaxed on weekends/ holidays...perhaps a ‘no routine’ holiday routine may actually be a routine of spontaneity! Usually during the school holidays, we don’t plan beyond the travel and accommodation. When we arrive at our destination - we play it by ear. It gives the children a chance to enjoy the structure of flexibility!

How do you deal with routine for yourself? Who have you involved in its creation? This is important when you are not particularly good with routines yourself. What routine or systems have you put in place that currently support you, your life, and that of your family? By all means, do more of that! Which ones aren't working? Perhaps you can get inventive and re-design those to make them work better for you.

A word of caution. Beware of ‘doing it right’: that there is only one way, the so-called ‘right way’ to do things. There is much to be said for having options and flexibility to change things when necessity dictates. Routines are fine provided there is room for continuous improvement. Small tweaks that allow the system to develop and adapt to changing needs and environment. Creativity can also be incorporated into the routine. Can you get creative with your routine (or with anything for that matter) when you need to?

By Dr Yvonne Sum
Dr Yvonne Sum CSP transforms leaders of tomorrow today: through speaking, coaching and writing. Having been a dentist, RAAF officer, executive coach, leadership facilitator & speaker, author, business partner, wife and mother of two, Yvonne has first-hand experience transcending changes across various contexts. She consistently provokes senior business leaders to ‘lose their minds and come to their senses’ by integrating their leadership lessons at home successfully back into the work tribe in Australia, USA and Asia-Pacific. She has presented alongside Edward deBono, Howard Gardner, Tony Buzan, and David Perkins.  ‘Intentional Parenting - Learning Leadership from your Home Tribe’ is her first solo book due out in 2012.