Tuesday, Mar 10
Spring is just around the corner which has me thinking about new beginnings. With the promise of Easter comes a chance to start fresh, to let old habits die hard. Snow days, delays, and the upheaval of life as usual has thrown our family’s rhythm off quite a bit. I suppose the routines we are accustomed to rely heavily upon the school week actually happening. It’s amazing how twelve random days off from our usual weekday routine can bring so much disruption to the peacefulness of our home. With that, we are going back to the drawing board, reevaluating where we can establish routines that can actually be practiced and maintained. There is no doubt that having routines in place puts bad habits to rest in a matter of a couple of weeks. I’m going to outline for you in 7 steps what our family does to establish and maintain routines. Then you can take what you like and leave the rest!
Let me start by saying that I learned almost everything I know about establishing routines from my friend Kelly McCabe, mother of eight and a master of home management. My suggestion to you, if you are looking to do something like this with your family, is to seek out someone who lives near you who can be another pair of eyes. For me, it took Kelly’s experience to see what we could be doing differently in our day to day scheduling and routines. After that, it was up to me to set everyone on the right path towards a peaceful rhythm. What I’m sharing with you started with a sit-down with Kelly a year and a half ago.
Over the next few days, pay attention to the tone or the mood of the day. A family tends to get into a rhythm on its own, and sometimes that rhythm is unintentional. So take a step back and look at your family’s rhythm. In what parts of your day would you like to see more peace and order? These are the times of the day that need routines. Every family is so different, so by way of example, I’ll share with you what our problem times are:
Okay. Now that you have a list of problem times, you get to decide what things need to be done by your children for themselves during these times. It’s helpful to also identify the things you are doing while the children are taking care of themselves. This is a team effort. Before I show you the tasks that we need to have done during problem times, let me share with you a trick that my friend Kelly taught me. Have dinner with your children between three and four o’clock. Then when Dad gets home, sit down as a family and while he eats the dinner you saved for him and re-heated, and you and the kids can enjoy a healthy snack. Children tend to be so very hungry after school. If you let them, they will snack and snack all afternoon! But if you feed them dinner, they will fill their bellies with a good meal high in protein, then have a small snack later. And it will take all the witching out of the witching hour because dinner will have already been prepared and eaten!
Again, by way of example, here are the tasks that need to be accomplished during our problem times:
Morning: Get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, grab lunch box from fridge, shoes, outdoor gear, backpack, depart on time
After school: Get changed into play clothes, eat dinner, do dishes, set table for evening snack, homework
After homework: Play time, prepare evening snack, pack lunches, eat evening snack while dad has dinner, do dishes, wipe down counters, sweep floor, pack backpack for the next day
Bedtime: PJs, brush teeth, to bed, pray, read, sleep
This is the part that takes some doing. What was easiest for me was to take the list I made of all the things that need to be accomplished within the routines and write down which tasks needed to be done by each child on their own and which tasks could be assigned so that mom’s not doing everything. For example, each child needs to brush his own teeth. However, not each child needs to set their own place at the table. One child can be in charge of setting the table. Another can be in charge of putting all the dishes in the dishwasher while another child wipes down the counters. Shared responsibilities promotes a “team effort” mentality. If we all pitch in, this won’t take long at all! The key here is to know your children. Make sure you assign duties that are age appropriate. The four year old probably isn’t the best one to wipe down the counters, but sweeping would be totally doable.
Once you have decided what jobs will be done by each child, type out a schedule including times for each child separately. If the child can’t read, print out or draw some images of the job so he or she can glance at the routines and know what they’re supposed to do next. Post the routines somewhere where it is easy for the whole family to refer to them. The idea here is to eliminate the nagging. We want our children to be independent when it comes to their work. We don’t want the work done only when we tell them to do it. The more children you have, the more exhausting assigning jobs can be. Think about the number of times you do something yourself simply because you’re tired of asking your child to do something basic. Lately, because we’ve gotten out of all of our good habits, I have been doing a lot more nagging than I’d like and I know the children are tired of it too. When you have all the responsibilities for each child posted you simply point to the list and say something simple like, “Is there anything that needs to be done?” or “Please check your routine.” This practice also helps us moms avoid asking the same one or two children to do everything. Each family tends to have a pleaser or two who wants nothing more than to help out and that’s wonderful, but what about the others? Sometimes the pleasers and helpers start to resent the kids who slip by without pitching in. Or sometimes the child who slips by resents the pleaser because they always get all the jobs. Oh family relationships. So complicated sometimes.
Be flexible! The times that you designate need to be firm only if you are supposed to be somewhere on time. Rigidity is not going to bring peace.
So you’ve established your routines and you’ve assigned duties to each child in the family. You also know what things only you can do and those are posted as well as a reminder to everyone that this is a team effort. Now it’s time to have a family meeting. A dry erase board or chalk board is really helpful for the family meeting. Let everyone know early in the day, or the day before if possible, that you are going to have a family meeting. Before the first meeting, the children will probably have all sorts of questions, so be patient. Choose the day and the time that you think works best for your crew. Also, let them know that after the meeting is over, you’re going to have root beer floats or you’re going to play their favorite game. The family meeting is not a gathering where mom and dad are going to tell everyone what to do. It’s going to be more of a round table discussion where everyone is allowed to contribute ideas and be heard. And, in the end, mom and dad are going to steer the ship the direction they want it to go.
Begin with a prayer. Allow one of the children who knows how to write to take notes on the dry erase board (they love this!) At the end of the meeting have someone write down or type out what has been written down so that you can keep a log of your family meetings. This is important because it shows the children that what has been discussed and decided will be enforced. The notes are a point of reference.
It’s taken us some practice, but the kids really do enjoy the family meeting. It is something that we do periodically, typically when things seem to be off-kilter. Perhaps things wouldn’t get the chance to be off-kilter if we had our meeting once a month. When we first started our routines, the family meeting was a way for us to initiate this new way of running our home together. Then a follow-up meeting allowed us to tweak aspects of the routines that weren’t working. We do address any grievances that the children may have and we allow others to offer suggestions as to how things can be remedied. For example, one child really wanted some time to herself each day after school. She brought it up at the family meeting and we were able to come up with a few different solutions so that she would get about ten to fifteen minutes by herself in the room that she shares with her younger sister. No more frustration, no more reacting, problem solved, child’s voice heard. Anyway, you get the idea. End with a prayer and a treat. Meeting adjourned.
This is the hard part. The first five steps are all planning on paper what you want to do, but actually doing it? That’s a different story. After all, habits have formed that need to be slowly broken. This takes time. How much time depends on your children and their ages, and your ability to persevere. It’s going to take at least ten weekdays for everyone to get used to their new responsibilities. You can do it! And so can they. Independence is a gift to your child and to yourself. Sometimes when mommy does everything, what’s being communicated to the child is, “You aren’t capable of taking care of this on your own. Mommy has to do it because you can’t.” We aren’t intentionally saying this to our children, but it is what comes across. Children need to work. They want to work! Let go of the idea that only you can do it and take the time to move things off your plate onto the plates of your children. You won’t believe the results!
This is hard. I find myself talking to my children too much sometimes. “Have you done your homework?” “Did you brush your teeth?” “Put your shoes away!” and on and on. When you have established routines, now you get to just point at them and give a simple prompt like, “Check your routine” or “Is there something you forgot?”
It’s magic, I tell you.
Go easy on yourself and the kids. Hold another family meeting a few weeks after you start your new routines just to be sure you’re giving them a go before you make changes. You got this. And your kids will surprise you. They’ve got this too. It’s a team effort and in the end, we’re giving our children tools for life. That’s our job, right? Not to do it all, but to teach them how to take care of themselves and be contributors to whatever environment they live in.
Good luck and please, let me know how it goes if you choose to try this with your family!