How Routines Will Simplify Your Life

The new Mighty Mommy has expert tips on how to make your family life easier by implementing rock solid routines.

Cheryl Butler,
March 3, 2013
Episode #179

As the mother of 8 kids ranging in age from 6 to 18, I can tell you firsthand that one of the biggest reasons I still haven’t lost my mind (well, not completely!) is because of my one secret weapon: routines.

How Routines Will Simplify Your Life

Adults may find routines to be boring, or too much work to implement, but when you’re raising a family, juggling work, running a household, and trying like crazy to find time for yourself and your partner, establishing daily routines is essential.

Not only do routines help keep order and structure in your home (though your kids might never admit it), they also help kids thrive and keep them grounded. Consistency is the key with any new schedule, so if you’re feeling like the routines in your family life might be a little rusty, or possibly nonexistent, I have 5 tips to help you polish them up.

The Importance of Routines

Imagine if you were to start a new job and the company that hired you had no set rules. Employees could come and go as they pleased, didn’t have to meet deadlines, could turn in projects that were incomplete, and if they were feeling bored or restless, they could be excused and go have a break until they were feeling inspired again. Maybe that actually sounds appealing, but in the real world having a non-schedule like that would very quickly result in chaos and disaster.

Routines are your daily habits, the things that you do the same way at the same time. Routines help children feel safe and secure because they know that certain things happen at certain times. Since routines help children know what’s expected, children are generally more cooperative as a result and through consistent repetition these routines can help build their independence from a very young age right through to college. (But let’s not rush it!)

Breaking your routines into daily chunks is an easy way to start. Here’s how to implement a rock solid daily routine:

Step #1: Morning Routines

Morning routines set the tone for the whole day, so don’t wait until after everyone has overslept to get your morning routine under way, you’ll only set a frantic pace for the whole family which can easily leave you all feeling overwhelmed before you even get out the door. Successful routines take planning, though they needn’t be complicated and time consuming to put into place. 

Decide what time your family will be getting up each day and stick to it. Whether your family will be awaking to their own alarm clocks or to your motherly nudging, remember that an affectionate and pleasant “GOOD MORNING SLEEPYHEADS” is a nicer way for everyone to wake up to than you screeching “GET UP OR ELSE!” Make sure that your children are well-rested so they don’t oversleep and that you enforce work before play. In other words, no watching cartoons or playing video games until children are completely dressed, fed, and have all their school supplies ready.

If you have family pets, get your children in the habit of taking the dog out for a morning bathroom walk or tending to the cat’s litter box in addition to feeding the animals before they head out to school.

Establish the routine of getting everything ready the night before (more on that in a bit) so that your kids aren’t struggling to find matching socks, homework binders, and such on the fly. This in itself can keep your blood pressure at a very healthy level!

Have a healthy but easy breakfast menu ready to go for school and work days. Forget the eggs Benedict with a side of hash browns—instead, be practical and have selections like oatmeal, cold cereal, English muffins and jam, and a few hardboiled eggs cooked in advance.

After breakfast, have everyone take care of personal grooming, teeth brushing, getting dressed, and gathering backpacks and necessary school items.

Finally, don’t forget to give your kids and spouse a warm kiss good bye and wish them the best for the day. If you as the parent can set an upbeat tone with smiles, kisses, and encouraging words as you send them off, you’ll give them a positive start to the day. And that can make a huge difference.

Step #2: After School Routines

The after school routine can actually be one of the trickiest parts of the day, especially when your kids become a bit older and start getting involved in numerous extracurricular activities that don’t leave them with much homework or leisure time. It’s also a bit more difficult, yet certainly not impossible, to oversee a routine at this time if you are working full time and your child goes to after school daycare or you have a babysitter helping out.

Depending on your children’s ages, you will need to make sure they have time to decompress when they get home from school. This can include having a nutritious snack, playing with friends in the neighborhood, riding their bikes, or even watching a bit of TV. 

At our home, our elementary school-aged children have a different afternoon routine than our middle school and high school kids. But regardless of whether I am home in the afternoon or they have a babysitter, the routine is the same. The younger kids get off the bus, come in and put backpacks and lunchboxes in their proper places, eat a snack, and have an hour or so of play time.  We eat dinner at 6 PM each night, so they start homework by 5:15 and it’s completed (hopefully) before dinner.

Our middle and high school kids usually have afterschool sports/activities so they come home right before 6PM, put their things away, wash up and eat dinner, and then do their daily chores such as putting laundry away or taking out the garbage. Then it’s homework time, showers, getting backpacks and outfits ready for the following day, and if there is free time after that they can chill out with some TV or an activity of their choice.

Step #3: Dinner Routines

If you start thinking about what to serve your family for dinner while sitting in rush hour traffic on the way home from work, you’re probably constantly stressed about finding something in your fridge that you can throw together so you don’t have to serve cold cereal, again.

But if you can get into an organized dinner routine, you’ll add years to your life! You don’t have to get fancy. But by shopping for groceries ahead of time and planning a handful of meals that you know your family will eat—such as lasagna, baked chicken and potatoes, macaroni and cheese with grilled sausage, tacos, etc.—you will have all the ingredients on hand to prepare dinner quickly. If you really want to optimize your time, make a few meals on the weekend to have ready for the following week. I make calzones every Thursday. I love having a no-brainer meal in the mix each week.

Even if you can’t serve dinner at the same time each night due to work and other commitments, you can still make dinnertime a routine that works by getting help from the kids to set the table while you’re cooking. (Get them involved in making the salad or other dishes when they are old enough). Even if you’re only at the table together for 10-15 minutes, that time is precious family time that kids really do cherish and benefit from. After dinner, you can enlist help for clearing the table and doing everyone’s favorite chore—the dishes! 

Step #4: Bedtime Routines

At one point, my husband and I had 4 children under the age of 3. The only thing that gave us any sense of normalcy at all during those crazy years was our bedtime routine. Younger children need to know that they will be going to bed at the same time every night. Parents who get into the bad habit of letting their young ones run the show, often don’t have any personal time of their own to unwind at the end of a long day. 

Remember: You run the show. So select your bedtime and work backwards. If you decide 7:30 PM is when you want your toddlers to go to bed, figure that you will want to get started an hour before the bedtime. At 6:30 give a gentle reminder that bedtime will be happening in about an hour and that they need to finish up playing with their toys. A few minutes later announce “clean up” time and get your cherubs in the habit of picking up the playroom before they go to bed.

If they are school-aged or you work and drop them off at daycare early in the morning, establish a routine for getting their outfits, backpacks, snacks or lunches for the next day ready the night before. Next, oversee teeth brushing, going to the bathroom, PJs, and then you can have some quiet time together reading their favorite bedtime story or just snuggling and talking. When younger kids have your undivided attention at the end of their long day, it gives them a sense of security that all is right in their world.

Likewise, with older children, decide on a bedtime for school nights and plan backwards from there. If bedtime for your 15-year-old is 10 PM, homework, outfits, lunches, showers, personal care, and cleaning up their bedroom (no, I’m not kidding—even if they put some of their clothes away it’s a help), that should all be done by 9:30 PM. Your teens need your attention before bedtime as well. Although you may not be reading to them any longer, you should try and get them to talk about their day, what happened in band or sports practice, or anything else that they may want to discuss. If you get into the routine of connecting with them on a very regular basis, they’ll know they can count on you when they really need to talk about something important.

Step #5: Your Personal Routines

Don’t forget about yourself when it comes to establishing routines. Parents need to build in time for their needs as well. I find it helps to get up at least 30 minutes before my kids wake up so that I can have a few quiet moments to myself before the day takes off. Every day after the kids leave for school I throw in the laundry, load the breakfast dishes, and do a quick tidy. Next, I take a 45-minute walk or play an exercise tape. That leaves the rest of the day open for work, errands, appointments, etc. If I don’t schedule my own personal time each day, guess what—I won’t have any!

I hope these tips on creating routines will help you and your family simplify and enjoy life a little more. Remember: routines don’t happen overnight, they need to be established and then consistently maintained. Make a list of how you’d like to see your days flow and then build your routines around that. Your routines will soon become your secret weapon, too!

If you have a question regarding anything you’ve just read, or have a suggestion for a future Mighty Mommy episode, e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com or post it on the Mighty Mommy Facebook wall. You can also follow me on Twitter @MightyMommy.

Good luck and happy parenting!

Family image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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