I just stumbled upon this post (and the comments) and it resonated with me in a huge way. The author, Emily, says “These are my kids….. and they are addicted to the TV. I’m not proud of it but it’s true. Being 4 and 2, they seem to have the attention spans of a flea.” She goes on to explain that she struggles with knowing how to fill all the hours of the day with her kids.
I totally get where Emily is coming from and I love how authentic she is in this post. When I had my daughter, my biggest frustration was feeling like I wasn’t sure how to fill her days. I often defaulted to letting her watch hours and hours of TV.
Here’s what I know is true:
- this is totally normal thing to do as a mom, and
- my daughter is now 18 and a thriving college student at a major university. She’s exceptionally smart, funny, compassionate and self-motivated.
- all that TV time didn’t hurt her a bit.
Turns out, that Mommy guilt was a complete waste of time. Go figure.
TV is totally ok, but I wanted a more of a framework the next time around
But what I also know is that when I decided to have another baby, I didn’t want to have that same feeling of not knowing how to keep our new little one busy. It’s frustrating and distracting for me more than anything.
So while I was pregnant time time ’round, I made this my research project. I talked to several moms who seemed to not only be surviving their kids babyhood and toddlerhood, but thriving. I asked them each their secret and every one gave me the same answer: they had a schedule. Or, more accurately, let’s call it a “framework” for their days.
Their secret was that their days didn’t just unfold haphazardly. They had a predictable rhythm and one that had been decided upon in advance. This is not to say that they are rigid or that nothing could happen spontaneously, just that they began their day knowing how they were going to spend it. There was no guessing.
Sure, this took a bit of advance thought, but once the routine was established, it was set. And that means that not only can mom relax into the routine, so can the child. The flow becomes the norm and that helps kids know what’s expected of them, in addition to giving them a great environment for learning and creating.
Does this mean that my son doesn’t watch television? Absolutely not. But I allow him his TV time because I pro-actively want him to have it. It’s not used to fill hours simply because I don’t know how else to fill them. That’s the beauty of having a routine.
I’m a working mom and have chosen a daycare that keeps a very similar schedule, but this is a framework that I use both on weekends and also on those days and weeks when his daycare is closed for a holiday or break of some sort.
What the schedule actually looks like:
Here’s what a normal Monday might look like when I’m home with Jackson, who is now 29 months, but this has been reasonably the same for more than a year:
7a Jackson gets up, spends s few minutes in bed with me while Dad is up making coffee for me and warm milk for him.
7:10-7:30a Jackson gets iPad time. I’ve very carefully chosen the apps that are available to him, so that time is well spent and I feel good about it. His mastery of several concepts, especially letters and numbers, is in part because of his iPad time.
7:30-8:15a He eats breakfast while watching one of his Disney Jr. or PBS shows. While he does this, I clean up the kitchen and begin to get myself together.
8:15-9 TV goes off and the iPad is put away. I finish getting myself dressed and ready and then help him get dressed. Jackson chats with me while I put on my makeup and we talk mostly about how beautiful I am.
9-9:30a We start laundry, make beds, tidy up the house, etc. Jackson knows that laundry is his chore, too, so he helps drag baskets to the garage, puts clothes in the wash, transfers clothes to the dryer and sets the machines to begin their cycles. He also gives our dog food and water as a part of his daily chore routine.
9:30a Leave for library story time. Afterwards, we’ll read books in the library and then play in the park nearby to burn off physical energy before heading home.
3-3:30p another round of iPad time while he wakes up from nap. He’s always been a cranky waker, so giving him the time to quietly use the iPad and drink some warm milk allows him to return to his mostly rosy self.
3:30-4:45p time outside. This usually includes a fast walk or run for me to get in some cardio with J in his stroller and then some time for Jackson to walk and explore at his own pace. If it’s light enough, we’ll often segue into other outside play in the backyard, with J riding his bike, playing on his structure or kicking the ball around.
If it’s warm outside, this will be time for water play for him and sunning/reading for me. More steam burning going on in this interval. If it’s too hot or too cold, we’ll work on some learning activities. He’s playing with his peg board here.
4:45-5:15p snack and reading time together. I usually let Jackson choose 2-3 books for me to read to him. Often we’ll use this interval to do some coloring and sticker play or Play Doh.
5:15-5:45p Jackson has “independent room time”. This is 30 minutes of time where he must stay in his room on his own, but has discretion over how he spends that time. Some days he’ll read books to himself, some days he’ll do blocks, other days, he’ll play with action figures while listening to the Toy Story soundtrack. I don’t interact with him at all during this time, though he knows I’m nearby.
(You can check out this website (my go-to for parenting advice) for more thoughts on the huge benefits independent playtime and tips for making it happen.)
5:45-6:30p 1/2 hour of TV and dinner.
6:30p bath, brush teeth, get dressed, story time.
Ah, sanity. Well, mostly.
The same general principles apply each day, with differences in the specific activities. For example, in place of library story time, we might do a playdate or a trip to a kids playspace, or grocery shopping or time to play at home with some specific craft or activity.
As we all know, Pinterest is a hugely helpful resource for ideas for fun things to do with kids of every age. If I stayed home every day, I’d devote one of our “intervals” do trying out a Pinterest-inspired activity at least a couple days a week. I’d want to let Jackson help make the choice of activity.
The point is that I would have thought through the night before briefly as I go to sleep specifically how we’d spend the various intervals of the next day. It doesn’t take long once you’ve got the major brushstrokes laid out. And lots of times we’ll change our minds and do something that happens organically. That’s why this is a framework and not a rigid schedule.
By the way, the EXACT same principles worked to keep me not only sane but thriving during my maternity leave. The empty yawn of the free time terrified me, so I took the advice of my “been there, done that” friends (and my two sisters, who were hugely helpful to me in this regard) and made myself and my newborn son a schedule and boy, it helped immensely!
I know there are going to be people who read this and roll their eyes. That’s ok. They might think this is about me saying “I’ve got it all figured out -it’s easy!” That’s not even close to the truth. I struggle just like every other mom in all the same ways.
But I will say that having a schedule and routine is a coping mechanism that works for me and people like me. And I’m so immensely glad to have found this framework – it’s made me a happy and (reasonably) calm Mama this time around.
What about you: how do you keep your sanity with young children? Has having a routine worked for you, or do you like to keep things more free-flowing?