Let's hear it for ruts!
Do you like spontaneity or daily routines?

Hi, my name is Dawn and I’m a routine addict. Not a common, run-of-the-mill addict, but a person who loved routines. I haven’t always been this way. Nope, I was the one who quit work to travel around the US for six months in a VW camper (pre-kids). I’ve changed careers at least three times, probably four, depending on how you define “change” and “careers”. (You can tell one of those careers was as an attorney by the fact that I need to define the terms. Remember when Clinton (the hubby) said whether he had sexual relations with that woman depended on how you define the word “is”. He couldn’t stop himself from giving that answer, really.) Heck, I tried my darndest to move my family abroad for a year to help run an orphanage. But this wild and carefree woman has now been reduced to a rut lover.

It has gotten so bad, that all week I’ve been dreading the loss of our comfortable school year routine when the kids get out of school this week.  Whatever routine I’m in, I want to keep doing. It’s clearly an inertia thing I’ve got going here.

How, you might ask, did this happen? Well, unlike most of my bad habits, I can pinpoint exactly when I fell in passionate love with routines– the arrival of my first child. I believe that God gave me each of my children to teach me something or help me grow in a particular way. I suspect He had fun picking out my eldest for me because there were so many avenues for growth for Him to choose from. Sure enough, my eldest has taught me many things, not the least of which is the giddy power of routine. This wonderful willful child had very little internal organization, but blossomed and calmed with external structure. At first, her need for predictability felt like my monotony, and I rebelled. I wasn’t the type who did the same thing every day at the same time. No sirree, that wasn’t my style at all. Unfortunately, my kid thrived on this style.

My children love the expression, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” because they think it speaks volumes about me. That may be true, but let me tell you, as all parents know, the reverse is also true.

As my daughter grew and I caught on to what she needed, I consciously spent time creating a daily and weekly routine, and much to my surprise, my enjoyment and satisfaction as a parent blossomed along with my little girl. There was a time for cleaning up the breakfast stuff, a time to watch TV, a time to pick up the toys, a time for crafts. I tried to balance our days making sure we had time doing things together and time when she could be doing something near me, but I could be free to do something for me. And even long after she gave up her afternoon nap, we had a quiet time EVERY afternoon for a couple of hours for us all to recharge. A shelf in her closet held toys that could only be played with during quiet time, and I rotated toys on this shelf. Before she could leave her room after quiet time, the toys had to be back on the shelf.

Once she knew what to expect, she wasn’t so oppositional. Transitioning between activities was never her strong suit (still isn’t !) but knowing the routine helped her anticipate the change, and life became smoother and more enjoyable for us all. It’s as if she and I could both relax and enjoy the moment since we weren’t having to anticipate the future. Another plus was that I made sure we worked in things that I really wanted to do with my kids, but might not get around to unless planned, like arts and crafts, weekly library trips, and family game night. My other kids didn’t need routines as much as my first, but I think they benefited from them as well.

Routines walk the line between imprisonment and liberation. It’s no accident that “bad” is the most common adjective used with the word “habit”. Pre-kids, I only saw the straightjacket aspect of routines and failed entirely to see that they were also remarkably freeing. I suppose, as with everything, it’s a matter of degrees and balance. Once we were used to our routine, it was relatively easy to vary them. “Just for today, let’s go to the park this afternoon and order pizza for dinner.”

Now that I’ve embraced the liberation of routines, I create them more for me than for my kids. And whatever routine I’m in, I want to stay in. Hence, the dread when I have to change them. Oh, I get over it pretty quick and soon fall into the new patterns and then don’t want them to change.

I still prefer the self-image of daring do, embracing change with open arms, living on the edge. I like that kind of woman, and I’m not totally oblivious to how boring my life sounds. But today, second day back to school, as I resettle into my daily and weekly routine of work, parenting, and life, I kind of like that woman too.

Image credit: carlfbagge