As everyone goes back to school—and even back to work after summer vacations—you may find that old routines aren’t working as well. As children get older, they will need adjustment. Or, maybe everyone forgot what the old routines were and you’re all frantically wondering how to fit it all in every morning before you all move off in your various directions.
The elements every family needs to balance are:
- grooming and cleaning,
- passing along information, and,
- at the best of times, just being together.
Food includes both feeding yourselves a meal and preparing for later meals. Speed is not necessarily essential. The keys to making meals go smoothly are advanced planning and actually understanding what your family members like or are willing to eat without much fuss. In my family, this means variety since we get stubborn about eating the same things over and over.
Grooming and cleaning at best means keeping people and house in order, but in many people’s realities it means just barely getting people ready in time and leaving the house to itself.
Passing along information might be “Honey, don’t forget to stop at the store before you come home,” or it might be more like, “Uh, Mama, I forgot to tell you that I need my project ready by today.”
I know the just being together part is going well when any two members of my family are focused on one another (for four people to focus on one another, that usually takes my effort and planning). For my kids, this happens when they spontaneously, without adult suggestion, sit down to play chess or board games or when they go outside and play together. My husband and I find our days work better if we’ve talked over breakfast rather than just reading the paper to one another (yes, we still have a newspaper that arrives at our door each morning). When the pairing is one child and one parent, it usually means someone had a question and a conversation or project followed.
This is how my family currently makes our mornings work.
Get up. As long as my husband listens to the alarm, he’s fine. When he sleeps through it, he ends up not having enough time to get everything ready before he has to leave the house. Oversleeping is usually related to going to bed later than he expected. Don’t think that you are going to successfully steal time. In our experience, stealing time is usually not successful. Whether or not my children get up early depends on the night before. Everyone is happier when we all sit down together in the morning, but if that means having a tired, grumpy child to take care of all day, I’m willing to let go of the ideal. Between late-night band practice and ballet, we do have several days a week when it’s better to let children sleep a little longer. When they sleep in, though, they miss their father. It’s a balance.
Take the dog out. Our dog is quite good at telling us what she wants and needs. I’m sure she doesn’t play as much tug or fetch as she would like, but she gets a lot of attention, plenty of food, and time outside to follow her very sensitive nose. We try to be as sensitive and attachment about her as we are with the rest of the family. So, the dog’s needs have to be met within the routine. The dog has a routine, too. Immediately after going out, she has a nap on my daughter’s bed.
Get clean. This is so predictable that I don’t even think about it much, but I realize my children need to be made conscious of this step, especially as they get older and their need to bathe increases. Make sure you leave enough time to keep yourself not just barely clean but also fingernails trimmed, teeth really brushed, and hair combed. I add the last one for my son, whose hair is halfway down his back. He likes the idea of long hair, but the cleaning and combing of long hair are not really part of his own personal routine. Now that he’s suffered through a hot summer long enough to give his hair to Locks of Love, he’s ready to have it shaved, and so am I. Keeping his hair clean and un-matted has been our adventure.
Eat. We generally choose between cooked breakfast and cereal, with occasional fresh bread. We usually save pancakes and other meals that take longer to prepare for weekends or holidays. What makes the meal work for us is eating together—and always adding cut fruit.
Fix food. For those who won’t be home for lunch, we pack lunch. It helps if we thought about this well in advance. When putting away dinner the night before, we can easily put leftovers in lunch-sized containers. Without advanced planning, it’s probably a sandwich for lunch.
House. In order to keep the house from becoming an issue, we try to do small chores often. Maybe this means opening (and discarding) mail then taking recycling out to the garage. Maybe this means folding laundry, then distributing it to each room. This keeps us from having to live in a mess then spend one long day cleaning back to a livable level.
Once my husband is out of the house, my children and I have a routine that works well for us.
- Eat (if we haven’t already)
- Clean. Right after breakfast, we each do one substantial cleaning job each.
- Dog run. Our dog is young and active. As a trainer told us, a tired dog is a good dog. She needs to run full speed, so this happens right after breakfast and cleaning.
- School. We spend 2-3 hours on school early. Details of what we cover depend on day of the week. I don’t mind improvisation, but my children have requested to know what is coming in advance.
- Smoothies. Mid-morning smoothie gives us an activity as well as a nutritional boost.
My children have both told me how much happier they are when we follow our basic routine. We have a lot of flexibility, but we always try to cover the basics. When we drop any one part of this, we don’t feel right. Even when we do everything, we have to be aware enough of everyone’s needs that we can adjust. The way to make sure any routine actually works for you is to provide feedback and adjustment to the routine. Rigidly following a routine that isn’t working for some of all of your family members will not help—at least not in the long run.
If you are ready to find the morning routine that works for your family, start by asking what is working and what isn’t. You may not have to make drastic changes. Just anticipate the consequences of a late night or skipped breakfast and be disciplined enough to avoid those consequences.