Monday, 26 November 2012

I would, but that's when Baby sleeps...

This notion that our lives have to grind to a halt because our kids are on a schedule is simply mystifying to me. And I am a person for whom scheduling and organizing are not just necessary life tools, but enjoyable hobbies and even mild obsessions.

Having your children on a schedule is absolutely imperative to running an organized life and home - and the more kids you have, the more organized your schedule needs to be to avoid things falling through the cracks. We are very set in our routines in our family - I have systems of organization in the kids' bedrooms, in the kitchen and in the front hall closet that make it possible for us to get up & ready for school, make & eat breakfast, make lunches and pack backpacks and get out the door with coats and shoes and everything on in twenty minutes flat, if necessary, although we don't often sleep in. Our mornings are so organized that the kids don't even notice, but our systems allow us to function and follow our schedule without effort. After school we have essentially the same processes in reverse, and by half an hour after coming home we have put away all our outdoor things, unpacked backpacks & lunches, had snack and done homework, signed notes and agendas and written cheques for school stuff, and are left with lots of time to play before dinner and evening sports. Dinner is between six and six-thirty, depending on evening sports, and bedtime is between eight and eight-thirty for our eldest two. We definitely have a schedule.

But that schedule needs to be flexible; realistically, life with children doesn't follow a schedule. The kids want to play at the park after school. One of the boys has invited his best friend over for a playdate. Husband has to stay late at the office. The books are due back at the library. It's raining so I need to wait for the car to come home to run errands. There's an evening event at the kids' school. We decide to go swimming at the public pool. A later night means a sleep-in the next morning. Life doesn't follow a schedule.

I am not in any way, shape or form attached to our schedule - I can't be. But I do think it's important to have one. The best way to manage it, I think, is to make the most minutely organized schedule you can possibly imagine as your base line - and then live your life despite it. If you have the systems of organization in place, if you have routines set up and a schedule you intend to follow, then it's possible to lead a chaotic, unplanned life without feeling disorganized and while still feeling like you're following a schedule - the schedule is more of a guideline.

Baby fell asleep while out sledding with his brothers!
I have noticed that people with a baby tend to be the biggest offenders when it comes to being overly rigid with their schedules - first-time parents even more so. And I do understand where that sense of fear comes from: you're tired. Baby doesn't sleep - AT ALL, it sometimes feels like. You are exhausted. Your life has changed completely - and the older you are when you have your first child, the more dramatic of a change it feels like. When you finally get that sleepless baby on a schedule of some sort with napping and bedtime, you can practically hear angels singing. Why risk that?

Because you have to.

There is absolutely no point in trying to keep a baby on a schedule.

Baby is on his own schedule, however much you may think you've imposed it. And that schedule will change on a whim. Just because it happens to be nine o'clock and that's the time you put baby to bed last night does not mean that baby is necessarily going to go to bed at nine o'clock tonight. Baby may well still be awake and happy and ready to play at midnight.

Babies are also the most flexible, adaptable creatures on the planet. If you go to your out-of-town in-laws' house for Thanksgiving dinner, baby may well fall asleep at the table with a mouthful of sweet potatoes if it happens to be when he wants to sleep. Opting out of the family dinner so that you don't throw him off his schedule is not only ridiculous, it's pointless.

Baby's schedule is his own and nothing you do or don't do will guarantee that he will sleep when you want him to.

And in the meantime - life goes on.

You can't simply stop living your life because you have a baby.

I may seem hypocritical saying this - after all, I'm the mom whose entire life revolves around my kids and family, who went from a party girl to a mom overnight at twenty-five, who went from clubbing every night to a social life revolving around the kids' playdates, who never leaves the kids with a sitter and considers a date with my husband an evening at home when all three kids are asleep at the same time.

But - though I live my life very differently now that I have children than I did before - I have not stopped living it. If friends invite us over for dinner, we go. The kids come (as long as they're invited!). They stay up late - very late - and fall asleep in the car on the way home. If there's a family occasion at my parents' or grandparents' place up north, we go, we stay all day, we eat late and drive home in the middle of the night. Sometimes we'll sleep over, unplanned. If I have to go in to work at the last minute, the kids come - I don't know how many times they've sat through one of my fitness classes, colouring when they were younger and "helping" me teach when they were older. Baby gets woken up ten minutes into his nap and bundled bleary-eyes into the stroller to go pick up his brothers from school. On occasion I'll keep the boys home from school for a day or half-day if we have something to do or just for a treat. Sometimes we'll stay up late with a bowl of popcorn watching movies until way after bedtime. And you know what? They're just fine.

My kids have a schedule. Our family has a schedule.
And that schedule gets thrown out the window more often than not.

And we're all perfectly happy with that.

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