Routine is generally a good thing when you’re a parent with littles. You quickly learn, regardless of your parenting style and daily schedule, that consistency brings confidence and comfort. Except for those parts of our routine where chaos creeps in. I’m looking at you, crazy mornings before school and pre-dinner witching hour.
These parts of our day have always been difficult, and I think to some extent this is inevitable in these early years. I’ve never really tried to change much about these chaotic moments for that reason. It’s an impossible standard to expect our kids never to have bad moments, so I often just ride out the bad moments.
But, parent coach Aubrey Hargis raised a good set of questions when it comes to rituals and routine. When do things tend to fall apart during your day, and what rituals will you add to smooth the flow and create consistency?
I’ve never really tried to approach the chaotic times in our day by asking how I can change these parts of our day. I’ve always looked to keep our routine exactly how I want it to be, while trying to incorporate things that might convince my kids to better buy in – like offering choices or giving more lead time.
I realized my approach has been rooted in stagnancy. Of course we can be accepting of the fact that our kids will have hard moments, but we shouldn’t give up on looking for ways to find and model calm in our home.
I spent this week observing our mornings as they are. I tried to empathize with my kids and see things from their perspective. I tried to keep track of my mood, my engagement, my tone, and my words. And the overarching feeling was yuck.
We all wake up around the same time. Both kids tend to wake up cranky from the get-go, immediately wanting something to drink and eat. Meanwhile, I’m trying to get my coffee and open my eyes. Things tend to be chill while they are eating, and then I go right into tasking my oldest to start getting dressed. Of course he doesn’t listen, and over the course of the remaining 30 minutes I will probably repeat myself 23 times until eventually getting him ready myself, and then hurriedly getting baby sister ready to tag along. Then we get in the car and I’ll put on a podcast.
The morning hour before school is full of irritation, not much engagement, and tons of repeated tasking. No wonder something as little as offering a choice between what shirt to wear doesn’t even begin to solve this.
I need to add moments in our morning where my kids are allowed to be kids. I need to diversify my words away from tasking to genuine conversation. I need to add things in the background that are calming, not disengaging.
My kids don’t need to perform in the morning, and I need to be understanding of that; I don’t even feel like performing in the morning. Their entire days are filled with performing, so why do I act so taken back when my preschooler refuses to do something like get dressed? These chaotic moments are not because they are struggling to listen to me; it’s because I am struggling to listen to them. I think they simply want their mama before they have to leap into their days. That is a more than reasonable ask. They are 3 and 1.
I can move breakfast outside as a fun summer change. I can put my phone down and wait to catch up on emails until after drop-off, and instead start more conversation. I can drop the obsession with independence and just plan on getting them dressed before we go, waiting for them to show me they no longer want my help. I can make the car ride inclusive and play music instead of podcasts. I can choose to be a bit more playful, gentle in my touch, rather than rushed and bothered. I will probably never be a morning person, admittedly, but if I can put a pep in my step for other adults who see me in the mornings, I can do that for my own kids because they deserve no less respect.
If anything, their focus on wanting to connect is something worth nurturing more than independence. Their independence will come in time, but their desire to connect with me each morning will not stick around if I don’t respond to it. If I want my toddlers to become teenagers who talk to me in the morning, then maybe this starts now by normalizing our mornings as moments to connect first as a family. And maaaaybe, I could try to get up a wee bit earlier and have my coffee first.