My mother-in-law recently commented that she was surprised at how “regimented” my husband’s and my parenting style is. I blinked and responded, “Really?” I tend to associate that word more with military school than our relatively laid-back life. While her use of that word was strong, I now understand after hearing her contrast her and our approach. Basically, we have a schedule for feeding him and sleeping (especially bedtime), while she did not. But it’s an strategy that works for us and I hope will continue to serve us well when Sprout grows older.
Currently, Sprout’s schedule is much more about providing discipline for us as parents than him as a child. If we didn’t maintain some sort of schedule, he’d hardly nap and turn into a very cranky baby. Similarly, he won’t tell us when it’s time for him to eat solid foods, so having an approximately scheduled time helps us remember. His schedule also keeps me honest as a mom. Having his bedtime routine start around 7 PM forces me to leave work promptly. The schedule creates time for play as much as it does the “essentials.”
Besides helping us as parents, I think having a structure will benefit him when he gets older. I’m a fan of the book Simplicity Parenting, which promotes creating a “rhythm” in your household. The author asserts that a schedule provides children with a home base they can return to when other areas of their lives are chaotic. For example, they know that whatever challenges they face at school, they can find comfort in having dinner with their parents.
But we’ll need to prevent ourselves from going too far in the other direction too. If Sprout follows my over-achiever tendencies, he’ll have a whole list of extracurricular activities. When there’s so much going on, it’s easy to overlook the most valuable time that occurs in-between organized pursuits. When I was in sixth grade, we had a lesson on study habits where the homework was to write out a schedule for your night. I wrote out my schedule to the minute, with activities even planned for the 10 minutes spent in the car. Did I, conscientious to the point of being a little obsessive, follow this schedule? No way. Because I didn’t schedule in any “non-scheduled” time to rest my mind or talk to my parents about my day. A schedule should be a coat that keeps you warm and enables you to explore the world, not a straightjacket that won’t let you leave the house.
Based on my philosophies and life experiences, I’m taking the same approach towards scheduling my parenting as I do my travel – being prepared for the “required” elements while making space for lots of free time and exploration. If you don’t prepare at all for your vacation, you spend half of your time trying to find a hostel or arguing about what to do next. You miss out on the best museum because you didn’t know about it or failed to make reservations. On the other hand, if you schedule every minute of the day, you miss out on unexpected pleasures not mentioned in guidebooks, like back-alleyways in Barcelona or ruined abbeys in Ireland.
Like everything else in parenting, it seems like scheduling is a matter of flexibility, finding a way to raft the river by working with the ebb and flow of our family, not against it.