Talking about routines and labelling

Recently I went on Premier Christian Radio to be part of a conversation the Big Breakfast show. I’m going to part of these conversations over the next few months with the hope being we share some opposing views and have a chat about them.

Parenthood looks so different for all of us, wouldn’t it be great if we felt more able to share our own choices and experiences with no fear of judgement?

After I’ve been on the show I’m going to write a little post to elaborate and chat a bit more about whatever topic we chatted about and would love to know your thoughts too.

I chatted with the lovely Katie, and Craig who presents the show, about routine and labelling our children. Here’s the link if you want to have a listen.

Routine

So, I love a little bit of routine. That’s a massive understatement actually. I love routine. Katie, who joined me on the radio, doesn’t do routine quite as rigidly. However, interestingly I feel a lot of our differences may have been down more to our current situations (e.g. age of kids, her needing to be more free to help ill family members) rather than having totally opposing views.

With a toddler and a baby, routine is pretty important. I personally think it helps keep family life more settled and I think our boys thrive on routine. We started a sort of routine when Big bro was around about 8 weeks I think as he was starting to put himself into a fairly set nap schedule. Although to be fair we bathed him every night right from the beginning and did stories in his bedroom so we’d already started some routine.

We went for Gina Ford timings because Big bro had put himself in really similar timings so it was helpful to use the book to help lengthen his naps and find a routine that worked for us. I didn’t eat or shower at the precise minute Gina specified! We used it more as an overall thing to aim for.

So nowadays, Big bro doesn’t nap but we do breakfast at 7am (we don’t ever go downstairs earlier than that!), Little bro naps 9.30-10am, we have lunch at 12ish, then Little Bro naps for 2 hours (ish), tea between 5-5.30pm and then up to bath and bed at 7pm. After bath we get pyjamas on the boys and they watch an episode or two of something on the iPad, read some stories and then we settle them into bed whilst chatting to God.

Most days look exactly like that with activities in the gaps but we’re not so rigid in our routine that we wouldn’t go out because of it. I do plan journeys around Little bro’s naps but sometimes we shift him into a longer earlier nap. Having a routine just means we know roughly how much sleep he needs in the day and we can try and plan for him to be somewhere he can sleep easily for it!

I think the main reasons why having a routine is good (and feels necessary) for us are:

I can work during nap time and I can work during the evenings
Knowing that the boys will sleep (generally, barring teething or illness or a danger nap in the late afternoon!) means that I know I can get work done which is pretty important when I need to work in the evenings.

Pete and I can spend time together in the evenings
It also means that Pete and I get time together. If the kids didn’t settle well in the evening we’d find it really hard to get good quality time together and it’s really important for our marriage!

The boys thrive on knowing what to expect
Big bro particularly knows our routine and is quick to help and leads the way. He hops down from tea and goes up to the bathroom, or if he sees me prepping tea he asks to help or starts to lay the table. When he is hungry or tired he gets pretty cross (much like Pete) so I think that because he knows what’s coming he is starting to learn to handle himself when he’s feeling like that.

We can easily fit other people in to our routine
We had a friend come visit and she arrived just after the boys had bathed. Big bro was so excited by the surprise but without our prompting he gathered up his books and asked her to read to him before bed. He then happily went down, excited to see her again in the morning. And that meant he had quality time with her and then we did too when he’d gone to sleep.

I think when people think of someone being strict on routine perhaps they think they’re very set on exact timings. Whilst we do aim for set timings so we can do a 7pm bedtime we do find we can easily shift them around because the boys have learned the general order of how we do things. For example, if we go out and come home late then the boys are still relatively easy (generally) to settle if we just do the normal bedtime routine (or a shortened version).

Having a set routine doesn’t feel strict to us and actually I feel we’re able to flexible because we have created patterns within our family that work well wherever we are. I will admit that sometimes if we’re out late and I know I have work to do I do worry that the boys won’t get into bed or settle but it doesn’t stop me doing it.

I was asked on the radio whether the boys would cope with a late night at a wedding and whether they’d be tantrumming on the dance floor… actually, I think what’s wonderful about having our routine is that Big bro thinks nights like that are a super special treat. It’s not that he doesn’t cope on one off nights but it means we can do them and then easily settle back into our normal routine afterwards.

On one occasion, during the World Cup, Pete made popcorn and told Big bro he could stay up for the England match. He was so excited! He only lasted 30 minutes and then he declared he was tired and off to bed!

So, I think we’re in a phase of life which naturally lends itself to a fairly set routine and right now I think that routine is as important for us as parents as it is for the boys. It’s made it really easy for Pete to have the boys one day a week as he knows exactly when naps fit and he and Big bro can plan their special afternoon time together and it means that it’s easy for me to find slots of time to squeeze a little work in!

I imagine we will always be a family that sticks to some kind of routine. I’m certainly all for it! I know that things will change as the boys get older but it will still be a routine that just looks different.

I would love to know if you’re for or against routine. If you’re totally against routine and would be up for writing about it, or perhaps doing ‘an honest conversation with’ piece on my blog then do get in touch!

Labelling

If you’ve stuck with me so far, well done! I’ll chat a little less about labelling but do please ask me questions if you have them.

We chatted a little about labelling our children and put simply I try not to label my kids at all. Not negative labels like ‘you are a naughty boy’ but also not seemingly more positive like ‘you are a kind boy’. On the radio, Katie agreed on the negative but was keen to label her kids positively as much as possible.

I am really keen that I raise kids with a strong understanding of who they are, who God created them to be and who he says they are. I don’t want to put any pressure on them to perform to a label I’ve put on them or cause them to internally struggle when they act differently to the what they thought they were. For example, if I tell my kid constantly that he is a kind kid, when he does something unkind that is really hard for him to process. Instead I tell him that I love it when he is kind, that it makes me feel loved, it makes me feel like he cared for my heart with the choice he made. I talk about his actions and his behaviours and talk about their impact, positive or negative, on others.

I’ll give you an example from my life where I know labelling caused me a huge internal struggle (this is a much longer story that maybe I’ll expand one day but I’ll try and condense it!) As kids I was often seen as the ‘academic one’ in our family. I took on the labels of clever and hardworking and good at school work. You might think surely those aren’t bad things for kids to think but at University I had a really hard time when I found those labels were challenged. I had a really difficult period where I struggled with depression, I found it hard to keep up with my work and I didn’t feel like I was achieving high enough grades (I was regularly getting or 2:1s or the odd 2:2 at the lowest). I couldn’t figure out how to be the clever, academic I thought I was and manage to be totally mentally healthy and keep up with relationships, friendships, church and everything else in life. I met with an excellent counsellor and I realised I had set these huge, totally unrealistic expectations for myself and it wasn’t possible to live healthily and peacefully and be as clever and academic as I felt I needed to be. I had to shift and see working hard as being enough. I had to focus not on those labels and how well I felt I needed to do to please others but instead the choices I was making and the person I wanted to be. I also spent a long time in this period getting stuck into reading the Bible and spending time with God and letting him reset my heart and hearing again that he didn’t set those labels or expectations on me.

Anyway, for me, that’s somewhere in my life where I can see labelling did not help me to live well. It was only when I broke free from those labels that I felt more who I truly am, more alive and more able to grow and develop in character.

For my kids, I don’t want to ever put them in a box by labelling them. I want them to grow confident to try things, to know that there are no limits on how God can use them and I want them to know that worldly judgements and values just do not matter!

I could write so much more about this but am aware this is already a long piece to read. If you’d like to know more about how we do this then let me know and I will plan another blog piece. And, if you’d like to read some more about it then I totally recommend reading Parenting for a Life of Confidence. That is where my whole thinking on this began.

Where do you stand on routine and labelling?

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