If there’s a key to parenting, and I’m not saying that there is, it’s routines. If a child knows what’s going to happen next, and what to do about it, parents have already done most of the work.
I get up early for work, and all four of my daughters get up with me. They know that I’m going to turn the lights on, and they know that I’m going to make coffee. And when I’m reasonably sure that coffee is going to happen, I’m going to make breakfast. That’s it, really. Once breakfast is over they start on chores; the nine year-old puts away the laundry I have done in the night, and the seven year-old puts away the dishes. Everyone makes their bed, with varying degrees of assistance, and gets dressed, ditto.
If that sounds simple, let me tell you that it has taken years of practice. I learned somewhere that it’s healthier and more efficient to get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends. Being a parent has made me a morning person. This was not a natural development. And there have been bumps. Hard experience has lead to the phrase, “I don’t discuss breakfast, I make it.” For a number of reasons, not having to negotiate or sell breakfast is the only way it can happen without issues. I am not a fount of calm and reason prior to coffee.
My wife sleeps in until I leave for work. She is in charge of homeschooling, and she will wake up—on a good morning—to children who are fed, dressed, and ready for a school day. I imagine it would be the same if one or both of us were taking them to school. More importantly, my wife wakes up to the makings of a perfect pour-over cup of coffee.
So here are the components of my morning routine:
- The laundry and dishes have been done in the night.
- I am up when the kids are awake.
- I feed them.
- I am ready to pass them along when I leave for work.
It’s a routine because it works the same way every day. I know what needs to be done—I am very attached to my routines as well—and so do the kids. The start of the day sets the tone for the rest of it. If a child needs an extra hug or a reassuring smile, I provide it. This is not always easy for me first thing, because frankly I would rather sit down with my coffee and read the music reviews on Pitchfork. But that can happen after breakfast is done. If I’m lucky, I get 10-20 minutes before it’s time to get ready for work.
There are a lot of ways to make these things work more efficiently, as detailed in this article from The American Occupational Therapy Association. One thing I found funny was the idea of establishing a wake up time for your kids. The wake up time for my kids is when the sun is first thinking about coming up. I know that I will eventually have to convince my children to get out of bed, but we’re not there yet.
Your routine will work differently than mine. You are probably more ambitious and energetic than I am, so you’re probably out jogging or doing yoga or something. That’s cool. The important thing is that it’s predictable, and that it works.