When my kids were babies and toddlers life seemed so chaotic all the time. It was like I never knew what was going to happen in any given hour, nor how the day was going to unfold after we first opened our eyes in the morning.Feeding times were sporadic, nap times were sporadic, and getting to bed at night was unpredictable! However, I didn't mind it so much because I really, really enjoyed the spontaneity of it all. I used to tell people, "I THRIVE on chaos! The more the merrier!"
Because none of it made sense, and within the chaos there was always the knowing that this is just how life is when you have small children.
I wasn't one of those moms that stayed home with the curtains drawn for nap time. If I had a play date that ran late or was running errands around town, then my toddler would fall asleep in the car or stroller. And I never believed in sleep training or scheduled feeding times. I saw that my children, when left to their own choices, would eat when they were hungry, and sleep when they were tired. It was my job to be flexible and understanding when it came to their needs, and It all worked out. So, although life seemed chaotic, it was a happy sort of chaos--the kind that gave me a chance to truly enjoy the madness and crazy moments that came with raising small children.
Micah and I both have fond memories of walking our toddler around the block, (late at night, in the mei-tai, snowflakes falling from the sky onto our heads), because we felt it was better to walk him to sleep than let him cry to sleep. Yes, it was exhausting at times but the memories are precious. I can still remember the snow sparkling under the street lamps, as I stomped through the streets singing hymns while snuggling his little, pudgy cheeks.
Now that our children are older, however, I am seeing the joy and happiness that comes with having order and structure in our days.
It all started when my eldest turned 3 and I realized that he needed clear guidelines in what to do in the morning or nothing would ever get accomplished. It would be 11 o'clock in the morning and he would still be in his pajamas, teeth not brushed, asking if he could watch another round of Dinosaur Train. This is not how I wanted our days to turn out.
Thus, our first chart was born.
It was called the Important Things Chart, and it listed all the important things we needed to accomplish before we could move on to the rest of our day:
1. Morning prayers
3. Brush Teeth
4. Scripture Study
5. Daily chores
6. Hugs and I love yous
The order of the important things didn't matter so much as getting them done. Sometimes we did scriptures then had breakfast, or sometimes we did our chores first then brushed our teeth. The main thing was having goals set in place that we could follow, so that by 9 o'clock a.m we could feel a sense of accomplishment in our day.
Four years later, and we are still following this morning routine. It's become such an integral part of our daily lives that our children thrive on knowing it exists and count on it happening each day. I love that I can wake up and know they will be working on these important things without me asking. My eldest will come running to me at the end saying, "Mom, I'm 100%!" with a big smile on his face. His little five year old brother often gets distracted but soon catches up. Our three year old is just now starting this morning routine, and even gets a sticker for completing things.
Sometimes it's really hard to be consistent and to implement programs in your household, because, after all, it does take precious time and energy to get them going at first. It's especially not fun if the kids grumble or complain about having to do their chores. But, I have witnessed firsthand that being consistant and staying with them through the process, pays off in the end. I no longer need to walk my seven year old through how to load the washing machine because he can do it himself now. My five year old can put away laundry. My three year old knows how to wash mirrors. They are learning responsibility and independence, which is an important part of life, in my opinion.
Furthermore, I love having scripture study with my kids each day. This past year we've studied the Old Testament, read all the stories in the Friend Magazine, and have started the Doctrine and Covenants. Some of our greatest gospel discussions have come from taking the time to read and pray together in the mornings and allowing time for my children to ask those deep and meaningful questions.
I've had someone say that they don't like the idea of raising little-robot-soldiers, so they avoid the charts and lists. After all, their children didn't ask to be born, so why should they ask them to do things they don't want to do?
I've found that having set rules in our house isn't a way to force control over our children, but rather a way to create peace and love in our household. When everyone helps out and does the things that are important, there is an overall feeling of unity, respect, and happiness in our home.
(I also believe that,yes, our children did ask to be born.)
For instance, In our house you have to put your dish in the sink when you are done eating. You also have to clean up your mess before you start another one. You have to keep your belongings in their proper place, and you have to keep clutter and trash off the floors. These are not hard things to do, nor is there a reward or punishment for doing or not doing them. We've all seen the struggles that come when someone can't find a clean plate to eat from, or is missing their favorite toy, or have misplaced their keys (that's usually me), and through trial and error we've found that having order replaces this frustration and madness.
**On a side note, I can thank Micah for insisting that I have ONE special place that I always keep my keys, so I'm not always frantically searching for them. This was a huge problem for us when we first got married, but I have learned. Yep, I have learned.
Another routine we follow, which is valuable to us, is the bed-time routine. Micah has always been very adamant about the kids having a specific bed time, where I, on the other hand always felt that they should be able to go to sleep whenever they're tired.
However, I've realized that what makes sense when they were babies doesn't work when they're 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 years old.
|2 year old Zadok, pushing past midnight|
Thus, the bed-time routine was born.
At 7:30pm we get ready for bed by doing more Important Things:
2. Put on clean underwear and pajamas (or clothes--I don't really care if they wear pajamas, just as long as they're clean when they get into bed.)
3. Micah reads them to sleep.
4. Lights off
And that's it. We've been doing this for several years now and it works for us. Sometimes I get lazy and don't wanna get the bedtime routine going, but, the payoff is that our older kids are in bed by 8pm and it has been wonderful.
**Our toddler is hit and miss on the bedtime routine depending on what kind of nap he's had during the day, or if he's had any nap at all. If no nap, then he can go down easy at 8pm, if he's had a nap then he'll be up late hanging out with Mom and Dad. That's just the way it goes until he gets older and his sleep gets more regulated.
Another thing to note is the type of reading material we choose right before bed, really makes a big difference. If my husband reads Harry Potter or Magic Tree House, then falling asleep is out of the question. We tried it a few times and it made them even more wired. So, he always reads scriptures from the Old Testament, New Testament, Book Of Mormon , or Doctrin & Covenants, and it always lulls them right to sleep. In fact now they can't go to bed without scriptures. They always ask for it, and can't fall asleep without the sound of Papa's voice.
All these things we have learned through trial and error, and through envisioning the type of home we want our children to grow up in. Everyone has different ideals and goals for their families-- Our ideal is to have a home where children are happy, parents are at peace, and everyone gets their needs met, and we have seen how having order in our home meets these needs, fulfills our ideals, and brings an overall feeling of love to our family. This is something we are still working and is a constant learning process for me.
I am still grateful for those days of happy chaos and sporadic-ness. I loved nursing my babies at all odd hours, and watching my toddlers drift to sleep in their strollers while running errands around town. That's just the way it is with littler children. I truly enjoyed the spontaneity of it all!
Now I am enjoying the peace of knowing we can still be spontaneous and have fun during the day, but also maintain sanity in our lives.
(And who knows, maybe my son's future wives will thank me someday for teaching them how to be organized and clean! I really do hope so. ;))