Routine. Let’s be honest, it isn’t a very sexy word. Unless you are a certain type of person, the thought of arranging your day in similar patterns probably doesn’t thrill you.
It will probably come as no surprise to most of you that I swear by routine. Even in the holidays, while Dave was home, we continued to stick to our schedule – with some flexibility for day trips or special occasions, of course – and it seemed to work really well. At the conclusion of the break, we reflected back on the time spent and realised that we had experienced a (mostly) harmonious holiday together, with the chance for both of us to get out and invest into our passions and interests on a regular basis.
Essentialism calls it the ‘genius of routine’. With anecdotes and scientific research, McKeown demonstrates how crucial a routine can be for enhancing creativity and and innovation in allowing us to avoid ‘decision fatigue’ and put as little brain effort as possible into things that shouldn’t require it. When we design a routine that best fits our own lives – figuring out our most effective rhythms for eating, sleeping and working – we can free up a lot of brain space for other essential activities.
Mason Currey devotes an entire book to documenting the daily rituals of famous artists, authors, musicians and composers (Daily Rituals: How Artists Work). The fascinating element for me was how each person had such varied approaches to finding their rhythms, but how most seemed almost bound to repeat the same schedule day after day in order to unleash their creativity. From heavy drinking to waking early, from long walks every afternoon to the same breakfast brought to them in bed – routine served in its own way the most extravagant and frugal of the artistic set.
For those who scoff at the idea of implementing a routine, the reality is that we allow ourselves to unconsciously fall into habits around these areas anyway. Whether it be the ‘scroll of death’ on Facebook or Instagram whenever we pick up our phones, or the desperate desire for a coffee as soon as our eyes open – we actually already have routines that we abide by that may not be serving our best interests.
We have found a particular rhythm that serves us well. Every day, the whole family participates in a siesta or ‘rest time’. From around 2pm, for an hour and a half, each person heads to a separate part of the house for some quiet play, yoga, writing time or reading. Even Ivy – who has just turned two – toddles off to her room saying ‘bye, bye, Mummy!‘ and firmly shuts the door behind her. We each get an opportunity to recharge and get some energy back before reemerging for the crazy hour period of dinner, bath and bedtime. Because this practice has been firmly enshrined in routine, we hardly ever need to debate about whether rest time will take place, but merely where each person will go. I love the peaceful lull that settles over the house when everyone is comfortably ensconced in their own worlds – dreaming, imagining, creating. When alarms go off to signify the end of the time, each kid excitedly races over for a cuddle, so proud of themselves for the achievement and filled with energy again.
Of course, it doesn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes we leave it too long and emotions spill over, leaving it a difficult task to convince frustrated children to have some alone time without it feeling like a punishment. There are the days where I find myself stalking back to the yoga mat yet again after having to deal with emotional meltdowns or refusals to play quietly.
On the whole, however, it has become an invaluable rhythm for our family. A rhythm that allows us to be more able to make good choices emotionally and relationally and provides time for me to have a daily yoga practice.
In the off chance that others may find it as helpful as we have, I have come up with five tips for establishing a siesta of your own. Keep in mind though, life does look so different for each family and there may be a myriad of routines that allow flourishing in your particular circumstance. For me, what is most important is that I examine what works for our family and be flexible enough to follow the needs that present themselves at that particular time.
1. Start Small
Initially, the kids will probably baulk at the idea of spending time alone in any room. Start off with a small goal – maybe just ten minutes, setting the timer so that they know when they are allowed to come out. Make a big deal when they achieve this goal, giving them lots of affirmation and hugs, maybe even a reward. Ask them how they feel now that they have had a chance to ‘recharge their batteries’. Once they have mastered ten minutes, set the timer for fifteen, then twenty – working up to the amount of time you want.
2. Provide Incentives
This is not meant to be a punishment! We save up the majority of all screen time to be ‘cashed in’ after the rest period. The kids know that if they do rest time well, they will get to have a set time on the iPad, then watch a show each. Of course, the flip side of this is that we have something to take away if they are not respecting the boundaries. Usually now, just the threat of losing five minutes off their iPad time is enough to send them scurrying back to their rooms.
3. Model it Yourself
As tempting as it may be, try not to use the time to get all your errands done. The kids are always watching us and if we don’t value rest for ourselves, there is a good chance that they won’t either. The added benefit of this is that you will get a chance to relax in the midst of what is most likely already a chaotic day and be all the better for it at the end. I have found that the rest gives me so much more focus to execute tasks efficiently and I can handle the shenanigans at bedtime with more grace… most of the time. I’m still human! I’ve used the time for yoga, a nap, catching up on reading blog posts and some writing time if I’m feeling inspired.
4. Talk about the Benefits
There are so many scientific benefits of rest, not to mention the finding that boys in particular need time alone to process information away from continual stimulation. During rest, our brains are able to categorise information and file away things we need for later. I have noticed such a difference in the kids, who often go into rest time a little highly strung and emotional, and come out calm and re-energised and ready to play together again. I have made it a practice to point this out often so that they also realise the tangible results. (As I was writing this, the timer just beeped, but Eli poked his head out to say he wasn’t ready to come out of rest time because he was having so much fun!).
5. Be Flexible
I’m still learning this one. Sometimes it won’t work – either I leave it too long and the kids go past the rational zone or someone has a hard time focusing or being by themselves. While Hudson used to be great at staying in his room, at one point he just refused to do that anymore and I spent a lot of time being really frustrated at him and sternly ordering him back to his room again and again. No one enjoyed that very much. Now, I’ve learned that he is very happy to engage in his own imaginative games if I let him play next to me. As an extrovert, he clearly just needs his recharge time with other people. As for Eli, he is allowed to change rooms if he gets bored (from the play room to his room) and there are limited other circumstances in which he is allowed to emerge (such as obtaining help with getting a costume on, going to the toilet or getting injured). These small allowances provide just enough freedom for him to thrive in the contained space, and experience the luxury of uninterrupted play.
Do you have a regular routine that helps your family? What has worked for you in the past and what do you find to be a struggle? I would love to hear about your experience!