The Schedule-Free Mom’s Case for a Schedule

I always thought I was pretty laid back when it came to schedules. Growing up, I took part in so many extracurricular activities that I had a different bedtime every night, and I was always (at least, in my opinion) really adaptable to that lax lifestyle.

When I became a mom for the first time four and a half years ago, the one consistent piece of parenting advice I got both from the books I read and all of my friends across the child-rearing board was GET YOUR KID ON A SCHEDULE, KIDS NEED CONSISTENCY TO FEEL SAFE. Initially I shrugged, thinking that my babies would likely be just as adaptable and freeform as their mother.

My first son Dax was born on a schedule. I had nothing to do with it, and it was almost to the MINUTE. I remember the first weeks of his life, he would wake up to nurse in the middle of the night and I’d glare at the alarm clock through sleep-deprived eyes. 1:43. I’d feed him and he’d fall right back to sleep, and I’d roll over. Almost as quickly as I’d fall asleep I’d hear him crying to be fed again and on more than one occasion the clock would read three hours to the minute past the last feeding – 4:43. Now at four and a half years old, he’s still very much like that. Though he obviously isn’t revolving his days around naps and nursing, now he’s centered on school start times, meal times, and screen times.

My second son Case is the polar opposite, much more consistent with what I was like as a child. Pretty laid back and adaptable, not married to any particular nap schedule. He’ll sleep when he’s tired, whenever that is, and he’ll eat when he’s hungry, whenever that is.

Over the past couple weeks, for a variety of reasons, our rhythm of life and daily schedules have been inconsistent at best, completely crazy at worst. It’s been so interesting to see my kids’ responses.

As for Dax, it’s been a mixed bag of reactions. On one hand, he’s been channeling his little brother, rolling with all of the curve balls I’m throwing at him in random doctor appointments, needing to accompany me to work meetings, and play dates that fall during usual nap times. On the other hand, though, he’s pushing more boundaries. He’s testing his father and me a lot more lately. Being lenient on a schedule that had more or less been gospel for years is causing him to act out and push our buttons in ways we didn’t adequately prepare for. As if that wasn’t enough, I’m also losing patience with him a lot more quickly, because he isn’t meeting the expectations I have of him. I expect that he’ll behave the same way he does on a schedule, even though things are different for him – he’s more tired than usual, and his expectations of his brother, his father, and me are also not being met, which I imagine is terribly frustrating.

While Case has been just as adaptable and agreeable as he’s always been, he’s also been begging for our old schedule in his own ways. Now that he’s 19 months old and has a pretty decent vocabulary, he’s finally able to communicate in a way that everyone can understand. If we’re out running errands when he should be napping, for example, he’ll beckon to me from the backseat: “Mama! Nigh Nigh! Peeez?” It’s so cute, and helpful, but it also enlightening. I didn’t realize how much our happy little roll-with-the-punches baby loved our schedule.

So tomorrow I’m bringing the schedule hammer back down. Case will have his two naps, one at 10AM and one at 3PM, and Dax will only have screen time when his brother is asleep. Dinner is at 5PM, bath is at 6PM, and bedtime is 7:30PM. It might be difficult to make the transition back initially, but I believe everyone will be better off for it. Everyone will be more rested (which is always helpful in seeking a peaceful household) and everyone will have the same expectations that should be met.

And maybe I can swing a nap or two, too.