We have much the same routine whether we are studying or in a season of family time, or even taking a day off! That is because our routine is the structure for our day, that helps us achieve the things that we want to achieve. My basic outline, which then gets filled with a variety of activities depending on the demands on us, is roughly the same. These are the blocks of time that fill our day:
- Personal Responsibilities
- Focus time
- Lunch / chores
- Individual time
- Productive free time
- Family time
Let me explain each block of time
Personal Responsibilities: This is where we do the things that we have to do to face our day: get dressed, make bed, breakfast, quiet time, exercise, chores. As my children have grown older we have given them the freedom to do these things in the order that suits them, and to take the time that suits them. Naomi is not a morning person and has her devotions in the evening, Jessica spends a long time in her devotions and is dedicated to exercise, and quick with her chores. Daniel likes to eat before he does anything else! I give them a time where I need them to be ready for the next activity and they manage their time and responsibilities accordingly.
This is actually an important skill to give our children but we do tend to micromanage their time for them. Giving them a large block of time with a to-do list gives them the opportunity to make decisions, suffer the consequences, make their priorities, and truly take responsibility for themselves.
Of course, this has been a gradual thing and I have walked along side of them, training them, towards being able to do this. One thing I did was break that time block down into two blocks – I needed them to be doing their chores by a certain time. That meant they had between 6.00-7.30 to look after themselves, 7.30 chores. This helped them see the time that it took to do certain things. It showed them that their actions affected other people (for example, if you have your breakfast late, someone else has already cleaned up the kitchen, or if you leave your chores too late and don’t get them done, then that affects Mummy’s head for the rest of the day!!) Bit by bit I gave them the freedom to organise their whole block the way that suited them. We still go through seasons where I have to remind them, encourage them, or let them deal with the consequences of bad choices in managing this block of time, but for most of the time, they are managing their time, completing their tasks and taking responsibility for their decisions. (Read more about training in chores)
Focus time: This block of time is set aside to achieve the goals we have for our family – those goals vary throughout the year and at the moment our primary goal for the next little while is our studies. At other times of the year we may use this time to work on creative projects, or family projects, or maybe rest and family time. Setting this block of time also helps me keep interruptions at bay (as much as I can), things like appointments, phonecalls, and even housework – this time is for me to be with my kids, doing the most important thing of the day.
Lunch / Chores – fairly self-explanatory really!! But a note to add – for many years we had chore time after lunch – it helped keep the house tidy, and helped divide the daily chores up so we had three short chore times each day. But now the kids are older, and quicker with their chores, we don’t make time for chores after lunch though there is always time to wash your own plate, and leave a room better than when you walked in. For young families I still think doing a short chore session after lunch is a good idea.
Individual time: This block of time has changed over the years. When the kids were little this meant naps, or reading rests, or room time (same objective, different age appropriate activity). These days it is Reading time – this is actually a time slot I am working on at the moment as it often gets pushed aside for something else. I am also working on making myself sit and read. The main idea here is that we all have quiet time, time to ourselves (including mum!!). If necessary I can make this time slot longer – once the children are used to the idea of spending time by themselves, they can be flexible in how long this happens each day.
Productive Free time: This is when we do the other things that need to happen. For me, it is when I clean house, make appointments, work in the office, scrapbook, catch up with friends, study etc. For the kids they practice the piano, work on interest driven projects, read, play games, make stuff, visit with friends, sports and hobby clubs or work for pay.
Responsibilities: Much like our personal responsibilities early in the day, this time block is set aside to wrap up our days activities and get ready for family time. Each of the children have a zone in the house for which they are responsible –they will work on some of those tasks in the morning, and then again at the end of the day. In some areas, like doing the laundry, they keep things going even as they study. They would often finish up their responsibilities after dinner, as a part of their before bedtime routine. Their list includes: clean up desk, bedroom, chores, shower, get clothes and diary ready for tomorrow.
Family time: We used to have a set family dinner time – 6.00pm. But with the kids growing up and taking on different activities which unfortunately cut into family time, we are a bit more flexible and random. Our goal is to have as many evening meals together as we can and if we don’t have evening events happening we will linger longer over conversation and enjoy each other’s company. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are specifically set aside to have fun together, to talk with each other, or to be with other people encouraging them. After the dishes are done different people do different things depending on their bedtimes. Bedtimes are set based on how much sleep each person needs to be functioning, happy and a blessing the next day!
What do your days look like?
Is there consistency. One of the things that makes us think we have no routine is that we have so many different things happening in our day. My kids think that the only routine thing in our house is how often we change the routine! What they are not seeing is that the routine is a pattern, and the pattern stays the same, it is just the activities within that pattern that change. And of course they will change because life happens, kids grow up and opportunities come and go. The blocks of time give us time to do the important things, and yet still be flexible.
When writing a routine/schedule you need to know what are the most important things that you want to happen. The most important to me was that we dealt with our responsibilities, that we had time to focus, that we had time by ourselves, that we had time to pursue our interests and that we had time as a family.
Routine by very nature of the word is something that happens over and over and over again – something like a habit, where it becomes so familiar you don’t think about it but it still happens. But just like establishing new habits in your life you have to be intentional to start with, you have to get over the hump of it feeling uncomfortable, you have to push on past the days when you forget. You need to give yourself time to establish routine in your family. I read this week that it takes 3 weeks (21 days) to get used to a new action, and another 3 weeks to make it a habit. Don’t ditch an idea because it hasn’t worked first up – if you have seriously studied your family needs and commitments, and have come up with a plan, give it time. Sure you may need to tweak it, but don’t over-react because it hasn’t worked first up.
If you need to completely revamp how you spend your days then that is going to be one tough gig. I’m inclined to think only the very very rare situation needs a complete revamp, for the most of us we need to tweak, tighten up, or shuffle around. My routines have always been based around bed times and meal times and we fill in the bits inbetween. This is a good place to start. Start with what you’ve got, and build on it from there.
You may well have to work on people’s attitudes though not just a routine. You may well have time slots for the important things in your day and yet your day still falls to pieces. Do you have disobedience, lack of self control, lack of kindness and patience, do you have laziness, do you have unteachable hearts? We can have the best balanced and intentional routine in the world, and if our children’s hearts are not working with us nothing will work. A routine is a framework that helps us manage our time, balance our responsibilities and keep our children moving through the day – but a good routine will not overcome broken hearts. If that is the situation you are in, then lay aside the books, and make working together as a family, make family relationships and other character issues your focus for the next little while.
A routine isn’t a fix all solution – it is a major part of a peaceful and productive day – but we need to make sure we focus on the real issues – if we are to find lasting change in our family.