Feminism, Parenting

Routine Schmoutine – the tyranny of parenting Must-Dos

17 April, 2012

You know when you read something that makes your heart leap? It was a sentence from a mother that I could have written myself, it just resonated that much. It was Adrienne Rich, a famous feminist mother who has since passed on, on what she experienced when she went on holiday and abandoned the usual routines.

“This is what living with children could be – without school hours, fixed routines, naps, the conflict of being both mother and wife with no room for being simply, myself.

“Driving home once, after midnight, from a late drive-in movie… with three sleeping children in the back of the car, I felt wide awake, elated; we had broken together all the rules of bedtime, the night rules, rules I myself thought I had to observe in the city or become a ‘bad mother’. We were conspirators, outlaws from the institution of motherhood; I felt enormously in charge of my life.”

I have been getting Baby Centre emails since I signed up excitedly when Ramona was but 4 weeks in my womb, every time they ping in to my inbox I open them to read about how absolutely, vitally, extraordinarily critical ROUTINES are. Even when she was 3 months old they were suggesting I schedule in naps and begin a pre-bedtime menu of bath, story, massage, songs.

I have dutifully read this and taken much of it on board. I don’t want to risk my daughter being sleep deprived or feral because of a routine failure! But more often than not, it just wasn’t the be all and end all for us.

I wore Ramona in a sling every moment of every day until she could crawl, this meant she just cat napped throughout the day. People would always ask about her sleep schedule. I was also obsessed, counting the minutes she slept to the SECOND. Paranoid that her catnapping wasn’t right – even though it felt perfect.

Then when she began sleeping less we went more or less down to 3-5 naps, depending on when she was tired. Despite reading of other babies on strict napping plans I felt like I should just let her do her thing. I want her to understand her own feelings- to know that when she is tired, that she should sleep. Not to just do something because it happens to be 12 o clock.

Most nights we do have a bit of bookreading and quiet time before she drifts off to sleep at my breast. But it could be anytime between 7:30 and 9. It just depends on how much she has napped, and what time she wakes up. If I try putting her to sleep 12 hours after she woke up in the morning, having had a 1.5 hour sleep, she will be like “Whhaaat? You kidding me?”

But the best nights, the times when I feel so easy and relaxed and liberated, when I feel we are just like an ancient wild Tribe of Camberwell, is when she just falls asleep on the way home after dinner out, or snuggles down on my lap while Tim and I chat in the lounge.The times when any bed time routine soars out the window.

The funny thing is, I still feel kind of guilty when this happens. As if I have let down the Motherhood. As if Ramona might grow up to be an ASBO’d up delinquent.

Because my mind is bursting with wisdom words about routine and rules and schedules, as if it is the ONLY way. Even mamma’s who I respect so much that I feel sorry for Ramona that she isn’t THEIR daughter, even they hold fast and tight to routine.

I understand that for lots of mummies it is their key to sanity, and that for lots of children it works really well.

But what if it isn’t for everyone?

What if some children were just born to be a bit untamed?

It feels to me to be a bit of a feminist issue. Because I am sure these great grand parenting must-dos are oppressive and patriarchal in nature. They chip away at a mother’s natural instinct, cause us to question what we feel to be right. They undermine our inate, empowered, motherhood.

I have wanted to get this off my chest for a while. In the hope that writing about it would help purge me of any guilt for not following the Must- Dos. I hope I haven’t offended anyone, PLEASE don’t see it as a critique of your own parenting- we are all just loving and bringing up our children in the way that is best for us. But there must be other mamma’s whose best ways aren’t the Must- Do ways? Do you rebel against any Must-Dos?

I would like to be liberated from this parenting tyranny, to embrace life with Ramona as unfettered, guilt-free.

Perhaps the first step is unsubscribing from those Baby Centre emails.

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  • Estelle 17 April, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Great post and who cares-it works for you!

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Thanks, I love your your caution to the wind ‘ tude

  • Ella S (@K_Pull) 17 April, 2012 at 11:02 am

    I agree with you – and it definitely works for some but not for others. My boys are quite routine-driven when it comes to sleep but flexible on other things.

    My current bugbear is the Baby Whisperer’s definition of ‘accidental parenting’ ie the parent who doesn’t follow TBW’s set routines but the one who muddles through every day as it comes. For me the early baby days are so much about learning to understand your baby’s needs and respond to their cues so that as they grow you can make an informed decision – informed by them – about what makes them tick, including whether they need routine. It makes me sad that so many parents miss those early windows of opportunity to learn about their baby because they’re too focussed on what the books tell them they ‘should’ be doing.

    Also a lot of what she would call ‘accidental’ parents are those who, like me, find themselves following the principles of attachment parenting. To say that this is accidental is pretty insulting as, as far as I’m concerned, attachment parenting is underpinned by a whole raft of solid evidence that this approach can be highly beneficial to a child’s development.

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 11:46 am

      Yes, yes, YES!
      “Accidental parenting” is kind of like a negative reframing of “instinctive parenting”
      Those early days are exactly as you describe- the time to listen and respond, to try things, to follow your gut, to gather confidence. I do think there is a link,as you point out, of people following their gut – as opposed to The Book- and finding themselves parenting by attachment principles.

  • goodskimpin 17 April, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Your post is very inspiring. And I love the line about some being born to be untamed. I think there are many of us who hanker to be unfettered by societies cages. One thing that scares me about parenthood, is not so much the parenting, but rather the battles we’ll have with parents, in laws, friends over not parenting in their way. We’ve resisted much of their expectations up to now but I fear parenting outside the “patterns of this world” may be a bridge too far. Thank u for blazing the trail and then blogging about it.

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 11:40 am

      Thank you, I really agree, we care WAY too much about other people’s opinions. I also think we don’t want to offend people by living differently to them. It shouldn’t be offensive but it some how is.

      Love your blog 🙂

      • ranzipan 17 April, 2012 at 11:59 am

        That’s so totally on the button!

        Our parenting is felt as a judgement to (usually the insecurer of the) others so the affirming words from our mouths (telling them they must do what’s best for their family unit, as we are doing or ours) are drowned out by the images of sling or boob or huge bed!!!!

  • ranzipan 17 April, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I’m very glad you felt the need to get this one off your chest! I too feel pressure from myself sometimes for NOT doing a magic routine! Bed time can be bath and feed-to-sleep at 7.30, or fall asleep while veg-ing on sofa at 9ish. We have had a couple real earlies (on way home from somewhere) which J surprisingly doesn’t wake up from, and these did get my mind whirring about the consequences the next morning. I too suffer from counting minutes/hours of sleep – a lot more in the early days, but still on the radar due to being on a research study where the questionnaire each month asks the annoying question of how much sleep in day and night – part of me is thrilled to rock the boat and show that not all babies are the same, the other part can’t wait not to receive it (this month is the last) so I can never again obsess over sleep – yeah right 😉

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Hahaha. Oh, that would have KILLED me in the early days – sleep being measured against others in such a direct way!
      I love it when Ramona falls asleep on the way home from somewhere, and ESPECIALLY love it if she magically stays sleeping until a reasonable time the next morning.

  • Lindsay 17 April, 2012 at 11:36 am

    This was refreshing – I hope you don’t mind if I put a link to this on my blog! I completely agree with you. I have felt pressure to put my baby on a routine from day one, and went insane reading books about it which all pretty much said if my baby doesn’t sleep through the night it’s my fault! Now I have just given him what he wants when he wants it and gone with the flow for the most part and he is a very happy baby! Thanks for posting this!

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Thanks for popping by and commenting, I’d be most happy for you to link up.
      I too put a few of the most hardcore parenting books in the bin, completely horrifying my recycling self, but I just couldn’t BEAR the thought of them landing in the hands of new mummies.

  • Sian 17 April, 2012 at 11:40 am

    So true, all the books and info I’d read before birth soon found their way into discarded piles after, even some recycled so they wouldn’t fall into an unsuspecting families hands and cause despair – trying to follow someone elses idea of the right way to do things and then feeling guilty for not being able to follow it to the letter is the quick way to the loony bin. Every baby has it’s own way : )

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      Yeah, they DO don’t they? And our job is to listen to that, nurture it, draw confidence from it.
      It is such a shame when parenting styles become a cause of despair in others. I reeeeeallly hope I don’t ever some across that way.

  • Patch 17 April, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I think the books can be useful but often NEED to be taken with a HUGE pinch of salt. They should be used as a guide only. Not necessarily followed exactly. Some of them are incredibly, scarily extreme. With my first I was a bit obsessed not with the books or any baby guru in particular. I just wanted to make sure I did it right. It was a thing of great responsibility and I didn’t want any mistakes. I am far more chilled out and laid back with number two!!
    I wasn’t hugely strict with routines with either child, we had them but they were flexible and still are. Weirdly (or maybe not) son one isn’t so bothered about routines (in fact he would rather not have any) but son two loves his routines. When they change he is clearly upset by it and it can be seen in various ways many of which are subconscious on his part. They are all unique individuals and should be treated as such.

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Totally! Amazing that your two are so different. What a great example of there being no one right way.

  • Liz Burton 17 April, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Great post. I too got suckered into the “YOU MUST SET A ROUTINE” approach. In truth, she slept far far better when we went out to dinner in the evening and she stayed up til 10pm. Kinda wish I’d stuck with it because at 4 she still doesn’t sleep well. So much for routine!

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Yeah! Routine schmoutine! Sucks that she is still pants at sleeping though, I think some kids just are. I like to think our bad sleepers just have an excellently evolved survival instinct. 🙂

  • lucy 17 April, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I think you have hit the nail on the head here, parenting is not black and white or hard and fast, routines like so many things are not right or wrong, our opinions and choices are our own ways of bringing up our children in the best way we can, and are dependent on the knowledge and resources we possess at the time, there should be no judgement in that! as parent we can become so tormented by our own self criticism when in fact the rest of the world really isn’t judging us
    p.s. loving your blog xx

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks 🙂

      I guess that is partly too true, we are often our own biggest critics

      Repeat after me “I am a great mummy, I am a great mummy etc”


  • Expat Mammy 17 April, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Routines are good but you have to be flexible too otherwise everyone is just miserable, great post

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 1:50 pm

      True, and when routine is seen as The Way for All Parents

  • minibreakmummy 17 April, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Well said! One day, I chucked all my baby books out and felt immediately better.

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      Shivers, I bet that felt AMAZING!

  • Bethany 17 April, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks for this Lucy! Audrey is only 5 months, so I’m very new to this parenting gig, but we don’t even have a glimmer of routine. She sleeps when she’s tired, eats when she’s hungry, has a bath at random times throughout the day. I’ve been getting a little anxious lately about my rocking her to sleep and still swaddling when it seems like no one else is doing this! She’s getting so big and heavy that I don’t think this will be feasible for much longer. But I’m sure when the time comes i’ll find a new way of getting her to sleep! Routine schmoutine for the win!

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 9:29 pm

      Hehe. Totally.

      You will find your way with her. Ramona went to sleep with Tim for the first time at night age 15 months and I was so curious/worried about how it would go. He read some stories, they had a cuddle, she went to sleep, it was so easy for them.

      I hope it works out okay for you. At about 5-6 months Ramona didn’t want rocking to sleep anymore- she chose to nurse to sleep instead which was way easier for me. That’s also basically when I started blogging- all that phone time 🙂

  • melwiggins 17 April, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    I love reading all these other mummy comments. How different all our bambinos are, our patterns of stuff are and each of these are probably a reflection somehow of our own personalities – I love that. Finding your own groove in mummyhood/parenting can be the most fulfiling yet utterly daunting time – I do understand why lots of people turn to books etc. If I had a pound for every night I found myself tucked up in bed in the early days, googling baby stuff on my iphone at crazy o’clock, I’d be a thousandaire! Confidence doesn’t come immediately though, we all stumble along the way and some of us find experimenting or letting things happen more naturally an easier thing to do than others – for me it took a little more time to connect the dots. I hope that learning will make me more confident if there ever is a Wiggy baby #2. It really IS about getting to know your little one eh? Thanks for sharing Lu. x

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 9:35 pm

      Yep, totally is.

      I was the same though, I bought loads of parenting books from charity shops trying to figure it all out. And the questions I typed into google!

      But they all (mostly) suggested stuff that didn’t quite feel right, and pretty much every single one pin pointed routine as the most important aspect of a child’s well being. Which just isn’t the silver bullet for everyone.

      I think there is a main stream parenting literature that can really undermine our sense of mummydom and potentially stopping us tuning into our little ones.

      Thanks for commenting Mel x

  • Fiona 17 April, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Your confidence gives you liberation which is the key that so many are missing. We were totally ‘hang out and do whatever’ with Kai who NEVER wanted to sleep before 9 or 10pm, and that was completely cool in Sri Lanka where it is abnormal NOT to sleep with your kids. But when we came to England suddenly I felt like a pariah, and have battled ever since with strange looks when I dare to tell people that we sometimes take a picnic to the park after 6pm, and end up most mornings with all four of us in bed! I feel ashamed for having a 4 year old who still can’t sleep through the night and who can’t do routine. Having said that, since Kai turned 3 we have been governed by routines more than ever – brought on by the new life that pre-school and return to work brought. Kai needs more sleep and needs to be ferried around at set times, so gone are the lazy days of doing whatever felt right on that day. He hates it, maybe because we never got him used to it? The thought of school terrifies me, and he will likely be labelled as a kid who can’t sit still or concentrate – so unfair.

    Unfortunately Felix has been born into that routine-set life so we have never regained that freedom, and he seems to like the routine – totally different. But we still indulge in the occasional spontaneous late night out and the delicious sense of excitement that they both feel from that freedom – even if they do still wake at 5am the next day! I think part of the need for routine that people feel is if they are not able to take full responsibility for their children themselves, if you are handing over to relatives or childminders then they need to know what happens when. I found that when I tried and failed to write advice notes for a friend looking after Felix! Thank goodness she was a mother with the same approach as me, and was happy to follow his queues and let him sleep and eat when he needed, but most would find that hard. The pressure to hand over your kids to other people is a whole other story that I rant about continuously – I weep over a society that totally devalues the parents’ role as parents, and encourages us to hand over our children to minimum wage carers…

    • lulastic 17 April, 2012 at 9:38 pm

      Great reading your comment and your family’s experience- oh man, I want to grow up in your family with outrageous night picnics!!!

      Your are right about the devaluing of parents. Structures are set up to priorities almost everything BUT stay at home parenting. I don’t know what the answer is though, without getting embroiled in policy wonkishness… 🙁

  • Emma 18 April, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    I love this post. I am very much baby led in my parenting, we have no strict routine and it works so well for us, i have a happy, confident toddler who i can take out all day and not worry about him napping at a set time or eating his lunch at 12pm or even being late home and not going to bed at 7! I have to say its a much more fun and spontaneous way to live then being stuck to a timetable and it suits our family very well indeed x

    • lulastic 18 April, 2012 at 4:49 pm

      Ah, it is ACE having that free feeling of being able to just go out and see what happens. There were a few hairy months where I was convinced I had to be home for her nap and it was so, so constraining, then if she didn’t nap well despite being home I just felt ripped off! Thanks so much for coming by! 🙂

  • eliminationcommunication 18 April, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I am right there with you sister. I remember being put to bed as a young child when the sun was still up! I had to pretend to be alseep until I…well…got tired enough to fall asleeop.

    My DD is on my schedule…that meas he goes to bed between 11pm and 12 midnight. If she’s tired she naps, some days she could use a nap and doesn’t. At most I might encourage a nurse knowing she’ll fall asleep for an hour or two if she’s wound up 🙂 Otherwise, it is carte blanche.

    Sleep when tired. Wake when rested.

    I am just irritated with all the books trying to show us how to do something we are born knowing how to do! No one tells the fetus in the womb they are doing it wrong 🙂

    Our species has a special knack for turning the simple into something incredibly complicated.

    • lulastic 18 April, 2012 at 4:51 pm

      Actually I think that is a really key thing that I didn’t mention- it IS our role to create an environment where it is possible to take up sleep if they want it. Nurture a sleepful space if they need it. This isn’t a call to arms for laziness but for responsiveness! 🙂
      Thanks for your comment.

  • Maryanne Shearman 18 April, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    I am a successful routiner. Ever since I discarded my midwife’s advice of “Let your baby teach you how to raise him” I have felt in tune with him, in love with him, happy with my days and nights, and like I can get on with everything else I love to do in my life aswell as being the mum I want to be- which is the best, most loving, respecting and unique-to-us model that I can dream up.
    What I do love about attachment parenting is that it’s heart and goal is connection. I too see this as my goal, and not raising ‘good, rule abiding, well rounded children who become good, righteous adults’. This so often seems to be the goal of strictly routined parenting, and I think it’s root is fear.
    ‘The greatest of these is love’; yup, I want God’s priorities to be my priorities. He actually put’s connection with us before our ‘righteousness’, despite what conservatives say, (and base their parenting on).
    I believe you can honour and achieve love and connection with your children AND have a routine. Routine just serves us, and them- not the other way round.
    Thanks Lucy for stirring it up, for helping me process what I think.
    Maybe when I have another baby one day, I will experiment with ‘throwing caution to the wind’ and do all these things you love to talk about, if it works for me, I will be stoked! But for now I am happy that my son is here having morning tea with me, at the same time we enjoy it most days and my daughter is fast asleep in her cot for about 1 1/2 hours, like she is every morning.
    xx Mare

    • lulastic 19 April, 2012 at 9:43 am

      YES! It is ALL about connection! Have you read the book “Playful parenting”? A wonderful book- all about this.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, Mare, awesome to hear it.

      I can’t get my head around the fact that discarding your midwife’s (in my mind, excellent) advice led you to be MORE in tune with your little one. But there we go- everyone’s experience of their children is absolutely unique. Obviously different practices allow different parents to “get in tune” with their babes. Like you say, I think THAT is the goal. To understand their needs, and to respond to them. For me, it is that responsiveness that underpins attachment parenting. Then there are “practices” (like babywearing/cocleeping) that often help it along- but are not necesarily for everyone.

      I don’t think lack of routine is a principle of AP – Dr Sears advocates for sleep routines etc.

      And absolutely GET that routines, for some parents and babies, ARE of critical importance. My issue is that for, perhaps a small minority, they aren’t.

      You are an incredible mother and your babies are some of the cutest, happiest I know- your connection with them was beautiful to observe. 🙂

  • Ria 20 April, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Thank you SO much for blogging about this subject, I completely relate. With my eldest son I got totally (and guilt drivenly) sucked into the “routine” approach to parenting and nearly killed myself with the stress of it. My second son has experienced a much more relaxed approach and it has been such a different experience. It is my opinion that if parents spent less time both vocally and silently judging others parenting choices and instead took a much more encouraging and supporting approach, that raising our children would be so much less stressful. Each child is an individual and should be treated as such ~ where has this misconception come from they all children fall into this text book routine approach. We don’t treat or expect all adults to be the same, and individuality doesn’t suddenly come into being when we turn 18 does it?
    Sorry to waffle, but I hope that makes sense….

    • lulastic 20 April, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      Hi Ria, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Not waffle at all- I totally agree. Particuarly with the energy focused on supporting rather than judging bit.What a different world that would be. And, YES to children as individuals. Different personalities, different circumstances, different parents- unique parenting approaches needed!


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