Debate: Strict, flexible or no routine for young children?


The flexible routine mom:

Frances Correia: Spiritual director

Our “routine” in a nutshell: my kids come home from crèche, and we play together – we may swim – then bath and then have supper followed by stories or a little TV and bed. Mary-Gen likes to stay up very late while Tomas falls asleep early, and that was hard in terms of getting some quiet time. Now that I have three children, I have become a bit more of a routine person. I do try to have some nights where we have supper and bath and bed by 8pm. But if it doesn’t happen I don’t get too flustered.

A midwife friend taught me about being in tune with my baby’s needs. She emphasised breastfeeding and feeding on demand when I was pregnant the first time. Then when I battled to produce enough milk, she immediately said to use formula to top up the feeds. Reacting to my baby’s needs flexibly like this was deeply satisfying. Our way of proceeding is about not having any set idea of where things should go but listening attentively to where the other is and responding to them.

My kids have spontaneously asked for some routine as they’ve grown older. We eat fairly regular meals (although I always ask what they want to eat and usually give it to them!)

My three- and five-year-old get to choose what foods they want to try out (within reason). This way they are eager to try the Brussels sprouts or broccoli because they picked it off the shelf themselves. Some routine is good – and essential. But my husband and I decided to be absolute about a few things and flexible about everything else.

For example, our children putting on sunscreen every day before we step outside is an absolute. Bath times, while they need to happen within a 48-hour cycle, are negotiable. But living like this requires the two of us to frequently review how we think our choices are affecting our kids. My husband and I have chaotic work lives: often I work weekends but am at home mid-week; he works late or leaves early. We also do at least two granny visits a week. Having a flexible approach to routine makes this possible.

If tonight we are only home at 9pm, then so be it. The biggest advantage? Less stress! While we may have some routines, if we need to abandon them we can without anxiety. We have an underlying trust that as long as our kids are fed and clothed, then does it really matter if I haven’t brushed their hair?

The routine devotee:

Marcia Francois: Business developer and time management and organisation coach

Our kids follow very strict eating and sleeping routines. Meals happen at 8am, 1pm and 5pm, with a mid-morning snack of fruit and yoghurt. They nap for two to two-and-a-half hours a day and go to bed by 7pm after baths, bottles, brushing teeth, reading and prayers. My kids are early birds (unlike their parents) and wake up at 5:30 to 6am, no matter what time they go to sleep.

My nanny is even more set on routines than I am and has some reading and learning time with them in the mornings, and then in the afternoons they go for walks or play outside. I have no plans to send them to a playgroup until they’re three-and-a-half.

My husband and I like to have things in order. When the twins were born at 32 weeks, they spent some time in the NICU. Connor was discharged first, and then Kendra joined him two weeks later.

Our lives were super crazy and out of control. We decided that the only way for us to hold onto our sanity and get some sleep was to start living with more routine. We worked super hard to get the babies’ routines in place, and it was like magic – our lives had a semblance of order (as much as you can have with twins, that is!).

Routines have worked so well that we just don’t want to mess with a good thing! At seven every night, we have time for ourselves. This is the biggest benefit. But in addition, there is a predictability and stability to our lives that is very comforting in the craziness of life. The babies also know what to expect and when. Connor, especially, will come to me smack bang on the dot of eight to tell me he’s hungry and wants food. They also know that after reading at night, it’s prayers and sleep time.

Yes, we have lost flexibility to do things on the fly, especially at night. However, a couple of nights a month is nothing in the grand scheme of things, right? Given our time over, we’d absolutely do the same again. In fact, I think we’d start sooner. We went a good few months being so sleep-deprived we couldn’t even string a coherent thought together.

I can see that Frances’ approach works for her family. We only have one granny visit per month and that happens in the afternoon so doesn’t affect the routine at all.

My motto since becoming a parent is: do whatever it takes. I’m aware that mothers are judgemental and I’m careful not to do the same.

How do you feel about routine with your baby, toddler and young children? Send your stories to and we may publish them. 

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