Are your family routines working? We all have routines for bedtimes and meals and getting out the door in the morning. As kids grow and family situations change, we need to adjust our routines. We might even need to change our routines throughout the year.


Sometimes routines evolve on their own, but other times you’ll have to fiddle with things to find a new solution. As you try to sort out meaningful routines, you’re likely to get lots of advice from family, friends, other parents at the park and the stranger at the store. Asking for suggestions can be helpful, but tune out all the “you shoulds.” Tune in to the unique needs of your family to find the answer. Take a look at how these real parents rocked routines to get your ideas flowing.


Food for Thought


Ever struggle to get dinner ready as kids melt down around you? These mealtime tweaks might help.


Eat Earlier. Julie Elias started making dinner shortly after her kids get off the bus. Dinner at 4:30 may sound crazy, but as she says, “They’re hungry.” An early dinner can cut out a lot of crankiness in tired kids.


Switch to an Evening Snack. If you’re tired of hearing your kids ask for “just one more” snack in the late afternoon, you’ve got another reason to try an early dinner. Follow up with an evening snack. And to avoid missing out on the family dinner, feed young kids in the late afternoon, then serve them a healthy snack when the rest of the family enjoys a later meal.


De–stress Dinner Prep. Getting dinner ready in a rush when everyone is hungry can be a recipe for crankiness. Try moving most of your prep to another time of day. If you’re home, prep for dinner right after breakfast or lunch when you’re already in the kitchen. Or use post–dinner time to prep tomorrow’s meal for the oven or slow cooker. Either way, you’ll cut the cleanup in half by doing the dishes from the meal you just ate plus tomorrow’s prep.


Bedtime Not by the Book


Bedtime routines are some of the earliest we create with our children. They often include baths, cuddling, stories and early lights out, but do they have to? These three families created bedtime rituals that go against the norm.


Juggle Bedtimes to Suit You. Older kids get to stay up later, right? Not at the Motta house. Mom Sarah puts her older boys to bed at 7:30, but preschool–aged Anna still naps. Sarah could have cut out the nap, but she really likes that time to herself during the day. Instead, she puts Anna to bed at 8:30. “Anna shares all her attention with others, so that hour when my husband and I get alone time with her is one of my favorite times of the day,” she says.


Play with Naptimes. Lisa Ahrberg has a different solution for bedtime. When her kids were toddlers, she kept them up, even when she knew they were tired. “My husband doesn’t get home until 7:30,” she says. “So if they were in bed when they wanted to sleep, he didn’t see them for days at a time.” To make up the difference, she adjusted their nap schedules until they were getting enough sleep even with the later bedtime.


Take Out the Bath. Baths are often part of the bedtime ritual, but since I put both my kids to bed by myself many nights, bedtime used to be hectic. I started giving my older daughter, Kathleen, her bath in the afternoon while her baby sister napped. Kathleen got more play time in the tub, and I got a streamlined bedtime, making “tubby time” and bedtime more relaxing for us both.

Things We Have to Do


Homework and errands are a necessary part of our daily or weekly routines. With creative thinking, you make these routines less of a chore:


Everyone Goes on Errands. Are errands squeezing all the family time out of your weekends? Try combining the two. Although going solo or taking a divide–and–conquer approach might be more efficient, having an everyone–goes policy allows for time together. To keep family time from being all work, play games in the car or stop for a treat when you’re done. Or plan a fun activity for when you get home, and build anticipation during the trip.


Leave Homework to the Last Minute. Some families have a homework–before–play rule, but kids often need a little down time or activity time before they can sit and do more work. Some kids may need a different schedule altogether. Instead of settling down after school to do homework, Ellen Weiner’s son does his in the mornings. “After a full day of school, he’s too tired to focus,” she says. “And his work is of a much higher quality when he does it in the mornings.” Ellen adds that it’s not an ideal solution, but “it’s what works best for him this year. We’ll take each year as it comes.”


Ellen has the right idea. If you’re ready to revamp your own routines, forget what you’re “supposed” to do and find what works for you, your child and your family. Then check in periodically to make sure it keeps working. Pretty soon you’ll have creative routines that keep your family running smoothly.


Sara Barry is a freelance writer and mom. She and her husband both work nontraditional schedules and have become creative with adapting their own family routines.

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