Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Routines: What's Working, What Needs Tweaking

Sunrise in Hawaii. Did I tell you about Hawaii? We took our kids to Hawaii for Christmas. Maybe I'll tell you about it sometime...

In Januarys past, I've usually written goals and resolutions posts that were some of my favorite posts to write all year. I used to love setting goals and especially meeting them.

But over the past few years, I've found my relationship with goals changing. Maybe it's just this phase of life I'm in, really in the trenches with parenting and in the middle of getting a PhD, where I just feel like I have no room for goals outside of what is already necessary (and honestly, getting the PhD at all is just one huge goal, so as long as I'm making progress there, do I really need more goals in my life?).

Instead, my shift has been to thinking about refining my routines and habits. I'm really into routines and habits. I see them as a way to get all the good stuff in my life without having to think about it: exercise, sleep, spiritual stuff, meditation, cleaning, food, fun... I want everything that's important to me in my life to be built into a routine or habit so that it just happens, almost on auto pilot, with minimal mental energy on my part. I love my good healthy routines and habits, but I'm constantly struggling against the things in my life that disrupt those habits. Namely, babies. I have had some seriously strong habits and routines in my life, but I haven't managed to add a new baby to my family without losing every single one of those habits or routines in some way.

So now that I'm six months post my last baby, I'm feeling all itchy about really assessing where I'm at with my routines, and thinking about how I can tinker with my schedule to get all those good things back on autopilot. If you'll indulge me, I'll just use this space here to do that assessing.

Routines That Already Work

These are the routines that I've managed to already get back into place (or entirely implement as new), and that are working really well for me:

Meal Planning - With a full time job and a family of six to feed, I don't know how to function without the meal plan, so this routine was one of the first to come back after baby and all those meals from generous neighbors disappeared. Honestly, one of the things I'm most proud of about how I handle work/life balance is that we have a home cooked family dinner every single night. Some nights are scrambled eggs and toast, but still, I plan every meal for the week (with a two week rotating menu of quick, easy, and cheap recipes), make my grocery list, mostly stick to it, and get dinner on the table pretty much every night. It's so automatic for me now that most of the time it doesn't feel that hard. This is the place I wish all my routines were at.

Friday Night Movie Night - No, we don't do pizza every Friday, but we do popcorn and a movie. My kids look forward to this every week, and we have a rotating schedule for who gets to pick the movie (or show, we've been working our way through All-Round Champion as a family, and it's delightful). It's a little family tradition that is easy to maintain and packs a little fun into our weekend.

Family Home Evening  - We struggled with this one when the kids were younger, but over the last few years we've built up enough momentum that our Monday night routine has become basically automatic as well. Things that helped us get this routine in place include finally making one of those charts that assigns a rotating role to each member of the family (now that the kids are finally old enough to actually plan lessons and activities and things on their own), get serious about having a treat each week, and really lower expectations (lessons often include just watching the scripture video for the week... whatever, it happened).

Daily Family Scripture Study - This also used to be one we struggled with. We tried to set this up as a routine that happened right after dinner when everyone was still at the table, but for some reason that just wasn't working out for us and we'd forget more nights than we remembered. I finally adjusted to make it a part of bedtime routine and that has stuck really well. Sometimes it's just about finding the right time/place in your schedule for a routine to stick.

Weekly Library Writing Time - This one is new, but I'm fighting for it with my life. I realized last fall that I was pretty jealous of my husband's weekly game night. Every Thursday he meets up with a group of guys and plays board games, and it is absolutely the highlight of his week. I tried assessing exactly what it was that I was jealous about, because it certainly wasn't the game playing (I can only handle so many board games before I max out), and it wasn't even necessarily the social time of being with friends (I have a solid group of friends in my book clubs, but I couldn't imagine meeting up with them every single week... too much of an introvert?). I decided that what I really envied was the fact that he got to leave the house one night a week, miss out on bedtime routine, and just really indulge in his hobby without any guilt. Those were the things I wanted in my life, permission to get out of bedtime routine one night a week, and permission to indulge in my own hobbies without guilt. My favorite hobby, writing, has been really low down on my priority list for a long time. It also doesn't feel like something I need to leave the house for, but if I'm home, then there are too many other things that are far more important for me to be doing, and I could never get away with just being down in the office to write while bedtime routine was going on. The kids would inevitably find me. So I decided I was going to claim Tuesday night as my own, actually leave the house and go to the library, and spend a couple hours each week just writing whatever I wanted to. Not work on my dissertation, not do any errands or anything else. Just write (or read, because that counts too). Guys, this has been amazing for my mental health. I love this new routine. It feels so indulgent, but also, so necessary I can never give it up now that I've started. I can't even describe how much I love sitting alone at my little cubby desk in the library just writing whatever I want every week (this week, it happens to be this post). Life. Changing.

Routines That Need Tweaking

I've got other routines going, but I really need to figure out how to make them work better for me.

Exercise - Right now, I'm squeezing in some very light yoga/stretching for a few minutes after I eat breakfast and before I shower. I wish I had more time to devote to my daily workout, because I notice a huge improvement in my general mental well-being when I get a good workout in. I also wish I could get back into running, but I'm way too much of a wimp to run in the winter (it's not just the cold, though it's mostly the cold, it's also the fact that I just can't get over my fear of running in the dark, and it's generally dark during the time I have available for running). I really want to wake up earlier and get a good workout in before the kids are up, but I'm giving myself grace on this one until I'm done breastfeeding the baby (and by breastfeeding, I mean pumping, 100 % pumping here), because right now that is taking up so much of my morning routine, I just can't fight it.

Laundry - For some reason, I feel like adding this fourth baby has quadrupled the loads of laundry I do each week. I don't know how that math works. All I know is that I wasn't good about keeping up with the laundry before, but now I'm even worse. In my ideal world, my kids do their own laundry and I just have to take care of myself, but in reality, I have not figured out how to make this happen. I've taught my oldest how to do loads of laundry and we've even put it in as part of his chore chart, but because it's not a daily chore he hasn't internalized it as a routine (he's great at his daily chores). Which means that when I realize baby has run out of clean clothes and he's at school, I'll just throw a load in and then we just pull clean clothes out of the dryer for a few days because no one takes responsibility for folding and putting it away. Clearly, this is a problem. Have not figured this one out.

Cleaning - In general, we are not so good at this one. We actually have a fairly solid nightly routine of at least cleaning the kitchen. The dishes get done. The floor even occasionally gets swept. And most Saturday mornings, we insist on the bedrooms getting tidied and every room gets vacuumed. But please don't ask about the bathrooms. This is another chore that we've tried to off load onto the kids, but because it's not daily has ended up being never. Guys, just never ask to use a bathroom at our house. I cannot tell you the last time any of them have been cleaned. And it's not just the bathrooms, very little in our house ever gets deep cleaned. Please don't judge. I've got to figure this out.

Read Alouds - I read aloud to my children most nights as part of the bedtime routine, but it's getting out of hand. We got derailed for most of last year because I couldn't read aloud when I was pregnant (saliva overproduction + spit cup made reading aloud miserable). But now that we've started this back up, each child has insisted on their own book, and two of them are wanting me to read various Diary of a Wimpy Kids every night, and it's just miserable and I hate it. I want my kids to be able to have some choice, but I can't handle the multiple read alouds every single night. I'm going to just have to put my foot down and insist I'm only reading one book aloud and it will be a book I pick. I want to look forward to this nightly routine again.

Personal Scripture Study - Most days, I do this on my phone while pumping. It's not ideal, but it's the time I have. My ideal would be a good thirty minutes every morning with time for writing and meditating before the kids are up. But again, this is something I'm just going to have to let go of for now, until I'm done pumping and can re-implement my morning routine.

Routines I Want to Add

Here are the pieces of my life that I feel are missing:

Weekly Date Night - After paying for a nanny all week, the last thing I want to do is pay for a babysitter for a weekly date night. Basically, I'm counting down until next year when our son is legally old enough to babysit, because you better believe weekly date nights will be a thing then!

Saturday Game Night - If this one becomes a tradition the way I intend, then between this and Friday night movie night I don't know when our weekly date night will happen, but here's the thing. My husband loves games (I already mentioned that, didn't I) and the kids are finally really old enough to play some good ones. So I know it would be nothing but positive for us to have a family game night, and Saturday seems like the obvious answer. I'm hoping to make this one happen this year.

Morning Routine - Here's the ideal: Wake up at 5:30 AM (after 8 hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep). 30 minutes of scripture study/writing. 30 minutes of exercise (running/yoga/weight-training/stretching). 30 minutes to shower and get completely ready before the kids are allowed of their rooms at 7 AM and I can focus on getting all of us out the door for school/work. But alas, with a baby and the pumping and not quite getting to bed by 9:30 every night, this one is still a pipe dream. Maybe by next fall I'll be in a place to get this one back.

Monthly Temple Trip - We were never very good at this one (we are not good at any routine that involves getting a babysitter), but the pandemic really threw this routine off for us, and may continue to interfere for a while. We made it this month (thanks to the in-laws coming to babysit) but they've reduced slots again at our temple, so making this a super regular habit might still be iffy for a while. The baby still makes this one hard too, but I'll keep plugging away at it.

There are probably more. I could sit here and think of all the things that are missing from my life, all the things I'd love to be doing or that I really should be doing. But time is at a premium in my life, and there is only so much one can fit in. I must prioritize. These routines represent the things I think are important to have in my life right now. I didn't mention every routine (like audio books on my commute being back! Woohoo!), or anything about my work life (which has it's own routines). These are just the home-life ones, which is where I feel like I need some attention right now. These are not goals, I'm not holding myself to any promises here. I'm just trying to sort out and assess what's working, what's not, and what perhaps can I do to change. We'll see where things go from here!