That’s my answer. To that classic nerd conversation starter: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Invisibility? Super Speed? Visions of the Future?
I can see how each one would enhance my parenting. Invisible Mom knows exactly who started it, and her children would be motivated to behave even when they are “alone.” Super Speed Homemaker gets more done in a few minutes than the rest of us in an entire day, and still has time to watch her favourite Food Network show. Psychic Mama can prevent the tantrum/fight/locking-keys-in-the-van/decorating-the-walls-with-sharpies BEFORE it even happens.
Sadly, none of these are my actual superpower.
That’s right. I have a special strength that allows me to perform beyond normal human parameters. It empowers the whole household to run smoothly (okay, smooth-er). It helps me endure when my strength is almost gone. It carries the weight of our whole family without breaking a sweat.
Routine is my superpower.
It’s not the sexiest, most exciting one out there. And it doesn’t require a cape or comic book inspired costume (though I’m not ruling that out). But I promise you, it packs a wallop!
I brush my teeth every morning. I don’t think about it. I don’t have to plan. I simply do the same thing, at the same time, every day. My lack of morning breath and significantly fewer cavities may not count as “saving a damsel in distress,” but a similar process also allows me to take daily medication and feed my children and keep my house (relatively) tidy and get our crazy family out the door each day. All these add up to a pretty heroic feat.
No matter what your age or stage or particular brand of dysfunction, you too can harness the power of routine! If you happen to have children, it can be a lifesaver. If you happen to have children with special needs, it’s an absolute necessity. Here’s why:
Routine frees up valuable time and energy.
Remember science class when you learned about levers and fulcrums and how they allow you to lift a heavy load with less effort? Routine is like that. As you shift behaviour from “intentional” into “something we do without even thinking about it,” you are able to do more, with less effort.
Get out the door in the morning. Keep the household mess from coming to life and eating us whole. Make bedtime and sleep time mean the same thing (we’re getting there).
I don’t know about you, but I need all the time and energy I can get my hands on. Trying to remember every little thing that needs doing, reacting to behavioural problems, and doing everything myself gets exhausting. Routines simplify life, prevent problems and empower children (and spouses, let’s be honest) to keep things going.
Routine makes life feel safe.
Secure children (and adults, FYI) know what to expect from their world. The stress of wondering what will happen next, and if I will-like-it/be-able-to-handle-it/am-entitled-to-watch-more-tv-right-now-instead, makes for grumpier children and parents. All children, even young toddlers, flourish when they can predict a first/then schedule and simple cause/effect.
For instance, when you get home from school you must sit on the potty, THEN you can have a snack. First comes pajamas, THEN music, rocking, cuddle and finally bed. If you throw your plate on the floor, THEN you lose it. If you do a cute dance and smile really big, THEN you get attention. If you do all your chores without complaining, THEN you can go out and play. If you do all the dishes and clean the kitchen, THEN your wife will be much more likely to give you a massage.
We’ve used pictures and symbols to reinforce routines with our children. B had a long strip of velcro on the wall; she had a picture of each morning task stuck up there (thank you Boardmaker software and Aunt Emily), and each time she finished a task she would put it in the “Finished” box at the bottom. We put new ones up for the afternoon and then a batch for before bed. She no longer needs such a detailed routine aid, but at the time, it gave her the sense of control she needed and made necessary transitions productive and less like a scene from the WWE.
Routine is inevitable.
Systems and structure aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are some
weirdos people who prefer to wing it, to live reactively spontaneously. That may work for you in most areas, but everyone has some routines, whether we choose to or not. The unintentional, destructive ones often go by the name: bad habits.
I have just as many negative routines as positive. Sleeping until the last possible second, even though I know it’ll make our whole day much more rushed. The fight with C about proper outerwear on every rainy/cold/day-that-ends-in-y day. Eating a snack before bedtime, so it will be converted directly into fat. There is a dark side to every superpower: we are our own arch enemies.
The best way to conquer bad habits is to replace them. If you can figure out a positive routine which will supplant the destructive one, you are halfway there (you’ll have to read an article about willpower somewhere else, since it is NOT my superpower).
Routine is a servant, not a master.
This is where routine can get a bad rap. Especially from people who either a) don’t understand it or b) have an unnatural fear of change. When you are learning to cook you need to follow the recipe closely, but once you get the hang of it you can be creative, change things up, all while staying true to the spirit of the dish. In the same way, routines are not set in stone. Once they are established, they can be stretched, tweaked, negotiated and even temporarily suspended until they work for you.
Routines are a tool, not a destination. Make a plan. Try it out. Give it time to sink in. If it doesn’t make life easier, scrap it and start again.
So here’s me, saving the world one chore chart at a time!