Routines and rituals get a bad rap. Routine is portrayed as boring, mundane, bondage. And “ritual” just sounds, well, so…religious. Not religious in a sacred way, but in a long-robe, burning-incense, animal-sacrifice kind of way.
In our over-stimulated, impatient, high-wired society, we’re constantly urged to ditch our routines and change it up. Try something new, something different!
I like change and new and different. I do. But I’m also a big fan of rituals and routines. I thrive in routine. I see routines as a valuable tool in achieving balance in my otherwise unpredictable life.
If you’re a parent or a teacher, you know one of the best things you can do for a small child is to establish routines. Routines help children know what to expect, help them feel secure, and help YOU guide them easily from task to task.
Routines do the same for me.
Which, I suppose, makes me a lot like a toddler.
“Rituals are a good signal to your unconscious that it is time to kick in.”
I’ve told you this before, but generally speaking, my most challenging times are times of transition–when my old routine no longer works and I am working to establish a new one. Those times feel very chaotic and unbalanced for me. Routines and rituals keep me grounded.
Let me give you some examples of what two of my daily routines look like:
1. Early morning/school days only:
- At 5:30 a.m., my alarm goes off. I press the snooze once, and get up at 5:40 a.m. (However, I set my clock 10 minutes fast, so it’s really 5:30 a.m.—I have to play these mind games with myself when it comes to disturbing my slumber—don’t judge, it works for me.)
- I stumble to the restroom, go potty, brush my teeth and hair, and drink a big gulp of water from the water bottle I set on my sink.
- I go to the kitchen, where my coffee has already brewed, because I set it on a timer the night before (thanks to my nighttime routine).
- I pour the coffee, doctor it up a bit with cream and honey, and sit down,either in the kitchen or in my office, and read a few chapters of the Bible.
- I journal and pray about the day and whatever else is happening in my life.
- At 6:30 a.m., I close my Bible and journal and set the table for breakfast.
- I proceed upstairs to awaken the children to get ready for school.
The benefits of doing this every morning:
a. It allows me time to wake up completely before I have to interact with anyone.
b. It means that no matter what else happens that day, I’ve spent time with Jesus, which is my #1 priority.
c. It gives me time to look over my plan for the day and prepare myself mentally for whatever is next.
2. After School: Some days my kids have activities, and that changes from season to season, kid to kid. But on the days when we come straight home from school, it looks like this:
- I leave my house at 3 p.m. to pick up the kids in carpool at 3:30. I listen to Dave Ramsey in the car. (Dave keeps me pumped about living debt-free.)
- When the kids get into the car, I ask them about their days and listen to at least one of them tell a long detailed story, good or bad. It usually takes about 7 seconds before they start to bicker, so, I spend a lot of the drive home refereeing arguments.
- I gather info about the level of the night’s homework and assess how long of a break they need before diving in to it. (Clearly, they need a break!)
- When we get home, I go to the curb and get the mail and then stop at the recycle bin where I toss almost all of it (junk!). The kids bring in their own backpacks, put them in the kitchen and hang up their jackets. (By “hang up their jackets,” I mean, throw them on the floor, right next to their shoes and socks. And then, I tell them to hang up their jackets and put the shoes away.)
- If it’s nice outside, I will instruct them to change into play clothes, and I force them outdoors to play for an hour or so. (If they only have a little bit of homework, I will encourage them to do it right away so they can be free the rest of the night.) If it’s cold or rainy, they can play indoors.
- While they are playing, I file the mail, go through backpacks, clean out folders, sign papers, and dispose of old lunches, etc. I may also start preparing dinner or maybe finish up a blog post I started earlier in the day.
- Around 4:45-ish, I call the two younger ones to the kitchen, give them a snack and have them start homework. Usually, I have to go between the two of them to help, because, for both of them, homework this year means a lot of parental involvement.
- (My 13-year-old is extremely self sufficient with homework and gets excellent grades, so I’m hands-off with her. Honestly, I don’t even know what she has for homework most nights. For all I know, she could be stealing money from my wallet and paying Guido to do it for her. It’s working, whatever she does. I’m not rocking that boat. Thank you, Guido.)
- When homework is finished, the 11-year-old escapes the kitchen like a wild animal cut free from a trap. The 6-year-old likes to stay close to Mom. That’s why it’s her chore to set the table, while I finish preparing dinner.
- If dinner is ready and homework is not finished, then we move into post-dinner homework. This usually means Daddy takes over because I’m ready to slam my head into the drywall.
The benefits of doing this every afternoon:
a. The after-school hours are a very challenging time of the day for us—and for every household in the U.S. The kids are cranky and so am I. My 11-year-old H-A-T-E-S homework. So, getting him to stop playing so he can do more schoolwork is pure torture (for both of us), especially if it’s math. The daily routine makes the transition a little easier.
b. Allowing myself a regular time of day to go through backpacks and mail means nothing slips through the cracks. (By nothing, I mean almost nothing. I’m not perfect.)
c. My kids are learning to establish good study habits (or learning to find reliable people like Guido to do homework for them)
Of course, you can establish routines in any areas that call for more order or lend themselves to chaos. Here are some areas you may want to think about establishing a good routine or ritual:
1. Early morning, before anyone gets up.
2. Getting kids off to school.
3. Mealtime prep and clean-up.
4. First thing when you arrive at work.
5. Last thing before you leave work.
6. After school.
7. Kids’ bedtime.
8. Nighttime, after kids are in bed.
9. Weekly household chores or individual recurring chores (like laundry or yard work).
10. Writing, if you blog.
12. Prayer/Bible reading.
13. Saturday morning.
At the very least, I recommend you establish a morning and evening routine. I love this quote from Tsh Oxenreider:
“When you bookend your days with a simple routine, they’ll feel less chaotic, and you’ll be more in control. These routines will be a salve to your soul.”
Establishing routines and rituals does not mean every day looks exactly the same. And it does not give us permission to become rigid and inflexible.
That won’t work. It can’t work. We’re humans, living and interacting with other humans. Life, by definition, is dynamic and demands flexibility. Especially if you still have kids at home. So when one season ends and another one begins, balance means you remain bendy and allow your routines and rituals to be bendy, too.
Week Three Focus:
- Think about the times of the day or week that feel most chaotic. What does a “balanced version” of that time of day look like for you? How might you begin to establish a routine to move through those times and achieve greater balance?
- Do you have an early morning routine?
- Do you have a nighttime routine?
- If you don’t, start there, with those two routines. I think they are the routines that will make the biggest difference for you.
- If you do, are those routines serving you well? Or do you need to update them to fit your current situation?
- Routines take planning, preparation and time before they become natural. Give yourself a few weeks trying out your new routines, then tweak them as necessary.
Related posts: (These are other hand-selected posts I’ve written on the subject)
My cooking routine
My Menu-Planning Routine
My Laundry Routine: (I’ve tweaked my laundry routine since this post, and no longer do any on Saturdays because I take my Sabbath on Saturdays.)
My Sabbath Routine
This is part 3 of a year-long series. If you subscribe, you will be sure never to miss a post. Ever. EVER! If you’d like to see all the posts in this series, click the tab up top that says BBi-2013, or click here.