Aside from school and work hours, twenty-first-century culture tends to treat family routines as archaic. Many households have abandoned set bedtimes, family meals, and any semblance of regular schedules for homework and chores.
Which is a shame, because established routines have many benefits:
That’s not to say any household should operate on the attitude “our family’s done it that way for eight generations, and that’s that.” Nor that routines should be so firmly set as to ban all exceptions. But the opposite extreme—letting everyone do what feels right to him at that moment—can only lead to chaos, all-around frustration, and a general sense of getting nowhere.
Here’s how to establish healthy routines for your family:
Even young children deserve some say in their bedtimes and homework hours. Plan your household’s important routines during family meetings, giving everyone a chance to explain what she prefers and why. Children are not only more likely to cooperate with the final decision if they feel they’ve gotten a fair hearing; by being required to explain their own reasoning, they learn independent decision-making at an early age.
Establishing healthy routine does not mean punching a to-the-minute time clock (“When I say bedtime is at 8:30, I mean 8:30, not 8:31 or 8:29!”). Nor does it mean calculating every possible contingency with the precision of a lawyer or engineer. The point is to define your parameters within a range that allows everyone to understand what’s needed while retaining room for personal initiative. If family members complain that routines are impossible to keep up, or if you feel constantly rushed and stressed, it’s time to schedule another family meeting and reevaluate the situation.
Although routines need room for margin, they shouldn’t be treated as arbitrary. If you find yourself making “just this once” exceptions every other night (and this applies to exceptions granted yourself no less than your children), the exception is becoming the rule, and it’s time to either get firmer about sticking to the routine, or to consider adopting the routine itself.
Other times to reevaluate routines include:
Consider every individual’s needs as well as the needs of the family unit. And whatever anyone’s responsibilities, schedule some family time at least once a week. However well everyone keeps to routines in other spheres, if you’re too busy for your loved ones, you’re too busy!