4 Small Routine Tweaks that Are Saving My Family

New routines freak me out. It takes forever for me to adjust to change, so I avoid it at all costs . . . to the point where I’ll blunder around in routine-less no-man’s-land for months rather than commit to a schedule I may not like.

That routineless life is what I’ve been living for more than a year. You can hear in this podcast episode how unstructured my days were. I thought I was being flexible, making it easier to change things up depending on what the kids needed. In reality, I was creating more stress for myself and leaving my kids feeling untethered in their days.

The addition of a third baby plus having my oldest in full-day preschool a few days a week has made it glaringly clear that the status quo is broken. No longer can I drift through my days and expect for everyone to be happy by the time evening rolls around.

I’ve spent the last few weeks reluctantly tweaking our routines. Surprise, surprise! The positive results were almost instantaneous. Here, for routine lovers and haters alike, are the four tiny changes that have made all the difference in my family’s routines.

1. Monthly grocery delivery

Grocery delivery is one of my saving graces as a mom, but in the past I’ve used it as a luxury service rather than part of our shopping routine. Sick kids? Snowstorm? Two weeks away from delivering a baby? Bring on the grocery delivery. Just your average Wednesday? I’d tell myself there was no reason I couldn’t get groceries on my own.

But really, the alternative of loading up three kids and dragging them around the grocery store is totally a reason to use a regular delivery service. In my head, grocery shopping only took an hour. In reality, it wasted an entire day because we were all so crabby and off-kilter by the time we got home. Now I pay the delivery fee for our big shopping trip once a month, and I make a quick Trader Joe’s run by myself once a week for produce and other odds and ends.

2. On-time dinner

It shouldn’t be rocket science that eating dinner on time is better than eating dinner late, but that just goes to show how much I was bogged down by my “flexible” daily schedule.

I used to start dinner at 4:30 because I thought one hour should be plenty of time to get most meals on the table. But that math doesn’t take into account the many times I’ll be interrupted by various kid demands, nor the reality that dinner has been served at 6:00 or later most nights since the new baby was born. With a kid bedtime of 7:00, there just wasn’t enough time for a relaxing evening routine. Every night ended in tears and shouting.

The solution is an easy one, and I’m not sure why I resisted it for so long. I now start dinner at 3:30 and we eat between 5:00 and 5:30. Seeing those times written out kind of kills me, but I’ve learned that no matter how productive I think I’ll be during those two hours, I never do anything other than waste time. I’m better off taking forever to cook on-time dinner than rush to make late dinner.

This adjustment has completely changed our evenings in ways I hadn’t expected. The kids aren’t crabby when we eat because they’re not starving. There’s less rush to get through bedtime stories. And my favorite, we have time to clean the kitchen as a family after dinner rather than my husband and I facing it alone after the kids go to bed.

3. Late-afternoon kid yoga

There has been much angst over what to do with the kids while I cook. We have a small galley kitchen that always leaves me tripping over them or being terrified they’re going to get splattered by something hot on the stove. I tried making this their TV time, but the toddler is still more interested in me than Daniel Tiger—flattering, but not helpful.

That’s when I got the bright idea to turn on a yoga video for the kids while I cook. There’s definitely no meditating happening there, but it keeps both girls busy so I can cook. By the time we sit down to eat (on time!), they’re relaxed and happy because they got the “special treat” of a YouTube video. Also, they’re not traumatized by their mother screaming at them to get the heck out of her kitchen.

4. Early morning silence

This is the change I’ve been most resistant to. For the four years I’ve been a mother, I’ve proudly flaunted my status as someone who sleeps in until my kids wake me up. I had a lot of reasons for this, not least of all that I have high sleep needs and none of our kids (so far) have slept through the night until their first birthday.

It turns out three kids is my breaking point for a lot of things: getting everyone ready simultaneously, getting any work at all done during the day, finding two minutes to read in peace. And so, the early morning ritual so many women swear by has become part of my routine, too.

This is less of a routine and more of a commitment to start my days well, even though that looks different depending on the day. Nearly all mornings begin with a few minutes of quiet time. Some start at 4 or 5 a.m., usually the days where I need to get some work done. On others I’ll “sleep in” until 6, leaving just enough time to get myself ready and read a chapter or two before the kids get up.

Where to go from here

These routines aren’t set in stone, and there are still quite a few things that need adjusting before I’ll feel like we’re truly in a good rhythm. Areas that could still use some more structure include exercise, regular child care, budgeting and bill paying, daily quiet time with the kids, and weekly meal planning.

Overall, though, things are better than they were. That feels like the best I can ask for with three tiny children at my heels all day long.

Are there any routines you love? Any small changes that have made a big difference? Let me know in the comments!