The Role of Routine Resets to Ease Parenting OverwhelmJan 18, 2023
In this episode I'm talking about the runaway snowball we all have and how creating an effective routine guided by predictability can help you manage your overwhelm.
I also dig into how mentioning the word routine tends to put parents off until we are able to take a deeper dive into understanding that I'm not suggesting rigidity, instead consistency that makes space for functional flexibility.
So last year was rough. I’m typically a glass half full type of person. My optimism fuels me. If I wasn’t this type of person there are tons of things I would have given up on in my lifetime. Not gonna lie 2022 kicked my butt. I’ve never felt so burnt out in my entire life.
Note: The transcript below may not be exactly the same as the podcast and has not been edited for accuracy
There’s a lot of reasons for this and I know I’m far from alone on this feeling, but there is one thing that stands out for me and it’s something I’m shifting my focus around and that’s where I put my energy and thinking. I’m a problem solver by nature, I love the challenge of fixing things, finding solutions and so on. But what about the problems that have bigger trajectories or maybe no solutions at all? There’s a lot of things happening in the world that directly impact me, but I have no control over them at all and the weight of those things really weighed me down.
There’s something I talk about at the outset of my program Building Resilience Through Kindness. It’s the idea that parents can find themselves operating as full time professional problem solvers. This is not only exhausting, it unintentionally sets you up to operate in a negative headspace. When you are always seeking or reflecting on the problem to fix, you overlook the things that are going well. Does this sound familiar? This fairly succinctly summarizes my 2022 headspace.
The other thing that directly impacted my outlook was I got drowned in marketing advice that wasn’t resonating and this further contributed to my negative headspace. I’m actually going to take a deep dive on this topic because it’s something that might be impacting you in ways you might not be aware. A lot of parenting advice is built around marketing and fast fixes, which is not servicing you or your children. That’s the topic of my next episode so if you don’t already subscribe, this would be a great time to hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss that conversation.
Today I want to focus on the importance of resetting your routines as we dive into a new year. I have a saying. Predictability before flexibility. There’s a really interesting thing that happens when I mention the word routines to parents, a cloud of stress can instantly be felt. I think there is a lot of reasons for this, but likely underlying it, is your runaway snowball. We all have them. You know the one you can’t ever catch? That break you so desperately want? Bedtime routines that don’t take 5 hours, dinners that don’t turn into battles, getting dressed without yelling, feelings that are taking over everything for both you and your child… these things are all related in some way. It’s one of the reasons I built a program. The answer is never just bed time or meals or getting dressed or big feelings… it’s always the layers, and at the bottom is an underlying challenge or missing skill or both. In the program I have a system called Parent Clues for Problem Solving. This is the system that helps you figure out the layer underneath the one you are likely currently trying to apply a bandaid to when you might actually need some stitches. This is part of that marketing conversation, the one that convinces you a + b = c, when in fact that’s way too simple when we are talking about behaviour.
As a parent, long time educator, former preschool owner and now parent educator I can unequivocally say that Modern parenting is no joke and there are so many layers to navigate. It’s those layers and the desire to show up differently in your parenting that lead you to second guess your decisions because they allow parent guilt to creep in and cloud your thinking. For example, they prevent you from holding firm boundaries because you do things like second guess what the limit pushing behaviour means… is something troubling your child that they can’t settle at night, are they needing help with something, do they not feel validated, did I spend enough time with them today…the did I/should I/could I inner conversations that parents doing their best have… This is where I help parents understand that routines are about so much more than schedules. Without a clear baseline you can never effectively answer any of those inner questions.
The predictability of a reliable routine means consistency. This does not mean rigidity! This is very important. We live in a dynamic world, I understand, but I also know people in general and children specifically do not function well when they aren’t living lives with more predictability than flexibility. And here’s the other part, I know setting this up takes a lot of effort and it doesn’t work forever, you have to revisit and reset, sometimes more often than you’d like to.
In Fall 2022 I think we had to reset our routine like 6 times because of illness and other unplanned life events. Life happens, sometimes in ways we don’t expect or want, but this is where that routine reset can be most helpful. It helps reset rules we got flexible on because we needed to. Things like screen time, foods, body movement, getting outside. In my program I call them the Big 4. The four things you need to have routines around to help you and your child be able to show up to regulate their feelings. A million tools will never be enough without this baseline. If you’re curious to learn more about my program you can find it at taragratto.ca/BRTK or head to the show notes and grab the link there.
The other piece, and the one that might be your biggest challenge in implementing routines is that kids have a hard time when we arbitrarily change direction on things. It doesn’t feel fair, the habit was so comfortable. Unfortunately comfortable might not be benefiting our body and mind needs. Brains love the path of least resistance. It can get quite easy to fall into a routine of comfort and forget to do the things that help us grow and get stronger. This might be particularly resonating as we shift from holiday mode to back-to-work/school mode. Unfortunately this is also where our habits can lead to bigger parenting challenges down the road. A quick screen here to help eat or give us a break adds up to another screen there and suddenly we discover we are relying on screens to get things done because if we don’t use the screens we can’t get anything done. This is another example of a quick fix that influencers will tell you not to feel bad about, but they don’t tell you the part two. When you fall into a habit of doing this, it becomes just that, a habit and one that’s hard to break.
Now I’m not here to make you feel bad about using screens, because I’m not anti-screen BUT I will tell you that if you use screens to fill gaps instead of using them as a part of a routine with clear limits, you will likely also find it very difficult to facilitate independent play, will have a child who has difficulty tolerating boredom or being patient and in some cases children who can’t complete some of the boring tasks in life.. like waiting your turn, standing in line, waiting for food to be ready and so on… So am I saying you’ll never do these things, nope… I do them too, but the important thing is to be aware that there are connections and consequences to the choices we make and it’s not as simple as ‘it’s okay’…social media leads us down the ‘it’s okay path, the don’t shame path, the everyone it doing it path” and I do agree it’s okay here and there, it’s okay in flexible situations, but when the here and there becomes the habit/routine… this is where the challenges lie and quite often contribute to the runaway snowball. I once had someone tell me, don’t ever tell parents about the big picture, they are just trying to survive the here and now. I took that advice a little too much to heart and I regret it because there are layers and although I never want to shame or judge, I also feel I have a responsibility to help people see the bigger picture because when I do, it helps them make more informed choices in the moment. Ultimately that’s my goal, help you make informed choices that work for your family.
In this example, being patient is a life skill and we need to build our threshold for it because more and more of the world is on-demand so it easy to get caught filling the space. Then all of a sudden our children are in group learning environments and can’t wait their turn because they don’t have any skills for waiting, they’re so used to someone filling the boring void for them. This is a great example of how being aware that some of our choices might unintentionally reinforce certain things or create habits that make our lives and our children’s lives harder in the big picture.
This leads me to the other piece I know many struggle with when I drop the word routine. In this fast paced world of juggling too many balls it can feel a bit like we’ve been robbed of time so we’re constantly feeling the pressure of limited time. Whether that’s limited time for ourselves, limited time with our children, limited time with our partners… we worry that if we lock ourselves into a routine we’ll lose the flexibility, something will get lost in the shuffle. Or we are so deeply into juggling that the thought of trying to figure it out is overwhelming. There’s no time to find more time. I get this. I really do.
Fun side story. I’ve always been pretty good about creating routines for my family and preschool… in this new role as a parenting educator and consultant I have been an epic failure and it didn’t happen over night, it happened slowly over time. One thing I reflected on during my break is why… one of the reasons is because I’m learning so many things while simultaneously trying to implement them and parent. There’s no clear start or end to my day and I was getting caught in the… let me edit this reel here… one more piece of the blog there… one more comment on a post there. Things that by themselves might not be super time consuming, but they make me less present and very inefficient. That’s my runaway snowball. But I couldn’t fully see it. It took needing surgery and being forced to step back before I took the time to analyze. Something I else I reflected on is that I didn’t think like this two and a half years ago. I did most things with intention… but the pandemic changed the way I consume social media and function and I realized I need to make some changes.
One of the activities parents do about halfway through my program is a weekday reflection and brainstorm. There’s a bunch of goals and layers to this, but part of this is figuring out what time each family has versus what they feel they have. Not gonna lie, this can be a very stressful activity for some people, which is why I teach you about stress and some tools for that in earlier modules BUT, it’s also one that a lot of people tell me is a game changer for them because it helps them see their lives more clearly.
When I did my time audit I found some places where my work-life balance is too blurry and that left holes in our routines that were making space for inconsistencies and that was leading to push backs in areas that I normally don’t have challenges. Bed time, getting outside, turning off screens, because I also have fallen for the “it’s no big deal if they watch a little more trap”… ultimately what I discovered is things were far too flexible. You can’t set effective boundaries when you are more flexible than predictable. I teach this, I live this, I still got caught by it.
In my case, I couldn’t even say to myself what my work schedule was because it was so woven into my daily life. Some people might say, well this is part of owning a small business. And that’s true, but it’s also inefficient and it was creating situations that I know were directly impacting my children’s behaviour, and let’s be honest, mine too…
I have another saying. Mean what you say and say what you mean.
So the first step in resetting routines is reflecting. Reflecting on what your current schedules or days look like. What’s your morning routine? Evening routine? Pre-bed and bedtime routine? Something I teach in my transitions workshop is about how long things actually take versus how long we wish they would take. It’s important in this process to document how long things actually take. For example, if it takes 30 minutes to get dressed. Put that for now. It doesn’t mean you’re stuck at the timeline forever, but if you more accurately reflect on how long things actually take you will feel less pressured to make things happen in unrealistic time lines. That’s part of the snow ball you’re chasing.
Give yourself a couple days to do this. If you want some accountability or guidance hop into my new on-demand program, Building Resilience Through Kindness at taragratto.ca/BRTK. I’m super excited about having created something for busy Modern parents that is accessible but also provides you with opportunities to ask me to questions in recorded live q and A’s. Parenting is a journey and we were never meant to do it alone. I’m building a community around this. As I mentioned, the reflection process in one that people have found really valuable.
For those of you wondering… okay now that we’ve done this reflection what’s next? That’s where you can sit and figure out how much screen time, how much movement time, when dinner is, when your intentional connection time will be and so on. I take that info and put in on my chalk wall. If you’re looking for an amazing ready to go and reusable product, my friend and colleague Marlene Spence at Rewardums makes awesome visual schedules. I am in no way affiliated with her, but I love her product.
Okay, so we covered a lot of ground today and I know some of you are going to need some time to process. If you have questions or thoughts, send me a message, I’d love to hear from you!
Building Resilience Through Kindness is a successful on-demand parenting program that will teach what you need to know to support you and your child through life's challenges.
I've been working with children and families for over 20 years and one of the things I've learned, when you have the tools to handle your child’s social emotional well being, life is easier!
In this program I will teach you the skills you need, and help you implement the strategies to handle your daily parenting challenges.
You can do this and I can help you make it happen!
Building Resilience Through Kindness HERE