Tuesday, March 30

The Friend I Thought Was An Enemy: Routine

(from the April Montana Woman)

The first few pages of my family heirloom 1961 Betty Crocker cookbook include tips on household management such as: “Have a weekly plan for scheduling such tasks as washing, ironing, baking, shopping, cleaning the refrigerator or washing floors. One task done each day provides a sense of accomplishment and keeps work from piling up.” And, “Every morning before breakfast, comb hair, apply makeup and a dash of cologne. Does wonders for your morale and your family’s too!”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I thought the first time I read those tips, thinking they were just an amusing glimpse of the ‘olden days.’ Now, after 14 years of marriage, working from home and the office, moving several times and having two children, I see the practical truth in them. Planning what needs to be done, accomplishing a few life chores, and doing a little something for myself every day, keeps me and my family sane.

Now, scheduling a routine is my friend. Routine is my compromise between forcing my children and me into a strict schedule or being dominated by the tyranny of the urgent, dealing with whomever or whatever is crying loudest at the time. Routine gives me the structure to face the never-ending cycle of making clean things dirty and dirty things clean again. Our family routine helps the kids know what to expect and helps the parents accomplish the chores of life.

As Kathy Peel says in her book, The Family Manager Saves the Day, “Hundreds of tasks are required to keep a family going, and many of them can be fitted into routines that make everyone’s life easier. Once you decide how, when, and by whom something should be done, you eliminate questions and arguing—and you stop wasting time on the trivial. … Routines help replace time-stealers with time itself – the most precious commodity. They free us to stick to our priorities, doing what we truly feel is important and essential, and they give family members security because everyone knows what to expect.”

Routines help me with everything from paying bills and serving meals, to training and disciplining children, to deciding what we’ll do for fun this weekend. One of my most useful routines, planning a weekly dinner menu, saves me because I can’t think when I’m hungry. And here is the trick to the menu: you don’t actually have to plan seven dinners! Mondays at our house is enchilada night. Friday is pizza night. Sunday is grilled cheese. And now I only have to come up with four more dinners … that I pick off the list I have scribbled in the front of my recipe box for when I need inspiration.

Routines help me schedule day to day and month to month. On a weekly basis, my routine includes laundry and planning on Monday, a trip to the library for story time on Tuesday and church night on Wednesday. My weekly schedule gives structure, but nothing says that it can’t be changed to take advantage of events that happen sporadically.

There are slushy spring days when I think I cannot possibly hang up one more pair of wet snow pants, build one more train track in our cramped living room, or make one more healthy dinner! And then the sun will come out. Then riding bikes to the nearest playground to bask in the sun becomes better than any routine I had planned for the day, especially if it includes picking up hamburgers for dinner on the way.

The beautiful part of routine is that I have time to take advantage of “unplanned” sunny days because my chores are generally under control. Who would have thought that a Betty Crocker cookbook from 50 years ago would have such helpful advice for today?

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