An easy step-by-step tutorial to creating a healthy home rhythm, and why you need one.
The kids are constantly cranky and you’re on edge. The to-do list seems endless and once again the littles fell asleep in front of the TV at who knows what hour. Your day feels out of control, like you never know if you’re coming or going.
How are you supposed to get dinner on the table at 6 when you don’t even look in the fridge until 7?
What you need is a strong home rhythm.
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What is a healthy home rhythm
A home rhythm is simply doing the same sorts of things at the same general time on a daily, weekly, or seasonal basis.
Maybe you can’t stomach the thought of using a day planner to plan your day because it just feels so confining.
I get it.
Dividing the day up into small segments and keeping my kids on a tight schedule brings back memories of public school, with the bells and 4 minutes to get from one class to the next and the anxiety….
No thank you.
But unlike a rigid schedule, a healthy home rhythm is not strictly tied to a clock, but instead can ebb and flow.
Think of it as a routine, or as Charlotte Mason called it, regularity.
Yep, Charlotte Mason was all about regularity.
But that word.
It makes me think of bowel habits and getting your daily fiber. (former RN here)
Not exactly the atmosphere I want in my home.
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Why do we need a daily or weekly rhythm?
Lots of reasons! When I first instituted a regular bedtime for my older daughter when she was about 8, she became calmer, less prone to outbursts, and was a generally happier child. It was like magic.
I remember talking to another mom who instituted a regular bedtime at about the same time I did, and we were both amazed at the change in our kids. She said, “Who knew?”
(while my mom piped up in the background “I did!” — thanks mom, why didn’t you tell me?)
A Home Rhythm Reduces the Amount of Mental Bandwidth We Need
A routine is not just for kids. It works wonders for grown ups, too. When you always do the same thing at about the same time, it means one less thing you have to think about.
This alone is gold.
We only have so much mental bandwidth. We can only hold so many things in our head.
And getting a child in nightclothes is so much easier when he is actually awake.
Increases Kids’ Sense of Security
This sounds strange, doesn’t it? How would having a rhythm to the day make kids feel more secure?
When we get up, we have a general sense of how our day is going to go, even if we aren’t sure of the exact times.
We might know we have an appointment in the afternoon, or we need to get a few loads of laundry done in the morning, or even that we have vague maybe-plans to go to the park.
Kids can’t see into our brain, and if we don’t have a routine they have no idea what’s coming next.
Imagine going to a conference and asking for an overview of what’s planned for each day. Instead of being given a schedule, you’re told, “Oh, don’t worry about it. We’ll let you know when we want you to go somewhere else. In the meantime, just do whatever.”
You don’t know if lunch will be at 10 AM or 2:30, or if the day will end at 4 or go until 10 that night.
That would be rather uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? Yeah, I’d think the leaders were… how to say this nicely?… Unorganized.
When we don’t have a home rhythm, that’s how it can feel to our children.
- They don’t know if they’re going to eat lunch at 10:30 or 2:30 or at all
- They don’t know if the day is ending at 7 or at 10
- They don’t know if, when they start to play, they will immediately get called in for lessons or if they will be able to engross themselves in their project
Tried and True, Tested over Generations
For generations, centuries, millenia, our ancestors have had daily, seasonal, and yearly rhythms. It’s the very nature of living a largely agricultural life.
The daily rhythm of getting up to muck out the stalls and feed the animals.
Making food on a regular basis to feed those who were doing physical labor.
Going to bed at a similar time to start the day fresh and early the next.
The weekly rhythm of housework — laundry on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, sewing on Wednesday, marketing on Thursday, etc.
The seasonal and yearly rhythms of planting, harvesting, preserving, baby animals being born, and yearly celebrations.
And it works because it works.
Those repeated patterns give structure to the day and year, something to look forward to. “We always go apple picking in the fall.”
If every evening after dinner you clean up as a family, it reduces power struggles. It’s simply what we do.
The daily rhythm of eating and sleeping at the same times keeps the body on schedule. Bedtimes are easier (your body is signaled that this is sleep time) and eating at consistent times keeps blood sugar steady, which means moods are less volatile.
Creating a healthy home rhythm, step by step
So now you’re convinced of how important a home rhythm or routine is, but how do you go from your current life of chaos to one that’s flowing and regular?
First, don’t jump in to a full-blown routine. If you do you’ll not only have a mutiny on your hands, but you’re likely to crash and burn.
Add each step one at a time, and when that step feels easy add in the next. Each step might take a few days or it might take several weeks, depending where you’re starting from.
1. Start with consistent sleeping times
Bedtimes and nap times, and regular waking times.
Remember that while adults need about 8 hours of sleep per night, children need more. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children generally need the following to be fully rested:
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
- School-aged (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
- Teens (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
- Young adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
How do we ensure our children are getting enough sleep? We start by working our way backwards.
What time do you want them to get up in the morning? How many hours do they usually sleep? (If there is no consistency, choose the middle range from the list above and start with those numbers)
If you have a 9 year old and you want him to sleep until 7, going to bed at 7 PM probably won’t work, because most 9 year olds don’t sleep for 12 hours (it’s ok if yours does, though).
If we start with the mid-range of 10 hours for a 9 year old and we want him to wake up around 7 AM, then that means he should be asleep at 9 PM.
We can’t just be in the middle of doing things though and suddenly say, “OK, jammies on and time for bed!”
We need to signal to the body that it’s getting time for sleep.
This is where an evening routine comes in.
Start with a simple evening routine of
- wash up
- brush teeth
- night clothes on
- dirty clothes in the hamper
- reading (either to themselves quietly or as a family bedtime story)
- tucked in and lights out
Try to have this time be screen-free, so the blue light from screens doesn’t interfere with their sleep.
If that simple evening routine takes 30 minutes, then for a 9 PM sleeping time that means it has to start at 8:30 or a little earlier.
I am not saying that all 9 year olds should stay up until 9. This is just the method I use to figure out when I want our evening routine to start.
You might want to start straight off from what time you want them to be in bed by so you can have some kid-free time at the end of the day. Just be aware that if your 9 year old child is going to sleep at 7:30, he will probably be awake around 5:30 or 6 AM.
A word about consistency: you can fudge about 20-30 minutes, especially when you’re just starting out.
Don’t feel like since you were aiming for 8 PM and you didn’t get your kids in bed until 8:20 that you failed that day.
Developing a routine is a process. It will take time, you will have slip ups and backsliding, and sometimes it will feel impossible.
This is all normal.
If you are starting here:
Then your goal should not be here:
Progress, not perfection.
We aren’t Superwoman.
2. Add in consistent mealtimes and snack times
Once bedtimes have been set and it feels normal to get your kids (and you!) in bed at about the same time every night, then work on being really consistent with meals and snack times.
Simplify meal planning as much as possible. You might consider a meal planning service (I’m trying out Real Plans right now)
Just like with your bedtime routine, work your way backwards.
What times do you want to eat? Do you want 3 big meals and 2 snacks? Six small meals?
Jot down the times you’d like to eat, then look at it from a bird’s eye view. Are lunch and afternoon snack too close together? Are there 7 hours between lunch and dinner with no snack time?
Adjust until you have what is a reasonable schedule for meals.
You’re not done yet, though. In order to get meals on the table, some preparation is usually involved.
How long does it usually take you to cook a meal? (or how long does it take the delivery guy to get your order to you? I don’t judge)
If getting dinner on the table usually takes you 30 minutes and you want to serve dinner at 6:30, you know you need to start it no later than 6 PM.
Likewise, if it takes you an hour to cook dinner and you want to eat at 5PM, you would know you need to start at 4.
This will take a little while to get used to, so consider setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to get dinner going.
If you’re going to be out of the house that evening, think about using a crockpot so you don’t have to do meal prep, or maybe plan to eat out that night.
Make a list of easy snacks that you can keep on hand so snack times are relaxed.
Step 3: Add a Morning Routine
It’s been a few weeks or a few months and you have consistent sleeping and eating times. Moods are happier and more even, and things feel less hectic around the house.
Let’s expand out a bit, and continue with our forward progression.
How about making mornings easier?
You have to do the same things every morning — make bed, get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair, eat breakfast. You may want to add a meditation or spiritual time to start off your day, too.
If mornings make you frazzled, then work on bringing rhythm to these times, too.
If you feel like you’re constantly yelling at the kids to keep them moving, consider making a music track like this one for your family. I’ve used it for years, and while I wouldn’t necessarily buy it again (it is expensive!) it does its job and worked wonders.
Work on building habits for your kids’ morning routine, one step at a time. (For more on building habits, read this post on habit training)
Step 4: Make a Weekly Rhythm
Once your morning and evening routines are solid and you’re eating at regular times, your days should feel much more manageable.
Let’s take our focus off of the daily and now work on a weekly rhythm.
We don’t need to have something scheduled every day, but having a weekly rhythm reduces a lot of whining.
If the kids know that every Friday is park day, or every Thursday afternoon you’ll go to the pool, it makes it so they’re not asking every. single. day.
You can do this with home activities, too.
Tuesday might be painting or watercolor. Wednesday drawing. Thursday an adventure.
Again, just start out with one thing, and then add in another once that’s easy and “just what we do”.
Step 5: Make a Cleaning Schedule
For at least a hundred years and probably much longer, the heart of housework was a weekly routine that assigned each of the major housekeeping chores to one day of the week. You see variants of the routine, but in my childhood people did washing (laundering) on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, sewing on Wednesday, marketing on Thursday, cleaning on Friday, and baking on Saturday. Sunday was the day of rest. For those of us who can remember the universality with which this system was followed through the mid-1960s, or even later in some areas, the speed and totality of its disappearance are breathtaking.
— Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts
Let’s get a handle on the cleaning now.
You can either create your own daily and weekly cleaning list (keep it simple, guys!) or use a system like Flylady or Motivated Moms (use coupon code juniper for $3 off your first year!).
I’ve used Motivated Moms as my cleaning schedule for years, and it’s how I keep my house (reasonably) clean.
Yes, I fall off the wagon
periodically frequently (ahem), but it’s easy to jump back on.
I use the Clean My House Planner from Motivated Moms because it only has tasks to keep my house clean. Other versions have daily Bible readings, or things like “refill prescriptions” “pay bills” and “check your credit report”.
I need simple and focused or I get overwhelmed.
Final Step: Whatever Else You Want
At this point you are several months into a rhythm, perhaps it’s even been an entire year since you started.
It’s ok. We all go at our own pace.
Now it’s time for you to fly on your own.
You can add whatever you’d like to your rhythm at this point.
If at any time you feel overwhelmed, back up a step and get that one solid before you try to move on again.
Two steps forward, one step back. Progress isn’t all forward.
There will be backsliding, and sometimes you’ll feel like throwing in the towel completely.
Just back up, take a deep breath, and start again.
Each day is a new day. Each afternoon even is new.
Having a healthy home rhythm will make every day easier.
Where are you in your journey to creating a home rhythm? Where are you getting stuck? Let me know in the comments so we can brainstorm ways to get you out of that stuck place.