Why your baby’s routine will drive you slightly crazy

A routine can, of course, send you quite potty – despite it being taken up with aplomb, most often by people hoping to ward off the madness of uncertainty.

I found, from day one, having to police daytime naps deeply annoying. Settling a baby in to its cot, listening to it fuss about while it nods off and then tending the monitor like Gollum over his ring, warding off loud bangs, sudden changes in temperature, curious visiting children, clumsy adults, boisterous garden activity and doorbells. If nothing disturbs the sacred slumber you still have to go upstairs once naptime is over and do an awful thing, which is to wake a sleeping baby.

I’ve never had the confidence to just let a baby, over the age of about six months, to just nut out for as long as it wanted

It sleeps, the little tiny thing. Maybe a small foot poking out from under a blanket. Round cheeks, pinked, eyelashes fluttering to the cheek, first curls turning, sweet milky breath coming in tiny puffs from pink pristine mouth, clear drool damping the mattress. Nothing cuter!

Nothing worse than waking it up and ruining everything!

There are many people who think that you should never, ever wake a sleeping baby and I am very sympathetic to that idea. In fact, all the anecdotal evidence that I have gathered points to the fact that if you don’t allow your babies to sleep as much as they want during the day, it makes them sleep less well at night.

But I’ve never had the confidence to just let a baby, over the age of about six months, to just nut out for as long as it wanted. ‘IT WON’T SLEEP TONIGHT!’ screams the madwoman in the attic of my head.

The groundhog day-ness of a routine – same thing, day in, day out – can send even the most order-loving neurotic nuts because, if a routine works for you, you get stuck in a rut and forget two things:

a) There are always going to be off days, or off naps, or times when the whole fucking thing collapses to shit – but it doesn’t mean it’s for ever. You just start again the next morning same as before and, nine times out of ten, your kid will do what you want it to.

b) Your baby is a human and not a robot. That sounds like a mad thing to say, but when you are a routine freak that can go amiss. A true routine freak will listen to critics of routines who say ‘Babies are not robots’ and think, smugly: ‘Yes, but mine is.’

So inevitably as you stand outside the nursery as your child sings and claps in its cot when it was supposed to be asleep forty-five minutes ago, or when the baby wakes up after only an hour of its lunchtime nap you will think ‘… but I did everything right! What the hell is going on?’ And because your God is the clock and Gina is Jesus Christ and you have adopted a routine specifically because you don’t want to have to think outside the box, you can only assume that it’s because you’ve done something wrong.

It takes a second child for you to realise that it’s not you – it’s them.

So the lesson to take from this is that your first child, if not all your children, will send you a tiny bit mental no matter what you do – breastfeed or not, nanny or not, routine or not – so the thing to do is pick what you reckon comes most naturally to you, choose a style of living with your child that you find the least stressful. Be yourself! Easier said …

I think Gina Ford herself would be a bit weirded out by how uptight I was about a routine. I only understood with my second child, Sam, that naps can be taken on the fly and if they wake up an hour early or won’t do their morning nap one day, it doesn’t mean a thing.

They’ll do it all just how you want it the next day. Probably.

But I also learned with Sam even more than with Kitty that I don’t want to do naps on the fly, I don’t want to be out and about.

I want to go out in the morning and then come home to recuperate and then maybe adventure out briefly in the afternoon. Neither my routine nor my kids were my jailer. In the end a routine turned out to be – truly, as I had hoped it would be – my saviour.

The only person keeping me in a gilded cage was me. And once I realised that, I found it was easier to let go a bit. I said a bit.

This extract is taken from Esther Walker’s new book Bad Mother. If you can’t wait for the next installment, buy and download the whole book here

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