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Who Needs Routine Anyway?
Babies love routine, or so I’ve been told. For a while I did my best to prove it’s not necessary. My husband and I love changing our surroundings a few times per year, and there was just no way a baby would stop us. We watched in shock how one of our friends had to be at home everyday at 8pm to put his daughter to sleep with absolutely no exceptions. Maybe he had to be there, but it couldn’t possibly be us.
We went on our first RV trip together when our baby girl was 5 months old. To my surprise she didn’t seem to care about the changing landscapes, people and schedules. As long as I was always nearby and could breastfeed her whenever asked, she didn’t care if she was hiking in the mountains, picnicking with her uncles, or walking around a small village in the middle of nowhere. Her mom and especially certain parts of her were her sense of comfort, safety, and feeling at home.
Every few months we went on a trip like this, and all of them were amazing. We could be snowboarding in the Alps one day, and then sitting on a sunny beach two weeks later. Sun or rain, nature or museums, playgrounds or improvised climbing structures, this or another camper park, our kid was dealing with all the uncertainty relatively well as long as she could always ask for milk at any time of the day or night she wanted to.
Isn’t this how our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived for the most of the human history? I don’t suspect they had a fixed routine or anything resembling a stable home. For their babies the sense of safety, homeliness, and stability came from being held in their mother’s arms all the time, just like it should be. The only reason we’re recommending all these elaborate routine is because babies can’t be with their moms all the time - and they’d definitely prefer to do so if they could.
Well, after a few weeks of being my daughter’s entire sense of home and stability I slowly began to grow tired of it. She needed the comfort of breastfeeding more and more, and woke up more frequently at night. We were both tired, my husband was working, and there was no one else that could stay with her even for a second. Maybe our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t have stable homes, but they certainly didn’t travel as nuclear families. Being our daughter’s whole world can be fun for a week or two, but is definitely not a sustainable way to live. It takes a village to raise a kid, and it’s hard to find one when you’re hopping from one place to the next all the time.
We somehow made it without anything resembling a stable routine for one and half years. It was only possible because at least one of us was not working professionally for that whole time. As soon as I came back to work our kid’s sense of safety got disrupted, and it wasn’t easy for her to adapt to daycare and a consistent daily schedule. She couldn’t even rely on me when coming back home, as I often had work calls in the evening. On more than one occasion she fell asleep in my arms while I was on a Zoom call, which wasn’t too conductive to building a good bedtime routine. She’d often wake up several times at night, complain during the day, and get sick a lot. I always wanted more kids, but I just couldn’t imagine adding all the joys of pregnancy on top of it all.
I didn’t mind breastfeeding at night when I wasn’t working. But as soon as I had to have two functioning braincells during the day every day, I realized there’s no way I could possibly keep doing that and still function. Even without a job, there’s just no way I could keep going like this while pregnant with another kid, or taking care of a newborn. Pregnancies and newborns are challenging enough without an older kid’s bedtime woes added on top of that.
Now we’re trying to create the structure and routines we should have set up long ago. It’s been 3 months since I weaned her, and 2 months since she’s sleeping in her own room, and we’re still struggling to sleep comfortably through the night. There might be progress in one week, then we’re back to where we started as soon as there’s a new tooth on the way, we travel somewhere, or one of us gets sick. The most I got so far was three uninterrupted nights in a row. If someone told me in the past I’d go for more than two years without this much uninterrupted sleep at once, I’d probably think it would drive me totally crazy. After the fourth night of waking up every hour or two, I’m kinda beginning to think this way too.
Why is my daughter waking up so often? She’s cheerful and full of energy during the day, unlike her mom who can’t seem to keep up with her no matter how hard she tries. Is it all because I went to a party last Friday instead of spending the evening with her and putting her to bed like I always do? I’m scared to ever go out in the evening again for any reason, lest it ruins our sleep for a few more days again. Could this be the reason that our friend always came back home before 8pm no matter what?
But even if I completely give up on parties, concerts, and social life, there’s still no way our every evening can look exactly the same. Sometimes she gets sick, sometimes her dad goes on a business trip, sometimes we visit her grandparents, or all go on a trip together. Without breastfeeding to comfort her in every circumstance, how are we going to deal with all these changes now?
The last few times we visited my parents we were sick for the whole time. I thought that was because it was the only time I could afford to get sick and still be taken care of, now I’m beginning to wonder if this disruption to our usual routines could also play a part? My husband is going to New York in 2.5 weeks and I still have no idea what I’m going to do, it’s hard enough for me to get her dressed and out of the door in the morning even when he’s around. We’re going on our next extended trip in May, and as much as I’ve been looking forward to it for months I’m already a little bit scared. I know it’s all exhaustion speaking, and that all of these fears will look ridiculous after a good night’s sleep, but what if that good night doesn’t come today, or tomorrow, or at all for this whole week?
I was never good at building habits for myself, but doing this with a toddler seems infinitely harder. I’ve heard babies as young as 6 months are capable of sleeping through the night all on their own, but it sounds like a story out of a fairy tale. Would my own baby sleep better if we started building these routines earlier? Is there any hope for us already at this stage?
I’m sure there is a way that my sleep-deprived brain just can’t see. Right now all I can think of is surviving and not letting laundry or dishes spiral out of control. But if I’ve made it this far without three good nights in a row for more than two years, I’m definitely capable of more than I ever thought was possible. One day all my kids will be weaned and out of diapers, and there’s no force in the world that could possibly stop me then.
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