July 10, 2015

Structure—Who Needs it?

calendar planning schedule structure

Twenty-seven years ago as a semi-hippie-wanna-be-earth-mama, I gave birth to my first born.

As many of my generation and elephant journal readers will relate to, I eschewed the concept of structure.

There was no way I was putting my baby on the common and strict every four hour feeding schedule: I would nurse her on demand. Our walks outside wouldn’t be the same time every day: we’d explore nature at varying times, when the mood struck.

And so forth.

Structure felt like another word for “the man,” “establishment,” “authority”— a host of entities many of us attempt to turn our backs on so we can walk on some perceived higher ground.

Visualize this new mother in her white eyelet nightgown, awake and nursing her young baby multiple times during the chilly winter night. The final time she sits in the old fashioned wooden rocker, snuggling her gorgeous baby to her breast, a lovely soft angora throw around her chilled shoulders, bare feet feeling the cold hardwood floors beneath her and trying not to let the rocker creak so her partner might sleep uninterrupted.

Yes, that was the semi-painless and ever so lovely scene I had imagined in my mind’s eye but roll that scene on a bit further and include the edits on the cutting room floor—every time I put the baby down she cries and having read up on attachment parenting there is no way leaving that innocent being to “cry it out” could be humane.

No one told me about the physical cringe I would feel at the sound of my baby crying—as if, very deep inside, it was physically piercing my heart.

So I rocked. And I rocked. And I rocked.

And sometimes I dozed and startled myself awake, panicked at the thought I could have dropped my baby if I’d actually fallen well and truly asleep.

The alarm sounds.

My partner is up getting ready for work.

I’m wandering around in my rumpled gown, eyes puffy, hair askew, a bit stinky (because when had I been able to put the baby down long enough for a shower?) and I’m feeling a bit of panic about the day ahead—it’s feeling ever so empty but with so many important boxes that must be ticked.

What the day ahead turns into is no picnic—a repeated cycle of attempting to get the baby to sleep, between feeds, so we can then both have some rest and move forward towards a “normal” day in a meaningful way.

But that never happens.

By 4pm I’m rushing to throw some sweats on so Daddy doesn’t find me still in my nightgown when he gets home from work.

Life has rained down many lessons since those early days of parenting: degrees, work experience, giving birth to three more children and co-parenting a total of nine.

What I’ve discovered?

Humans crave structure for optimal survival like a bee craves nectar.

Duncan Garner just wrote this opinion piece on the topic. The piece is about his wife craving the return to the structure of work life and how the lack of structure involved in her stint as a stay at home mom is not optimal.

Garner refers to the collective sigh of parents when children return to school, but the reality is that it’s not that we all want to see less of our children—it’s that we crave the structure the return to school brings. In this day and age, we are not only talking about the structure dilemma affecting stay-at-home-moms—any parent may be staying at home.

The memo this new mom didn’t get that would have been helpful would have said something like this—

Dear new mom, 

Be gentle with yourself. It’s okay if you are in your pajamas all day, but it’s also okay to move on with your day and make it feel more normal, even if you and your baby haven’t had a great night sleep.

“Normal” will never feel the same to you again, but little bits of structure in your routine might give you an anchor to hold onto during the more difficult times— and a walk outside is always medicine for you and your baby.

Every night choose two or three enriching and enjoyable activities that you are going to do for your little one or yourself the next day and strive to make time for them to happen.

Stay away from the words “structure” or “schedule” and wrap yourself around the concept of a “conscious predictable routine.” Predictability not only provides a sense of security for babes and children but for the adults in their lives.

And don’t forget the wise words: sleep when your baby sleeps.

And honey, put self-care on your list of things to do and make an action plan to carry it out. Alone. Enlist your partner to give you an hour or two break in the evening. Ask a neighbor if they can come over while your baby naps so that you can do something for yourself.

Love and see you again soon,

~Your sanity

I eventually learned that a routine of getting up, nursing, clean up, a morning walk outside, with naps no more than a couple hours apart from each other (per the very wise sleep experts) was actually an okay plan during that first year of having a new baby. It would give me an idea of what was in store for me each day rather than aimlessly wandering, not sure what we would do next and being side-tracked by the more mundane home-tasks or chasing the ever-evasive nap-time.

Insert tummy time and floor time, reading, a long relaxing bath and massage for baby and you are virtually functioning like Super Nanny.

Since parenting is the most unpredictable (read: stress-full) job we will ever have, it is important to find some middle ground with routines and structure.

In this era of more awareness about mindfulness, conscious living is really what it’s about.

We can be awake and conscious to our choices and when structure needs to play a more significant part in our lives.

We can consciously choose the flow we want to have in our days.

Sometimes we forget that the way we live our life is a choice and structure can be called on to remind us.






Author: Becky Aud-Jennison

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Lindsey Turner at Flickr 

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Becky Aud-Jennison