10 Reasons We’re A Zero Routine Family

Photo: Amanda Lee

I’ve written about having no routine before prompted by Sonny’s awful sleep and a gnawing sense of self-doubt that I was doing something wrong. I questioned if he’d sleep better with a routine, and I became paranoid that there was this ‘thing’ that so many other mums seemed to be doing that I should be doing too. I thought long and hard – but if I’m honest, I knew routine and doing things by a ‘clock’ were and will never be for us. And here’s 10 reasons why in my heart of hearts, I’m more than OK with that:

1. I want our kids to work around us

I think this is really the crux of our zero routine lifestyle. You see, we started having children years before any of our friends and as if having a baby doesn’t change your life enough already, I didn’t (and still don’t want) to be that person who ‘disappears’ when they become a parent or stops having fun as we knew it before. So whilst our friends were still having all night house parties and living it up at festivals, we didn’t want to have to wave goodbye to that part of our lives. It began when my best friend had her 30th birthday days after Jack was born which I didn’t want to not attend, and it went from there really.

All our friends watching a big football game in the pub? Sure, we’ll come, but we might just have a kid sleeping at our feet and a baby on my knee.

All our friends watching a big football game in the pub? Sure, we’ll come, but we might just have a kid sleeping at our feet and a baby on my knee. Weddings, pub lunches, dinner parties – as much as possible, we did it all. Now with two, I have to say it is different. (Pushing two kids to sleep in the back garden whilst the house party going on inside wouldn’t be the best look. I already felt a bit awkward with the one). But our philosophy is still the same: we want our kids to work around us and our plans, it’s as simple as that.

2. I like to follow my kids’ lead

Because there’s no clock watching, I feel like I know my kids’ signals really well. The minute Jacks asks to watch TV means he’s tired; when Sonny clenches his fists or rubs his eyes, he’s ready for a sleep.

Photo: Ariel Majtas

3. I live for the spontaneity

The idea of the kids napping and eating at the same time every day – rather than bringing me a sense of calm which I totally understand it does for some people – actually sends me into a bit of a panic. For me personally – and this is all so personal – I would find it monotonous and take much of what I love about motherhood out of the picture. Every day is so different. Call me a weirdo, but I kind of like not knowing when they will nap; I like wondering where and what they will eat any certain day. I loved our spontaneous family nap in the car this afternoon, I love deciding we’re all going to skip breakfast and go out for brunch instead, I love giving the kids a late dinner quickly in the bath. Most of all, I love the spontaneity.

4.The world is our oyster

I don’t like the idea of being ‘confined’ by a kids routines. If someone invites us out or if we fancy staying out late with the kids or doing a big trip away, we are never restricted by timings (or time zones). I like to think that we are ‘YES’ parents.

There is somewhere floating around an idea that you are doing your children some harm or not being a good parent if your kids don’t have a routine.

5. It creates flexible kids

There is somewhere floating around an idea that you are doing your children some harm or not being a good parent if your kids don’t have a routine. Some people think that children “need” one, and that it’s good for them. In my (very humble) opinion, not having a routine is good for children; I think it makes them flexible and mature. So for example, Jack (and Sonny to a lesser degree) copes fine not eating breakfast until 10am (he may get a little hangry – but don’t we all?!), he could stay up til 10pm if we are out for dinner and essentially, behave like the mini adult that he is a lot of the time.

Photo: Yasmin Anne

6. I’m way too disorganised

I understand how playdates can be arranged around your children’s timings but what about immutable things? That doctor’s appointment slap bang in the middle of nap time with nothing else available until next month? A birthday tea that edges into bath time but they’re yet to cut the cake? Small details but I know I’d find these are things hard to navigate.

7. The shit storms are a challenge – which I weirdly enjoy

Yes, having zero routine means that things do definitely go wrong. Kids getting over tired is probably our most common problem – but doesn’t this happen to kids with routines? And even when things do go wrong, they are a challenge which I sort of weirdly enjoy, or at least learn something from.

8. Kids aren’t machines (adults aren’t either…)

I remember one morning, after noting down the previous day the time that Jack had napped, on seeing that time come around the next day thinking AHA, THIS IS IT – this is nap time! And so off I went to put him in his bouncer. And after sitting there for 25 minutes bouncing the poor kid, hushing him, carrying him, until I just thought – hang on – maybe he’s not tired. Maybe he was tired this time yesterday, but today for all sorts of reasons he’s just not tired today. I took him out the chair, gave him a snack and off out we went for a walk in the carrier which he loved and was stimulated by and sure enough, around 45 minutes later, he dropped off.

He definitely wasn’t ready for a sleep when I’d tried to put him to sleep. And I know this was only the one day but I had the same realisation on the food front. Maybe he was really hungry yesterday at a certain time but today he’s not. There are definitely days I feel more alert than others, days when I’m not so hungry and days where for whatever reason, I need all the food in the fridge. Adults don’t do the same thing everyday so why should children?

There are definitely days I feel more alert than others, days when I’m not so hungry and days where for whatever reason, I need all the food in the fridge. Adults don’t do the same thing everyday so why should children?

Photo: Ariel Majtas

9. Life doesn’t have to change (entirely) when you have kids

Just because we’re parents does not mean we are JUST parents. I touched on this earlier and of course life does change but not revolving our lives around our kids’ routines makes us feel quite ‘free’ as people still. It might sound awful but sometimes I feel like Sam and I are getting on with life and our kids are coming along for the ride (and making it ten million times better, of course!) As you can imagine, I am a big believe in the mantra – “happy parents, happy baby”.

10. Routine can take the fun out of parenting (for me)

In my opinion, parenting should be as fun and positive an experience as possible – so do whatever will get you to that place. For me, that means forgetting what time it is, living for and *in* the moment as much as possible and doing what makes US (the parents) as happy as possible (we’re taking them backpacking around Cambodia and Vietnam next year and I could not be more excited!)

Don’t get me wrong, there are times our way of doing things goes totally tits up: I always say that being a non-routine based approach works awesomely for us 80% of the time; the other 20% not so much – but then, isn’t that also just parenthood? There are times when you’ve woken your baby up one too many times from their nap and they become irate. There are times when your toddler naps before he’s eaten so he wakes up at 3pm, really hungry and you’ve just left the house cue dashing to the nearest corner shop for a banana and yoghurt.

Photo: Yasmin Anne

The overriding result is that apart from us leading lives as close as I could-ever-have-dreamt-of pre kids, I think we have a lot fun as a family, know our kids’ signals extremely well and have made them into flexible and on the whole, well behaved people. They slot into the rhythm of wherever they are; whether that’s nursery, grandparents or a play date with another toddler. I do believe they just goes with the flow which is something I’m really happy about and proud of them for.

A common argument for having a routine is so that you know when you’re going to get things done. I do understand this, but unless you have deadlines to hit at the end of each day, or a time of the day you HAVE to be on a work call (though when I have those I just stick the kids in front of the TV), I continue safe in the knowledge that I *will* get some time to myself when one of them naps, or plays.

How do you do things in your family? What works for you? What’s your family’s rhythm?

Emma x

P.S A Slow Day In The Life (we did tie dye!) and My Cloth Nappy Routine

33 Comments

  1. Alaa
    August 29, 2020 / 11:34 pm

    I tried so hard to create a routine, I set eating times, nap times, reading time, play time, quiet time, etc..
    But, when my phone rang for thr fixed wake up time on weekends, I found no motivation to wake up since my daughter is asleep! Wasn’t this her supposedly normal wake up time? I don’t know.. She always liked waking up at 8 since she was baby, and this wake up at 6 thing is as much torture for her as for me on work days.
    I tried for several days, we’d never have meals when the calender says so, nor would she be into rough play when i scheduled it on calender, and she wasn’t interested in nap when I assumed it’s perfect nap time. I ended up with an alarm goung every hour or so, but we did nothing on schedule. I felt like a failure. I just can’t be that parent who leaves early even on weekends just to keep a schedule fixed, I’d end up depressed.. So, I have to accept the fact that I am a routine free parent 🙂

  2. Sarah
    August 13, 2020 / 7:38 am

    Thank you so much for this! With my son we never had too much of a routine but just make sure he goes to bed around the same time and he gets up in the morning at the same time. I have been doubting myself recently thinking should I of been stricter but at the same time a strict routine wouldn’t work with our lifestyle. We go out lots of days out, weekends away and I wouldn’t like to be kept to a certain time for him having naps and snack times etc. I totally agree with you in thinking flexibility is good for them! Thank you for this. Sarah xx

    who is 2 1/2 and my daughter is two month.

  3. Emily
    July 8, 2020 / 7:51 pm

    We started off when I had my first with no routine and honestly, she just never gave me any tired cues, she cat napped, she was miserable, I was miserable. As soon as we started to structure her day she was a much happier baby and I was a much happier mummy. I do get where you’re coming from though. But I would say the routine gives me freedom in the sense I know she’s going to be in bed by 7 and she sleeps through so I can go and meet my friends for the evening and not worry. Whereas if I didn’t know when her bedtime was it would make it impossible to make plans with people. But equally, we have had doctors appointments in the middle of nap time and yes it does mess things up a little. But it’s one day usually. Like you say about it working 80% of the time. That’s how I feel about our routine. I think everyone just needs to do what works for them. You say adults don’t do things at the same time, but I actually do have a pretty structured day myself, even before I had kids I used to wake up at the same time everyday even on weekends. I’m clearly a routine person and so are my kids but not everyone is so I do appreciate that!

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      July 12, 2020 / 9:11 pm

      i massively hear you emily. every parent – and person – has such a distinct set up and has to do what they’re called to do… 80/20 is pretty good going for both of us i feel! lots of love and thanks for taking the time to read x

  4. Laura
    July 8, 2020 / 3:38 pm

    So interesting reading this because I so wanted to be a no routine parent but it just didn’t work for my son. He’s 2 1/2 and he operates like clockwork, wakes at 5:45am, naps at 12, asleep by 7pm and if I try and change it, it’s torture for him. he becomes inconsolable. plus side he’ll eat anything at any time of day so I can at least be flexible with that. But yeah I think it’s definitely about doing what works for you all and a no routine day just didn’t work for my son, unfortunately.

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      July 12, 2020 / 9:12 pm

      so interesting. and gosh, i wish mine were fast asleep by 7!? they do wake late though… everyone has such different ways of doing it, all of them fascinating xxx

  5. Poonam
    June 19, 2020 / 2:04 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you for sharing this! Phewwww… I am mother of 6 month old baby girl… Struggling between the advice of ‘setting a routine’ and intuition of not having one. I was somehow not able to express it perfectly… You have done it. Baby should become part of our lives rather than we going crazy about setting routines and everything around her nap times. Life has to become fuller with a baby, not rigid, right? Reading your article has given me the confidence to follow my intuition. Thank you

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      June 20, 2020 / 7:16 pm

      hey poonam – so glad this post resonated with you and absolutely agree with you regarding little ones being part of our lives, bringing joy to them. Keep being you, your little one is a lucky little girl! Emma x

  6. Mwiza Nyasa
    June 1, 2020 / 10:33 pm

    I love this is find routines hard and it makes me feel like a failure when my toddler doesnt ” do as the routine said she should be doing” for her age etc this is reassuring

  7. FTM
    April 6, 2020 / 9:03 pm

    I am so happy reading this – I’m a FTM with a 2 month baby girl and today I broke down. This routine kills me, me and my husband were never early birds, in fact with work we even get up at 11 or 12. Our baby got into this habit and half the time I wonder if she’s overtired or what. She smiles, she’s gaining weight and is such a sweet girl. I keep feeling like we were messing her up with not having a routine but reading this made me feel 10x better. I hate routines, always have. We go with the flow and I hope it all works outs! Thanks

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      May 22, 2020 / 10:01 am

      hi! your girl sounds like she is doing just wonderfully. you guys KNOW BEST, and are using your intuition as people and parents. keep doing you! all the best and thanks for reading the post ! x x

  8. Ankita Bhatia
    June 13, 2019 / 4:56 pm

    Thank God, I finally read a post from a mother who resonates with me so well. I am a stay at home Mom and my husband works afternoon shifts due to which he come home very late. We have never slept early as a couple, were basically night owls and after having a baby nothing changed for us as well. I am used to sleep late and hence can’t wake up early. My loving 6 months old daughter no matter what time she sleeps, doesn’t get up before I do(she sleeps in the same bed as us). This has made her routine quite similar to ours where she would not sleep until 11-12 at night and wake up at 12 at noon with me. She has two naps in a day and is a very happy and healthy baby. I just got you when you said about raising kids around the routine what works for you. I constantly used to stress about how I don’t wake my kid up at 8 and follow the routine like in the videos. But now I am at peace. Thank you!

  9. Sarah
    January 18, 2019 / 2:42 pm

    I would like to have a more loose routine but I have a few questions. So your husband gets up early and leaves for work? Do your kids go to sleep too late? My husband has to get up really early for work and I’m about to start a full time job. I put our kids to bed usually around the same time every night. Can a no bed time routine work for 2 parents who may have to wake up really early for work? I was just on maternity leave and I still felt like the kids had to in bed at a certain hour so that my husband won’t get disturbed.

  10. Helen G
    December 3, 2018 / 6:57 pm

    This was a really interesting read. I have to say we love our routine, but if one day we do something that means we don’t stick to it then that’s no big deal. My son is 15months now and fell into his routine completely by his own natural rhythms, we work more by how long he’s been awake than on specific times, e.g. he is always ready for a nap around 2 hours after waking. When he was tiny I remember my Mum saying to just be on ‘Baby time’ for a while, not to stress about routines and the clock, and just accept that things might be crazy for a while but they would settle when he was ready. She was right (mum’s usually are haha)

  11. Dace
    December 3, 2018 / 5:12 pm

    Following Emma for some time, I was starting to feel like, why can’t I have zero plans day? Should I have a zero plans day? I like routine and sometimes very dislike it, but a certain structure to the day and especially bedtime routine seems to keep me afloat to all the things that need to be done.
    I think we all function differently and we have to find what works best for us. It’s quite hard. (If you feel like being free spirit hippie, but actually are not ?)

  12. Emily Evans
    December 2, 2018 / 10:18 pm

    I never comment on posts but this one has resonated with me. I’m a first time mum with a 9 month old who has never seemed to have clicked into a routine. Having tried just about everything and wasting far too many hours stressing about it, more recently I found myself wondering if a routine was really a solution at all. And now I’ve found this post which coukd not have been more perfect.
    As someone who isn’t a particular fan of routine as it is, I’m starting to respect the fact that maybe my daughter is the same way. Your post has reassured me that I’m not a bad mother, just trying an alternative method! Thank you

  13. Sara Miles
    August 22, 2018 / 12:02 pm

    Hey,
    That was a very interesting post – i wish i had read it when i first had the baby :). I read all the routine advice, listen to my mum friends who all had a routine sorted and the baby sleeping through the night… when my lovely little baby napped randomly during the day and woke up every 2hrs at night. Then I read somewhere (can’t remember where or who said it): “Don’t look at the clock, look at the baby”. It was like a revelation.
    I let go of my plans, and just let the baby do what she wanted (within reason :)) for a week. She found her own routine.
    And what i also learned is that the routine of a 8 months old is totally different to the routine of a 16th month old. So although we do have a routine, it often changes (hum, does that even count as a routine, i’m not sure).
    We do have to respect bed time though; otherwise baby goes crazy – but i think that’s just her personality.

    Thanks for the post and for sharing.

    x

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      October 9, 2018 / 12:42 pm

      ah im so glad this post resonated and absolutely, that saying is SPOT ON. take care of you and your brood. lots of love xxx

  14. Esther
    July 21, 2018 / 9:13 pm

    My husband’s Chinese, and I’ve learnt in most asian cultures they don’t have routines for kids either. No bedtimes or naptimes, they let kids drop when they’re tired. I’m excited to try this if we have kids in the future. Love your blog!

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      July 29, 2018 / 8:49 pm

      so interesting re China – love hearing about different countries’ cultures. and thanks!

  15. July 2, 2018 / 4:36 am

    I LOVE this post! Thank you for sharing. I had a hunch that the “Kids Need Routine” bit was overdone, but its EVERYWHERE. The more kids I have, the less routine we have, and I just can’t see us going back. Too many things happen – toddlers are crazy one day or my husband works from home randomly and we have the car, so off we go to a museum to take advantage of it. Flexibility is a really important trait, and I think we want kids to be that way, and then frown at them when they aren’t (but we’ve been giving them their “routine” 24/7, so the times the routine is thrown off, they go crazy – um, duh!). I always love reading posts like this because it makes me sigh with relief that it’s ok to the beat of a different drum.

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      July 2, 2018 / 10:24 pm

      totally agree! flexibility is key and something i’m so pleased (and proud) my kids have. also, being spontaneous is just so much more fun! thanks for reading and for commenting june x x

  16. Valentina Buchanan
    March 14, 2018 / 10:03 pm

    This has made me feel so much better – thank you! My 8 month old son is not a big napper (30 mins at a time between 2-3 times a day) and as if guilt and self doubt weren’t strong enough as a first time mum, I’ve had so many mums be shocked by this and claim I need to teach him to nap longer at certain times. It’s made me anxious about and way too focused on it. Ultimately he is very happy, giggly, healthy and thriving so I guess that’s all that matters! Thank you! Xx

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      March 16, 2018 / 1:21 am

      hey valentina! totally! do whatever it is that works for YOU and for HIM – don’t worry about the ‘shoulds.’, honestly. thanks for reading and for being here x x

  17. December 29, 2016 / 12:14 pm

    Really thought-provoking post. I think motherhood and parenting needs to be naturalised and normalised more (having kids doesn’t mean life has to stop being fun) and with young kids and babies, it can be quite a liberating time, especially as it’s easier to go out for dinner with a baby over a toddler etc.. Once kids start school though, routine is enforced and I’ve found it really positive to be honest, knowing roughly when we’ll eat and have bath and bedtime, it gives us all structure as a family and ultimately and somewhat ironically, more freedom, as I write better on an evening and know I’ll have x amount of hours to crack on with my book etc once they’re asleep. I agree wholeheartedly that I don’t think lives have to be compromised when kids come along as long as their needs are met as your kids’ are. Like everything in life, it’s about making choices that are right for each individual x

    • emmaross
      Author
      December 29, 2016 / 9:25 pm

      hey lovely! yes, totally can understand that once school starts, a routine would naturally evolve, and do know what you mean about routine ironically giving you freedom – i do get that. really interesting to hear your view point and thanks for reading 🙂

  18. December 21, 2016 / 11:25 am

    I LOVE this post so much! I’m 6 months pregnant (it’s my first) and all of my friends with kids are very much ‘routine’ types. But the thought of it has completely terrified me, because I’m a travel writer so…..I need to travel! I totally believe kids should fit into my routine, so I’m super happy a friend introduced me to you as now I have found someone I can look to for inspiration!

    Merry Christmas 🙂

    • emmaross
      Author
      December 21, 2016 / 2:07 pm

      ah hey Lucy 🙂 so pleased your friend sent you this way! we are *all* about going with the flow, eshewing routine, having fun and TRAVEL! are you planning any adventures with your babe? can highly recommend! hope you are feeling well (not long to go now!) and thanks so much for reading !

  19. Jess
    December 20, 2016 / 10:25 am

    I love this!Ivy is 7 months old and family members keep banging on about setting her into a routine which I’m really not feeling. We said before having her that the baby had to fit in around us and we would take her whereever we go and we have! I know I can take her traveling or camping and she will be absolutely fine. If she gets tired she naps or hungry she feeds. She will quite happily stay up till midnight and lay in till lunch time. Sometimes I feel maybe there is something I’m not doing that other mums are doing so the blog is so refreshing to know we aren’t the only ones who are rebelling a routine!! Xxx

    • emmaross
      Author
      December 21, 2016 / 2:08 pm

      ah hey Jess 🙂 Ivy sounds like a little superstar and you sound like super relaxed, happy parents. If you dont want a routine, I know it can feel weird as everyone else is doing one, forget it, keep going with the flow (and camping and travelling – amazing!) and have fun i say ! thanks so much for reading ! x

  20. Amanda
    December 18, 2016 / 12:34 am

    A routine can be as simple as knowing your baby needs to eat roughly every 3 hours and have 2-3 naps a day and making an effort to make that happen. I don’t know of anyone who enforces a routine to the point that they miss social events or don’t leave the house when they want. It’s more about paying attention to what your baby generally does and using that to second guess what they need throughout the day since babies aren’t perfect communicators. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Humans are creatures of habit though, even if we like to think we’re so spontaneous.

    • emmaross
      Author
      December 21, 2016 / 2:10 pm

      hey amanda! thanks for reading and for your comment and YES i totally agree – its all about knowing what their needs are and for responding. you sound like you are doing a stella job x x

  21. Amanda
    December 18, 2016 / 12:25 am

    A routine can be as simple as knowing your baby needs to eat roughly every 3 hours and have 2-3 naps a day and making an effort to make that happen. I don’t know if anyone who enforces a routine to the point that they

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