If I had a dime for every time someone told me that kids like routine...well, I'd at least have enough for a latte. We do find that the parts of our days that follow a predictable pattern tend to go well. Even the glitches get predictable, and so easily overcome.
We've been taking a free class for adoptive parents, taught by a therapist with 14 kids, most of whom are adopted. She talks a lot about how she raised the first seven, compared to the last seven, when they had actually figured out what they were doing. The class has given us several ideas about adding to our routine. With a three day weekend here, we pulled together a few elements and are trying it out. We got Linden to bed a half hour earlier than usual (our goal is a full hour), so something went right.
Step one is reinstating kitchen help. We'd had that going last fall, then Oak started wrestling 3 nights a week, I went back to work, and it started to feel like more trouble than it was worth. Tonight Oak helped with dinner, and Linden with dishes. They'll swap each night, with Fridays off. Helping with dinner means making salad, setting the table, and any other tasks designated by the cooking parent. They like the power of being the salad maker (Oak used minimal lettuce, unpeeled cucumbers, no bell pepper, and lots of tomatoes and pickles), and they like having the rest of the family thank them for dinner. Dishes are a harder sell, but once they get going, they like the water play aspects, and with both jobs, they are getting individual time with a parent, and the knowledge that they are contributing to the household. Linden and I both like to sing, so that makes us great dishwashing partners. There are always exceptions, but it feels like often our cycle is "the kids are misbehaving, so I'm working hard and stressed out, so I want a break, so I'm going to let them watch DVDs/go over to their friend's/squabble for a few more minutes..." OR "We're actively engaged with the kids, so they are relaxed and happy, so we're enjoying being with them, so if they start to misbehave I can handle it approrpriately and get them back on track..." Working side by side with them definitely contributes to the happier cycle.
Step two is new. Working side by side is great, but only when they are working with you instead of competing for your attention. To make this possible, we put together "quiet boxes." In a plastic box, there are about five different small toys or simple projects. The kid who is NOT helping is to sit on their blankie and entertain themselves in the living room. The rules are basically that the person with the quiet box can't talk to the rest of us, and the person helping in the kitchen can't walk on the Quiet Blanket, or otherwise harrass their sibling. I think we've sold it well as a special treat. Quiet Box toys are not in general circulation, and the kids can only play with the QB at the designated time. The therapist said the kids need to learn how to do quiet, independent work--not relying on us to entertain them, not engaging in mindless squabbling with their siblings, and also not distracting their minds with physical activities. She also said we need to work it so this activity happens at the time most beneficial for us. So rather than having to have two kids underfoot, or have both parents equally busy around the dinner work, we hope this will be the way to occupy the "waiting" child.
Step three is setting a more formal schedule. We all know that after dinner, Mom helps Oak with homework, and Linden has to entertain herself or hang out with Papa. Somewhere in there we get dessert. They brush their teeth, I read some stories, and then we each get one kid to sleep. We've known for awhile that Linden probably needs to get to bed earlier, but we couldn't figure out on the fly how to make it happen. This weekend I finally sat down and worked out a timeline. First this, then that. What each kid's schedule needs to be, where each parent needs to be at each step to keep it all moving forward. I think it went pretty well tonight, given that we made it halfway to our goal of an hour earlier bedtime for Linden. Of course, I heard Oak's voice at 9:45, which is half an hour AFTER he should be asleep, and there were a few times when people thought they were in trouble for being off-schedule (possibly because my tone, posture, and even words were giving that impression), and I had to take a deep breath and say "This is our first time. We're testing it out and finding out what we need to adjust. You're doing fine."
There are more things we need to do, but we're hoping that a smooth evening routine and a longer night's sleep for the kindergartener will both be beneficial to all of us. Neither the Winemaker nor I are natural schedule followers, but when I realized that my kids consider "Because it's Sunday" to be a completely acceptable answer to "Why do I have to clean my room?" I knew that setting schedules could help us with other issues as well.