No Schedule

I have had this post sitting in my drafts folder for so long that I don’t even know when this picture was taken! It’s fun to see my bald-headed baby doing superman style exercises on the floor. Look at this recent Instagram photo to see how much he has changed!

This post I’ve had lingering at the back of my mind for over a year now is about babies and schedules and relaxing.

Having a baby is really overwhelming, especially the first time. I couldn’t sit down or stand up or lay down without being reminded that my vagina had almost been ripped in half. I wasn’t producing enough milk (but didn’t know it) so my poor kid screamed non-stop and was half-starved in his first weeks of life. T1 didn’t sleep through the night until 7 months, when I finally decided it was time to put him down full of formula, shut the door, and let him cry it out (he is a champion sleeper now, and has been since then). 

I like to do research, and I love to plan things, but I was never really interested in all of the child rearing methods that promised to teach me the secret to creating a schedule that would lighten my load (presumably by making naptime and bedtime a better experience), and so I’ve just kind of done things my own way for the past two years, which for me means not really having a schedule. I’ve tried to listen to T1, let him communicate his natural rhythms to me through patterns and non-verbal cues, and then arranged my life in the pockets of time that are left free for me. Like most babies, T1 went from sleeping pretty much all day, to three naps a day, to two, and now he is at one. He currently goes to sleep at around 9pm at night, wakes up around 8, and sleeps for 2-3 hours in the afternoon from around 2-5. It’s a strange schedule which makes playdates difficult because he’s awake when his friends are napping, sleeping when they’re playing, and awake when they’re going to bed.

This strange schedule of ours was a natural occurrence (and I acknowledge is the privilege of being a SAHM, since I don’t have to deal with the expectations of an external caretaker). As he grew older we found ourselves putting him to bed a little later than most kids, and in return I found that I didn’t have anything to complain about when the moms got together and commiserated about their children waking up at 5 or 6 am. He’s still getting plenty of sleep, it’s just spread out throughout a 24 hour period differently than most toddlers. This means I don’t have my evenings to myself, but I love the mornings when I wake up at 6:30 am and can get a workout in before he wakes up (I prefer working out in the AM, and when he is sleeping). It’s not just sleeping, he doesn’t eat at specific times either and didn’t really do so when he first started on solids. We do follow a somewhat regular routine of eating in the morning, the afternoon, and the  evening, but otherwise I just kind of let him tell me when he’s hungry. Maybe I just don’t have a snacker, but it’s very rare for him to eat a snack (unless I’m cooking and he sees the cheese, then he will ask for piece after piece). This might also be because his snacks are more nutritious than they are delicious (if you could eat Goldfish crackers all day, wouldn’t you be asking for them nonstop?)

Along with a variable daytime schedule, we don’t have a complicated/firm naptime/bedtime routine either. Sometimes we read a book, sometimes we take a bath, sometimes we snuggle in bed, sometimes we sing songs. Other times we do those things at different times during the day and when it’s time for bed we change him into pajamas, lower the blinds, turn on the white noise, and sing “Twinkle Twinkle” before we put him in his bed with his favorite blanky. Sometimes he cries for a little bit, but most of the time he talks to himself a little bit before drifting off to sleep.

I have plenty of friends who live and die by their schedule, and I say more power to them. Find whatever makes parenting not just endurable, but enjoyable. This post is an opportunity for me to chime in as an alternate voice to what I have felt is the popular opinion of today. You don’t need a “parenting expert” to tell you how to live your life, and how to survive with a baby. It’s tough, but you’ll figure it out. And there is no shame in leaving the babysitter with instructions that  sound a little something like “There are leftovers in the fridge to heat up when he is hungry, he’ll probably go to bed somewhere between 8-9. He’s pretty easy and we’re not worried.

There are many different ways to parent, and you know what? The majority of them are awesome in their own way. Pick your favorite and own it (and try out as many as you’d like before deciding on a favorite!)


30 thoughts on “No Schedule

  1. I feel like i’ll be a schedule type person. I think a lot of kids thrive on routine at that age (though obviously not all!) It is nice hanging out with friends who aren’t freaking out “time to get the baby down” though! And the idea of sleeping in sounds nice. So maybe “schedule” isn’t the right word for me, but routine. Routine is good.

    One thing I am really looking forward to though is bedtime reading! When I worked at a daycare, I helped organize a pre-literacy program to help parents develop literacy skills in preschoolers. One of the things we really emphasized was reading to kids before bedtime. I forget the statistics, but it’s amazing how many more 1000s of words kids are exposed to when they’re read to 20 minutes a day. Though I suppose when doesn’t matter, as long as it gets in. So if the kid is a straight-to-sleeper, better not to force it obviously. I also LOVE kids books though, and am going to have more trouble not buying those than not buying clothes!!

    Grace Reply:

    Haha, I identify with this. My daughter has over 100 books already, and she’s only 16 months. All that propaganda worked so far: she loves to read, and will frequently spend up to 30 minutes in her room “reading” by herself. It was worth every penny for the free time I’ve gained alone (leaving aside the developmental benefits).

    We don’t read to her at bedtime though, but throughout the day when everyone has more patience and energy (she strongly prefers a highly engaged reading style). By 8 pm I don’t feel like doing animal voices.

    Jackie Reply:

    Kids LOVE engaged reading! It’s why Dr. Seuss is so great. No kid understands the words at a year old, but they enjoy the rhythm and intonation. I can’t *stand* kids books (for little kids) that don’t have rhythm and flow. It’s what makes them listen! Kids definitely listen way longer to those type of books than to just any old mass-published-to-make-a-dollar crappy book.

    One thing I don’t let the kids I’ve worked with/sat for do is turn the pages when I’m not ready. I’ll hold it down with my thumb. I like to reinforce that books are for reading, not just for flipping through. I’ll let them turn it when it’s time. Sure, it annoys a kid occasionally and then they don’t want to read. But if that’s the case, they didn’t want to read anyway – they wanted to play! And then they should be playing not reading.

  2. Great great post, Jenna. It’s really nice to hear this. I’ve always felt this way with my own daughter, and it’s nice to encounter someone else who does too! Sometimes I wonder “am I too relaxed?” But I feel like it works for us, so what’s the problem?

    And speaking of being relaxed — my daughter has a few goldfish crackers every day (in addition to a healthy diet) and it’s fine. She’s not snacking often. Just saying – the relaxed attitude can inhabit diet as well!

  3. Well put! I’m not even individually driven by a strict schedule – my work day varies each day, and I’m generally more about flexibility than routine – but my little guy has followed a bit of a schedule most of his first year. Not because I insisted on it, but because he tends to get tired at around the same time every night. My husband likes it when we stick closer to the “schedule,” but we try not to stress if we change it, which happens often, to accommodate something fun or interesting. For example, if we’re at the zoo, and he’s having fun even though it’s nap time, we won’t leave immediately. We’ll let him get tired out and if he falls asleep in the stroller, that’s cool. Or if he skips his nap, especially on a weekend, we figure he’ll take one later in the day; no biggie. This is a little tougher now that he’s down to one nap at daycare, but we manage. Another example would be if we want to do something in the evening, and it’s a bit past his bedtime. I try to make sure we get a good long nap that day, and hope for the best. Sometimes, it’s clear that it won’t work, and we take off early. Other times, it’s no problem. For me, it’s all about staying flexible, making sure I watch for signs from my little guy whether we’re on a schedule or not, and having fun along the way :)

  4. We are big believers in strict scheduling, especially in the early months/years.

    We had our first daughter on a 3 hour eat/sleep/play schedule until it stretched out (longer play times and eating)but the constant we’ve always had with her was bedtime. We had a strict 7:30pm bedtime. This was amazing for us because that meant at 8:00pm I had time to myself for chores or self care. Or my husband and I could have a date night (inside the home).

    It almost meant that she was getting enough sleep and waking up in the morning well rested. She slept through the night (7:30pm until 6:30am) by the time she was 9 months old.

    Another perk to this was having family watch her. It meant that we could give them a general schedule and it eased a lot of people’s nerves. It was also nice (so they’ve told me) to have the evening to themselves once her bedtime came.

    We did the same thing with my son in his early months (he has slept through the night since 8 months) and we continue to have a strict bedtime with our daughter. Our son goes to bed at 7:30 and she now goes to bed at 8:30 with no problem.

    Having a strict schedule has kept us from doing some things. But it’s provided so much freedom in other areas.

    Before we’d go to the mall with her (or even both of them) we’d schedule it after a nap and feeding. So we knew she’d be well rested and not cranky in a public place. It was amazing how many compliments we would get on how well she acted/how well they both act now. In my head I’m thinkin, ‘Yeah, because they got enough sleep and food before I threw them in the car and took them here.”

    We will always be big schedulers. It’s been amazing in our lives.

    Amy Reply:

    Yes, exactly this!

  5. i’m not one for a strict schedule either. but i am petty firm on bedtime. This momma starts shutting and getting really grouchy after 7:30 pm. The kiddos go to bed then and they get up between 7:30 and 8:00. i found with my kids that no matter what time they went to bed they still got up at the same time. so i figured i might as well put them to bed earlier for all of our sanity! Have you tried putting him down at 8 and see if he sleeps until the same time? I love love love early bedtimes becasue that means more time with the hubs and doing what i want to do!

  6. This is a beautifully written post. I echo a lot of what you’ve said, only our lives are dictated a bit more by the schedules of two working parents. That said, I don’t read parenting books and prefer to listen to our parental instinct regarding what works for our son and our family. So far, we have a happy and well-balanced child. The only thing we’re missing is a bunch of complaints about why parenting is so hard and why our child is so difficult.

  7. I don’t know what kind of anal parents you hang out with!

    “There are leftovers in the fridge to heat up when he is hungry, he’ll probably go to bed somewhere between 8-9. He’s pretty easy and we’re not worried.” Is basically what everyone I know, and have babysat for, has said to me. I guess I’m telling you this because I want you to know you’re definitely not the only one who parents like this, and I think it’s one of the better ways to parent. I just hope I can be a laid back like this.

  8. Iz is my third and I have always let the babies set the “schedule”–they eat when hungry, play when they feel like it, and sleep when they are tired. And with all three, they fall into a pretty predictable pattern that changes every so often as they grow and change :)

    tb Reply:

    This is how we roll also and it has worked out really well for us!

    Piper Reply:

    It is always nice to run into someone else who follows the lead of the kids :p I usually am the “crazy one” who doesn’t do scheduling *gasp* LOL We have routines with a great deal of flexibility ;)

  9. Children thrive on knowing what is next. It’s important for them to know what to expect.

    But keep reading books about eating veggies instead of parenting books. It’s working out fantastic!

    tb Reply:

    you can have a plan and expectations without a strict schedule.

    Thais Reply:

    Judgmental much!?

    tanne Reply:

    I feel like this comment is a bit judgmental BUT there is a lot of truth to what Michelle said about children thriving when they know what’s coming next. It might also be beneficial to do a little research on melatonin release in small children. You don’t want to push bedtime too far. You can take or leave this advice but coming from an Early Childhood Educator, I can honestly say that children with schedules thrive and are generally more adjusted than those without.

    Off topic, how are you coping without your little guy? It would be difficult to leave that sweet little face behind!

    Austyn Reply:

    I agree. Judgmental. I suspect that there are children whose temperaments permit thriving in a more fluid routine and that Jenna happens to have one :) I do not. And that is okay.

    Lisa Reply:

    I think this is exactly right–kids have different personalities and thrive on different things (as do parents have different ways of doing things, each of which can be right for their own situations). My son absolutely thrives on routine and predictability, which works out great, because so do I! But, I know lots of kids who do great just going with the flow more and it sounds like T1 is doing great with a system that works for both of you! I think when it comes down to it, everyone has a system or routine to some degree, some are just much more flexible than others. Your “no schedule” still is a schedule of sorts because it sounds like many days are similar to each other, but there’s just a lot of flexibility in it which is great.

    I am with the other commenters who like strict bedtimes. I become a crazy person after 8:00 if I am not able to turn off my mom-brain :).

  10. While we definitely have wiggle room, I’m a firm believer of the schedule. We eat at basically the same time every day (especially the family dinner with us all at the table together), and nap and bedtime are a firm, special circumstances aside. Things are a little off right now as we transition into the big boy bed routine, but he basically goes 730 pm – 630 am.

    Being a SAHM as well, I take solace knowing when we can plan playdates (most of O’s friends nap around the same time) and since my husband is at work, I really look forward to our evenings alone.

    Above all, I’ve found O really thrives on a schedule and knowing what to expect has eliminated stress and tantrums (for the most part. He is almost 2, after all!) and we all receive compliments about how pleasant he is. I can only take partial credit for that, but I know that the schedule makes life easier for him. And well, me too, I won’t lie!

    I’m interested to see how we all – and our schedule – adjust when baby #2 arrives, but Im going to try and sink them up the best I can.

  11. Great post! I don’t think enough non-schedulers talk about the “how”, but they should because as you have demonstrated, there *is* a how to it. I agree with you, do what makes it endurable and enjoyable. For me, that’s a pretty strict routine. It’s always worked for us, and I admit that I started that way because I needed it to be that way for work. I know there was no way that *I* personally would have been able to keep up with BFing without one.

    I also think he’s just the type of kid who likes a routine. I like knowing when during the day I will have time to myself and it keeps me sane on my days off. I also love the benefits of being able to tell anyone who might care for him what to expect pretty much down to the minute. On the other hand, I can totally see how nice it would be to leave a babysitter with your version of instructions, which I think is that way I imagine life with a 5-6 year old.

  12. But … you do have a schedule. You listed it out. It’s not a specific one in terms of times when such and such play happens, but it’s a schedule none the less.

    Out of all the toddlers I’ve worked with, most need the 7/8 pm bedtime because the way their internal clocks work, they simply cannot sleep in in the morning. Keeping them up later just results in a cranky kiddo at 6 in the morning, but an awake kiddo none the less. So the early bedtime becomes really important for their mood and health. But, maybe 1 in 20 (or … something …) is like T1 – able to shift their wake/sleep patterns without too much difficulty.

  13. This is off topic and old news, but I just went and read your breastfeeding post since you linked to it here. I can’t believe how similar our challenges were. I’m sorry it was such a struggle and I’m so glad that you were able to find your sanity- it is definitely the most important thing!

  14. I think the it should be noted that there is a difference between “routine” and “schedule”. Just because a child isn’t on a strict schedule does not mean that they do not have the comforting familiarities of a routine (for example, bath-book-song-bed in the evening or using their plate and sitting in their seat for dinner$.

  15. I guess I missed the part in the post when Jenna said, “I let T1 run around like a bat outta hell, and never consistently feed or bathe him”. I guess if that’s what the post DID say, people would be a little more warranted on telling you that you need to make sure he knows what’s next. We have a loose schedule like this, and life is SO MUCH BETTER. :)

  16. We follow a similar “relaxed” schedule. As a working mom, we often don’t get home until 7. If she had a 7:30 or 8 bedtime, we would get no time with her! At 2-3 months she was going to bed at 10:30 and it has been slowly creePing towards 9 since. That’s great for us! We can get her to sleep in with us until 9:30, sometimes 10 on the weekends. We love that!

  17. Hi Jenna,

    I’m definitely a no schedule / more relaxed type of parent too… it works for us, and seems to work for our sweet daughter. Maybe if she was a different kind of child / personality I would be more strict about routine, but for us, this works.

    I still definitely read some parenting books though – I fully admit I’m no expert!! And I was really surprised to see you say that you didn’t and weren’t interested in reading any of them.

    I remember you spent so much time reading about natural births and the type of labour and delivery experience you wanted to have… and that is a few hours or a couple of days at most, whereas a child and their development is years in the making! I dunno, it’s just to me, that seems much more important.

  18. I love hearing about other people’s schedules! My daughter is like T1 in that she sleeps in late (usually she’s up around 8, but has slept in 9 or 9:30 fairly regularly).

    I’m not sure if this is entirely her own schedule or not though, because I’ve really encouraged it as I hate getting up in the morning. I think probably all good schedules are sort of a joint creation between the parent’s preferences/needs and the child’s, so it makes sense everyone would have a different one. The important thing in parenting is being sensitive to your child’s needs, after all.

    As far as playdates go, though, you might still be able to have them. We go to a ton (because both of us like to get out of the house), and they actually tend to be in the mornings (typically 10-12), at least until the kids are going to preschool (usually in the mornings if you’re not doing full time).

  19. This scheduled stuff that others raise is fine if your life is wholly predictable, you don’t travel, and you find the benefit of the schedule outweighs the benefits of being able to flexibly change plans if a friend is in town or when things come up. I work in an operating room – flexibility is key.

    I am amazed at friends who literally do not deviate from the schedule for any reason. My life and my husband’s life don’t allow for that much structure. We travel every month and we’re away from home five weeks a year. I am not going to sacrifice my life for a schedule – kids need to learn to sleep in different places, with different noises. I’d be afraid that starting on the scheduled structure so adamantly would just be a slippery slope to my life revolving entirely around my kids instead of them fitting into our lives.

    Routines are great, and i like the commenter who suggested a bedtime routine as an example. But in life, you don’t know what’s coming next, so we intend to nurture more relaxed and flexible kids.

  20. I think routines for babies are overrated. Want to read a great book about parenting intuitively and with love, without sweating the small stuff? Try Dr Carlos Gonzalez. One of his books is about not worrying about how much your baby eats. The other one is about parenting with love. I think the eating one is a little more cohesive as a book, but they both contain lots of wisdom. Read more about him here: (this isn’t spam. I have a 15 month old and recently read this article, then both of the books mentioned on the kindle for iphone app). Whatever works to create a happy, healthy baby and keeps the parents from being depressed or crazy sleep-deprived is what families should do!

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