On one of EJ’s last free mornings before he started school full time I sat down with him to watch a DVD I had recently purchased, Inside Out. We didn’t really know what it was about when we started watching but it became clear that the story revolved around the inner workings of a little girl’s head and what happens to her emotionally when her parents move across the USA to set up a new home with her in tow.
She begins to crumble, losing faith in her ability to make new friends, enjoy family life or pursue her favourite hobby. Eventually she is so low that she runs away from home. It was at this point that EJ suddenly burst into tears – literally ‘out of the blue’. I hadn’t realised how involved he had become in the story or how emotionally delicate he was feeling after his first few afternoons as a school boy.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how important routines are in children’s lives and the movie puts in context what can happen when a child goes through a major life change that is out of his or her hands (in this case, moving away from a place you have grown up and called home all your life).
My own children (particularly EJ) have gone through their own set of major life changes lately. Their mummy and daddy are getting divorced. They have moved home twice in 6 months. EJ, at the delicate age of four (and six weeks) has started at big school and is now just at the start of his learning journey with his first reading book assignment home in his school bag.
I discovered the Aha Parenting website a while back and I turned to the wisdom of Dr. Laura Markham to try and sum up why routines are so important. She says that “Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively control themselves and their environments…structure allows us to internalise constructive habits”.
Children need to know where they stand, not feel like they are being pushed from pillar to post. After school there needs to be consistency which helps them to fall asleep more easily at night.
With homework and reading assignments there needs to be time set aside and meals need to be provided at appropriate times.
With two households in which children of divorce spend at least part of their time, it is so important that one set of household rules is not being undermined by the other.
At the age of 4 and 7 I think my children are particularly susceptible to falling in line with what either parent might expect of them but I want to be clear that there are no winners in a power struggle – particularly not the children, and whilst it might seem like ‘routine’ is just an excuse to try and rain on someone else’s parade, it’s actually there for a very good reason.
I don’t want to see my children’s inner emotional lives begin to crumble the way they crumble for the little girl in Inside Out. Ideally children should be allowed to grow up knowing they can rely on both parents and that everyone is on the same page in the story of their lives.