I’ve been asked a lot recently from readers, friends, and family how I balance a good schedule with living real life. I understand the inquiring; balancing the two is a legitimate challenge.
I love a good schedule so much that friends and family probably wonder what crazy assembly line I’m running in my house.
But there is a whole other life outside of the schedule! I know your jaws might be dropping right now.
Yes, the schedule works wonders for our family, saving our sanity on a daily basis. However, real life doesn’t always operate on a schedule and getting out of the house and living a little is also a mainstay to…ahem, staying sane.
I do have a method to my madness when it comes to bucking the schedule. Let’s dive in!
1. Use the 80/20 rule.
I try to stay on schedule about 80% of the time, and not worry about it the remainder of the time. We know from research that consistently following a sleep schedule the majority of the time and establishing a good bedtime routine will positively impact the sleep of your infant or toddler.
Aiming for a good schedule 80% of the time seems realistic to me. This means 1 day out of every 5 days we experience a sleep disruption. I also try to remind myself that parenting a young child with high sleep needs is ultimately a short season.
Making sacrifices for the schedule actually benefits me because we have easier bedtime and nap routines and better sleep overall. While 80% may seem like a lot, it’s been worth it to me so far.
2. Limit major disruptions.
I tend to limit major disruptions to once or twice a week. For example, we are going on an upcoming day trip, and I know Jameson will miss his nap. He will likely end up catching a little bit of sleep in the stroller or car at some point. It won’t be the same quality of his nap, but we really like to go on a few adventures from time to time.
Before and after a major disruption, I try to stay on schedule pretty well. No need to start off a day trip with a sleep debt.
3. Take your schedule with you.
Heading over to a friend’s home? Take your child and a pack ‘n play and all your sleep essentials. Allow your child to nap or go to bed in someone else’s home, while you participate in all the activities. If you are consistent with a good bedtime routine and have a good daily schedule going, this works very well in my experience.
I’m not a huge fan of laying my son down for bed at someone’s home just to wake him a few hours later and go home, but I will do it on rare occasion. I will say that I know several moms who are more adventurous with this, and it works really well for their kids! So I would say it’s worth trying.
Naps are easier for us to do at another home. We just head home after naptime is over. It’s seamless, and there is essentially no sleep disruption.
4. Follow your instincts.
Listen both to what your child is telling you and what your gut is telling you. Is your child handling sleep and schedule disruptions well? Then no problem. Is your child getting tired, irritable, or acting out behaviorally? Potentially time to get back on track.
After a disruption, such as a missed nap or a late bedtime, my son will usually have a difficult time sleeping for about a day. This may come in the form of night waking or short naps, among other things.
For example, we recently attended a social gathering on a Friday evening and we allowed our son to stay up until 9 pm, which is 1.5 hours later than his usual 7:30 pm bedtime. He awoke at 1:30 am crying his little eyes out.
It’s incredibly common for overtired kids to wake more frequently and sleep shorter durations. Crazy, but true.
This is what we’ve come to expect. In situations like this, I simply try to get back on track in the days following.
5. Getting back on track.
Getting back on track is pretty simple. Just follow your schedule as best you can in the days following a disruption. It doesn’t have to be rigid, but consistency after a disruption really does help immensely. We try to stay on a good schedule and keep things low key for a few days until my son’s sleep settles back to normal.
6. Real life examples.
Sometimes I find it incredibly helpful to hear examples from other moms, so I will share a few with you today. I would love to hear your examples as well, so please share in the comments at the bottom of this post!
For a child taking 3+ naps. In this situation, I typically would always protect the first nap of the day no matter what. After the first nap I would try to run errands, work out or make plans with friends. My son would catch a few winks in the car for his second nap. Usually by his 3rd nap, he was back in a crib or pack n’play.
For events going on in the evening we would either get a baby sitter to come after our son went to bed at 7:30 pm or we would take him and lay him to sleep in the pack ‘n play at a friend’s house. We rarely kept him awake past bedtime since this usually resulted in night waking and short sleep duration. It wasn’t really worth it for us most of the time.
For a child taking 2 naps. In this situation, I again always protected the morning nap and allowed the afternoon nap to fall where it may. This happened mainly once a week when outings or errands took more than a few hours. If errands would only take a few hours, I would leave the house immediately after the morning nap, and try to get home for the afternoon nap without my son falling asleep in the car. If you are close to dropping the morning nap, I recommend using a few strategic steps that really helped us transition to one nap with ease.
For a child taking 1 nap. This scenario is relatively easy to navigate. We try to do most outings and errands in the morning or around lunch time. The afternoon is our quiet time. Early evening is also a time we are out and about.
I am open to full day outings as frequently as once per week. In that situation my son would catch a nap in the car or stroller when he felt tired.
For us, I wouldn’t do a full day outing any more that once a week, since my son gets overwhelmingly crabby, and it becomes unenjoyable for all of us.
Ready to find a routine that works for your family?
I’ve written a book with my friend Rachel that has ideas for rhythms, routines and schedules that’ll help your children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. There are over 30 printables (all different routines you can print out) including tips for running your day and figuring out a routine with multiple children!
I've created a free email series just for you! If you are struggling with finding a routine, rhythm or schedule, this email series will help you find one that will work for YOUR family. Yes, really. I've seen my sample routines work time and time again for parents. I know it can work for you too.
This free email series will help you:
- Free sample routines for your child
- Best morning routine tips and tricks your kids will actually follow
- All-time favorite parenting hacks for getting more cooperation at bedtime
- Step-by-step guide for using a printable daily schedule with kids