A past client and good friend of mine, Rebekah, told me recently that to the outside world it seems like Daliya and I have less structure in our day than a lot of other moms and babies she knows. She asked me if I'd share my perspective on structure.
As a new mom you hear from so many people that having a routine is very important, that kids thrive on structure and that that is the only way to keep them happy and keep you "together" or sane as your children learn and grow.
I do agree that a *flexible* routine can do wonders, especially for any baby who seems overwhelmed by changes from day to day. However, I also believe that the routine should be based off of the child's natural schedule as much as possible and that you need to start meshing your own needs with the needs of your baby as early as possible; so that you can avoid feeling like you are stuck at home or isolated and resentful, while still respecting and fulfilling your child's needs.
What do I mean by "natural schedule" you ask? Well, each baby (and child, for that matter) has his own rhythm and his own individual needs that pretty much dictate when he is going to be happy and energetic and when he is going to want to wind down and seem unhappy or overtired if he doesn't get to sleep when he needs to.
The trick is to follow his cues and base the structure in your day off of what you observe as his daily rhythm. For example, if you see that your little one tends to get frustrated, easily overstimulated, or just generally sleepy around 10am each morning, then you will want to aim to either be at home where he can nap around that time (perk of being at home: you can either nap too or get things done around the house!) or you will want to be somewhere that he can cuddle with you and fall asleep on you.
This brings me to how to begin meshing your needs with the needs of your baby. And this is really what makes my life seem so much less structured and more flexible so that I can pretty much do whatever I want whenever I want even when I I have my daughter with me practically 24/7.
My mindset from the beginning was that I wanted my daughter to have all her needs met (or as many as possible) while also continuing to be flexible. I figured she was used to the noises of our day to day life already, having heard everything I heard for the greater part of my pregnancy. I decided that if she could sleep through whatever she needed to then, and still thrive and grow, then why not encourage her to continue to do this?
I did a lot of babywearing with her, and I still make sure I have my Ergo with me when I'm out so that I can wear her if she needs to sleep on me and I can't just sit with her asleep in my lap. Also, being an anthropologist and spending so much time traveling around Latin America, I knew that in many many cultures around the world, babies and children take their naps on their mothers from day one.
You might be wondering how these babies get enough sleep if they are always out and about and around people all day long. My answer for you is that they adapt and they either get into a deep sleep and take a couple long naps in the middle of all the hustle and bustle around them, or they take shorter naps, but more often throughout the day - whenever they need to.
For our family a typical day at home looks something like this: Wake up at 7:30am, chill out in bed while D runs around and plays (I make sure the bathroom doors are closed, and everything else is already babyproofed), we all get dressed around 8 and go downstairs and eat breakfast around 8:30. Jordan leaves for work and D and I play and read books downstairs. Somewhere between 9:30 and 11:30 she starts to act like she could take a nap, so we make our way upstairs and lay down. Sometimes she falls asleep then and sometimes she doesn't - some days she ends up with only an afternoon nap. If she stays awake we have a snack and play some more, but if she does take a morning nap then she wakes up hungry and we have lunch pretty much right away. Then the afternoon consists of more playing and reading, sometimes swimming, and another snack or 2 to hold us over till dinnertime. She also tends to nap again, but the time depends on if she napped in the morning. If she did, then she'll usually be tired again around 3pm. If not, then she goes to sleep around 1pm. In the evening we tend to have dinner around 7pm and then we get her ready for bed right away and she's asleep somewhere between 7:30 and 8pm.
Now since I know this is her basic schedule, when I want to be out for the day I have to keep this all in mind and make sure that her day can still go something like this: wake up, play, eat, play, (nap), eat, play, nap, eat, play, eat, get ready for bed, sleep. As long as she knows she can expect to alternate playing, eating, and sleeping, then eating and playing and doing it all over again, that's predictable enough of a schedule for her to be happy and it works whether we are at home or out and about.
The thing is, the naps are what can throw a kink in any mom's day because regardless of where you are, you do have to support your baby in falling asleep - whether this means noticing that your little one is getting sleepy and putting him in an Ergo or other carrier, or if it means snuggling up and nursing in a comfortable chair wherever you are, or it could even mean aiming to be in the car from one place to another at that time so your baby gets a nap in that way.
As a mom you have to be flexible, and honestly, as a person your child is going to eventually have to learn to be flexible yet still value and meet his own needs. So why not start living that way right from the start?