The importance of routines

April 14, 2010

Before having kids, I was never a big fan of “routines”. I was more a fan of spontaneity. Becoming a parent changed all that. I immediately saw how important routines are for my family, as well as for myself. While I still remain flexible, we definitely have daily, weekly and even annual family routines. This has become even more important while living abroad.

When moving to new places, it has been critical to establish routines in order for the family to feel settled. However it is very overwhelming at first because everything is new and different – for all of us. Everyone’s routines are getting reshuffled, at the same time, across all aspects of our lives. Where do we shop for groceries? How do we get to school or work? What after-school activities are available for each child? Where can we workout or play sports? How much homework does each child get and when is it due? Where is the dry cleaner? Where do we get our hair cut? Where do we find health care providers? Throw on top of it operating in a new language and daily life is suddenly quite chaotic and challenging!!!

The good news is that after 3 months, we are establishing new daily and weekly routines. The kids know what to expect at school and are even buddies to newer arrivals! Amazingly while still “new”, they are no longer the “newest” kids in their classes. They have selected new after-school activities along with some old favorites. I am settling into a routine as well, though it has taken longer than I would like. We can get through regular household routines easier and daily life is not as overwhelming. We know which store has the best fruit, and which one carries the kids’ favorite cereal. We know where everyone can get a haircut. That being said, the routines are not completely settled yet, but we are getting there. This phase took much longer when we moved to Lima; perhaps there is a learning curve after moving multiple times!!

No matter how hard we have tried, the routines are never the same from one place to another. In a positive mood, I would say moving is a chance to try new things; in a negative mood, I would say it is a forcing mechanism. For instance, I could not replace my Masters swimming group from California when living in Lima; nor was I willing to ride my bicycle in Lima’s infamous traffic where stop signs are merely recommendations! Therefore I traded one sport for another: triathlons for golf. I am extremely glad I did. While completing triathlons was rewarding, often it was a solitary pursuit. Golf is a more social sport and through it we met many of our close friends in Peru. If we had stuck to our old California routines, we would have missed out on many great memories.

I have also realized that while some aspects of our routines are similar from one place to another, they need to be different. If they are the same, it is too easy to compare “here” with “there”. Continuing on the golf theme, I am the most homesick after playing golf with the local expat league. While I have a great time while playing and everyone is very friendly, it is not the group we grew close to over the last four years. That being said, I will get back out there, because I love the game and it is a great way to meet new people. However, we have realized we cannot replace what we had in Lima and we have found other ways to build a new community of friends here in Shanghai. Luckily there is a strong and very friendly expatriate network so it is not too difficult.

I am relieved that we have established routines in our new environment. While I am still not a fan of rigidity, I can see how everyone seems calmer now that we have a rhythm back in our days. I know that routines keep our family grounded. They are something that we can control when everything else is completely new and different.


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