My children have been ‘off schedule’ since June 5th. We have traveled on trains, planes, in taxis, ubers, and busses at all hours of the day (and sometimes night). With a 5.5, just-turned-3, and an 8 month old, planning and timing isn’t always easy. And so with almost 3 months of travels to three countries ahead of me back in June, I had to make a decision about our daily routine— let it go! (or, not really?).
My kids are pretty easy-going, but sticking to a schedule always helps with the order of their day.
My middle child stopped napping a few months ago, and with the third child- her naps were always based around drop-offs and pickups of the 2 older ones- so I thought to myself – hey, I can be pretty flexible for our summer of traveling!
Arriving jet-lagged to Israel, I let the kids have dinner (mother in law’s famous schnitzel) when they woke up at 4am, and cereal in the evening if they asked for it. My middle child started napping again- but only sometimes – which meant he either had a ‘normal’ bedtime of 7:30pm OR he would stay up happily until 10pm. The baby went from 2 solid naps to 3 or 4 cat naps due to our always being out and about from morning until evening (she’s not a great transition sleeper from car seat to stroller to bed).
When our family is on vacation, flexibility and freedom is the key. Of course I’d love my children to obediently jump in their beds after teethbrushing and books and get immediate shut-eye at 7:30 each night. But catching up with friends on the beaches of Tel Aviv during the baby’s naptime, going out to a cafe with in-laws in Haifa until 9pm, and letting the kids eat according to our touring and traveling schedule trumped setting out a snack of yoghurt and fruit every day at 10am.
Some parents might balk at our decision to keep our kids up a bit later than usual, to let them have ice cream every other day when we’re at the beach around 4 instead of sliced apples, to decide to sit at a cafe for Kaffee und Kuchen while catching up with our German friends during what should usually be the baby’s naptime while she peacefully rests in her stroller. I’ve been that ‘balking’ parent. When we only had one child, I was the parent who constantly ‘ruined’ my own vacations, family reunions, and weekend friend-get-togethers by insisting that our son always be sleeping in his bed by 7:30. I would leave functions in order for him to take a nap. I didn’t leave the house without his two snacks prepared just in case we would still be on the road or stuck somewhere without his favorite raspberry flavored rice cake.
As much as I loved having a good sleeper around 18 months (down at 7:30pm, up at 7:30am—and trust me, it took MONTHS of on-and-off gentle sleep training, hand holding, song singing, silently sneaking out etc. to get there)—I didn’t love that for about two years, I just could not let our schedule go. I would cancel plans before even trying to make it out the door ‘in time’ if I thought it would mess up a nap. I planned outings and meetups solely before 1pm and after 3:30pm, and of course I rarely did anything around dinner and bedtime. Now, with the second and third child in the mix, I understand that even though the schedule helped prepare my oldest son and kept him in a routine, it actually kept me more tied up and anxious about failing the routine that I so dearly clung to.
I hope that parents everywhere will take advantage of the opportunity to bend the rules a bit and let it go- whether it’s for a date night on the town, meeting a new friend during naptime, or taking a family vacation and not being back at the hotel room by 7:30. Watching my children learn to be resilient and flexible, to go with the flow, and to enjoy being in the moment was a lesson in and of itself, and a wonderful reflection of what I hope they will value as much as my husband and I did while traveling!
And so- the best advice that I can share after this summer of traveling, 10pm bedtimes, impromptu toddler naps, baby out-door cat naps, and around the clock outings for the sake of making memories instead of sticking to the schedule, is to just go for it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Not even for an easy 7:30pm bedtime! (Talk to me around August 28th when school starts again to see if we can bounce back into our daily—and nightly!— routine as easily as I expect!)