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By Cheryl Bac

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About this blog: I'm a wife, stay-at-home mom, home cook, marathon runner, and PhD. I recently moved to the Silicon Valley after completing my PhD in Social Psychology and becoming a mother one month apart. Before that, I ran seven marathons incl...  (More)

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Why My Son Is Unusually Unscheduled

Uploaded: Oct 13, 2013
When I was about 10 years old, I started attending a very structured girls' summer camp. We woke up in the morning at 7am sharp, went onto the cabin's porch for flag raising at 7:05, dressed in our uniforms and cleaned the cabin to prepare for inspection at 7:40 before eating breakfast at 8:00. The day was filled with swimming, canoeing, tennis and other scheduled classes along with meals and rest hours. The day ended with flag lowering at 8:30 and taps at 9:00.

For the most part, I truly enjoyed having a very structured summer. I could learn how to kayak, windsurf, perform a back dive, hit a bullseye, and identify poison ivy all in a single day.

But there were parts of it that I disliked. Such as jumping into the lake when it was cold enough to see my breath because swimming was "on the schedule" (this was in upnorth Wisconsin). I disliked being stuck in arts and crafts on a hot day and tennis on a rainy one. But most of all, I was not a fan of rest hour...when we were suppose to sleep or at least lie down on our beds. I rarely fell asleep. Most of the time I spent rest hour reading signatures on the cabin's walls.

Because of these dislikes, I have an unusually unscheduled toddler. For instance, I give my son lots of flexibility with his naps. It makes no difference to me if he falls asleep at 1 or 3. Or if he sleeps for an hour or two. Furthermore, if I were a toddler, I would want to sleep more on rainy days, play in the water all afternoon during a heatwave, and sleep in after a day spent running around at the zoo. So that's what I let my son do.

I know this is not the normal parenting strategy (especially around here). Almost all of the babies I meet are on a schedule (sometimes a very strict one). I understand that schedules are lifesavers for many new (and experienced) parents, but it's just not for me and my family.
Personally, I think my son's life will become overscheduled from the time he is 5-21+ so why not give him more flexibility now?
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Posted by Jessica T., a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Oct 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Amen! I like to think of a schedule as loose guidelines - my babies are going to take some morning and afternoon naps when they are tired. They are going to take them in their carseat or cribs depending on where we are. I like honoring their childhood experience too!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 13, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Yes, I remember some of my kids naturally fell into a nap schedule and others didn't. It was definitely easier to go with the flow than to impose a specific schedule on the unscheduled ones. The biggest challenge was on the days when I needed a nap but they didn't!

Posted by Cheryl Bac, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 13, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Cheryl Bac is a registered user.

Jessica, thanks so much for the support! Did you use the same loose schedule approach with your oldest child? I'd love to hear more about using a looser schedule with twins.

Posted by Cheryl Bac, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 13, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Cheryl Bac is a registered user.

Sally, thanks so much for commenting. Absolutely! I'm not sure how I would handle sleep with two or more unscheduled or loosely scheduled kids. Seems like sleep would definitely be a huge challenge! I'd love to hear more about juggling sleep with 5 kids.

Posted by Jessica T, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Oct 14, 2013 at 7:35 am

Well...My first daughter didn't nap beyond the age of 6 months, so loose guidelines didn't even work! She didn't want to miss a thing then, and she's the same now. (Daycare was the exception. She always napped there - I think she got more tired out and other kids set an example.) Since age 1, she was always a great sleeper at night.

With twins - we try to keep them on the same schedule at night. We put them down at the same time and when one wakes up to feed, we wake the other up so as to conserve some sleep on our end. During the day, though, it's tough to enforce a schedule - one might wake up earlier than the other, one might sleep in the stroller, and the other might be wide awake. You just learn to recognize to their individual signals. All kids will let you know when they are tired!

Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Oct 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Hello, Cheryl!

I am enjoying your blog even though I do not have a baby. This particular article really hit home. Mom once told me that there were mornings when we baby-toddler-young kids managed to stay busy and happy in our pajamas and that it would have been a struggle to get us dressed and out the door at an early hour. Mom was glad we were not on a fixed schedule other than the daily obligation that many sun-deprived Midwestern children face no matter what the weather: "Get outside and play!"

Posted by Cheryl Bac, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 14, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Cheryl Bac is a registered user.

Jessica - That's great! I'm so glad that my son is able to take some of his naps in his front carrier. He did this a lot when he was very little, and on vacations it has become a lifesaver.

Posted by CherylBac, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm

CherylBac is a registered user.

LJ- Thanks so much for reading my blog and commenting! I'm so glad that this article resonated with you. I also grew up in the midwest and I completely agree about the daily obligation to "get outside and play!" Rain, snow, ice or sleet didn't keep us indoors. My parents just bundled us up in extra layers and gave us hot chocolate when we returned. I treasure those days of sledding, exploring in the woods, and playing in the sandbox. What were your favorite unscheduled childhood memories?

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of another community,
on Oct 14, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Amen and I agree! When my son was younger 8 or 9 months or so I was more strict with his schedule, or tried to be at least. I guess for some reason I felt that was pretty important. Now I\\\'m way more relaxed about his schedule and life in general. I\\\'m not sure if it\\\'s just the fact that he\\\'s older now (20 months old), or the fact that I feel like more of an experienced parent, or a combo of everything. I wish I had been more relaxed when he was younger, but I am now, so that\\\'s a good thing. Now if he naps great, if not, oh well. If we are out and it\\\'s his nap time, oh well, he will just sleep for 45 minutes or so in the car. Flexibility is important I feel and I agree with everything in your post. Once he hits Kindergarten, his days will be very structured, almost too structured in my opinion. I think that kids should just be kids. That means playing, reading books, climbing trees, picking flowers, tickles, laughs, hugs, yummy food, playgrounds, sunshine, cuddles, blankets and friends. I\\\'m letting my son have some freedom and just be a kid. We do try to always spend a good deal of time outdoors as well, weather permitting. Lastly I think that being a SAHM has allowed me to have almost total freedom and flexibility with scheduling. For example the other day I was thinking how if I had to work 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and let\\\'s say he had to be at daycare by 7:30 a.m. everyday how different our life would be. Obviously things would change dramatically because he wouldn\\\'t be with me a majority of his day. But also if one or both of us had a bad night, i.e. waking up/not sleeping well, we would want to sleep in the next day. However if I didn\\\'t stay home with him, he wouldn\\\'t be able to "sleep in." I would have to wake him up at 6:30 a.m for example, regardless. He would be exhausted on top of everything else. I am loving your blog, keep up the great work!

Posted by CherylBac, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 14, 2013 at 8:36 pm

CherylBac is a registered user.

Elizabeth - thank you so much for the kind words! I absolutely agree; childhood should be filled with lots of play, hugs, tickles, and cuddles. I am actually working on a post about the ability to "sleep in" that I'm planning to post later this week. Stay tuned :) I'm so glad that you are enjoying my blog. It's great to have such supportive readers. Thank you!

I'd love to hear more about why you ended up switching from a strict to a more relaxed schedule. Was there one "switch" or did it happen gradually? We never had a strict schedule (partly because my son loved sleeping in his front carrier and I loved being out of the house...a wonderful combination).

Posted by Dr. Spock, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Oct 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm

How do you know that this is unusual? It sounds very usual for a 1 year old. Unless your baby is in daycare it would be odd for you to have him "scheduled." He\'s not 10 in summer camp he\'s one. The only thing unusual about this is that you are sharing it as if you have something earthshaking to contribute like this vapid gem: " childhood should be filled with lots of play, hugs, tickles, and cuddles." I think you\'re wrong -- I think it should be filled with puppies, unicorns, and rainbows. Your experience seems super precious to you. The rest of the world not so much. The topic of parenting in Palo Alto could be interesting, funny, and serious. There is a lot to say about the unreasonable expectations for perfection placed on mothers and babies, the proliferation of baby genius videos etc. what about the feeling of having failed to know what the "right" preschool is, the adjustment to marriage required by children. To vaccinate or not? Worried about autism and milestones? Do you compare your toddler to your friends' toddlers internally? Please editor whatever we did to deserve this superficial drool we\'re sorry!

Posted by Cheryl Bac, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 17, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Cheryl Bac is a registered user.

Dr. Spock - From my experience, one year olds typically have a more rigid schedule (especially here). If my posts do not interest you, feel free to check out some of the other wonderful parenting blogs on this site.

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of another community,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 7:20 am

Hi Cheryl, I will be sure to check back to read your new blog about "sleeping in." I really like reading all your posts as well. Keep up the great work. I would say we weren't really on a strict schedule, just a general one. For example first nap around 11 a.m., second around 4 p.m. I would have loved to have worn my son more in a front carrier, however by the time I purchased one he was 3 months old and was already weighing more than 20 pounds and he just seemed too heavy for me to carry around for extended periods of time. Also he got very accustomed to sleeping in his swing and eventually his crib for his naps, so I felt like it was best to have him continue to sleep at home. Know one is perfect though, and we all do what we feel is right at the time. If we ever have another baby, I'm going to purchase an Ergo carrier (we had a Moby wrap before)and start using it from day one. Plus I think that it will really help me be "hands free" since I'll be chasing around my older son as well. Again keep up the great work and I will be staying tuned!

Posted by CherylBac, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 8:29 am

Hi Elizabeth, thank you so much for your kind words. And thank you for checking out my blog again. I'm so glad that you are enjoying it! I am almost ready to post about sleeping in (the What's Your Excuse? Seemed like a timely post and I didn't want to wait any longer to post it). Sorry for the delay.

I completely agree about doing what we feel is right at the time. And I know that some babies do sleep best in their cribs and on a more strict schedule, my son just isn't one of them at the moment. I hope your next child enjoys the front carrier! I bet a newborn will feel so light to you after being used to picking up your son. Please stay tuned. And thanks again for the support.

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