A reader asked through our Features page to talk about the importance of keeping twins on a schedule. While a consistent routine is important for all infants and children, I would argue that the reason it’s even more important with multiples is for mommy’s sake.
Let’s back up just a little and talk about routines and schedules, and what I mean when I use those words. There’s a wide range amongst different moms and different kids. A routine can be pattern of behavior you do regularly, whether it’s the fact that you always feed them yogurt at lunchtime, read two books before bed, or take a walk around the block in the morning. A schedule looks at the clock, whether it be relative time (a bottle every three hours) or “real” time (morning nap at 9AM).
Routines are especially good for babies and young children because it helps them to know what to expect. The world can seem a chaotic and overwhelming place to them, but if they know that the sequence of dim lights, bathtime, pajamas, a bottle, and a story lead to bedtime, it can give them a sense of security and stability. As anyone who has instituted a consistent bedtime routine can attest, it’s amazing how much easier babies will go to sleep once they know what’s coming. The level of precision in your routine is up to you and your kids. Some kids need to have the same story every night, while others don’t seem to mind as long as there’s a story.
A schedule can be a very good thing, though it can be taken to extremes. Some babies are extremely regular, and some require a bit more flexibility. But even if your 10-week-old can’t tell time, you can still use the clock. Again, I come back to bedtime: set it at roughly the same time every night for a week, and watch how quickly your kids will learn to expect it. The same goes for naps and mealtimes in older infants and toddlers. If you consistently put them down for a nap at the same time every day, or feed them lunch at the same time, they will quickly come to expect it.
Why is this such a good thing? Why not keep your kids more flexible and loose? There are arguments to be made both for your kids and for you. For the kids, they will be much less cranky throughout the day if they know what to expect. If they’re not sure whether it’s time to eat or time to sleep or time to play, they get overwhelmed and upset. This is not to say that having a schedule will eliminate all fussiness from your household (ha!), but it should help to keep things predictable for your kids, which will generally help them to be more relaxed and happy.
And, as we all know, happy babies mean happy mommies, and vice versa. While predictability is a very good thing for your children, it is critical for you. You need to know that your kids will take a nap at a particular time (most) every day. You need to know when you’ll have a moment to take a deep breath, to snatch a shower, or to throw in (yet another) load of laundry. You need to know whether it’s a good idea to sign up for that mommy & me class at 2pm, or whether that is likely to be right smack in the middle of naptime. This, too, is why I think that a schedule of some kind is even more important with twins than it is with a singleton. If your singleton baby decides that one day she wants the afternoon nap to be at noon, and another day it’s at 2:30, it’s not quite as big of a deal. You can shift yourself around and do your typical naptime chores a few hours later. But with two babies, I guarantee they aren’t going to make the same shift on the same day. If your two kids don’t have a routine and just take a nap or eat whenever they want to, then you’re most likely going to have at least one baby awake at all times. And that is not a good thing.
Yes, you need to respond to your children’s individual cues, but as we’ve said before (here and here), being a mom of multiples likely means you’re going to have to take charge and perhaps be slightly more rigid and less go-with-the-flow than you may have thought you’d be.
There are tradeoffs when it comes to sticking to your scheduling guns. Getting your kids used to a particular routine can mean that they might not always do well with a change in routine, though that depends partly on the personality of the child in question. It definitely means that you’re going to find yourself making choices about what you do, or don’t do, based on your child’s routine (nap schedule, in particular). People without kids, or even people with singletons that don’t have a strict schedule, will be annoyed with you. They will tell you you’re over-doing it. You may feel a little constrained, even trapped by the schedule (especially when there are still two naps…).
The benefits, in my opinion, outweigh the drawbacks. You have some idea of how to plan your day, you have some idea of what to expect. Having a well-established routine can really help when things are thrown off, like with travel or illness. Though your kids might be a little “off” in a new location, having the same bedtime routine as you do at home will help them adjust.
And, of course, you can take scheduling too far. Being too rigid is not a good thing. Sometimes you decide a particular event or circumstance is worth it to mess with your routine. Sometimes your kids are just having a “different” kind of day. We’re all people, after all, not programmed robots. Flexibility, as with anything in parenting, absolutely has its place. Sometimes your child will (ahem) get up at 4:45 in the morning, and there’s just no way you’re going to make it to that 8:30 naptime. Sometimes you can’t avoid being out of the house when they need to be in bed. You can try to stretch and keep things as close to “normal” as possible, but you’ll have days where it just doesn’t work. The good thing is that, if the routine is otherwise well-established, they’ll get back on the bandwagon quickly.