Routine or rut? When schedules rule your life, one Chicago mom says ‘fight back’

Life is hectic when you have kids, and spare time is a rare commodity. Days and years pass quickly, and we comfortably fall into our family routines. For the most part, I’d say that’s a good thing-it’s those routines that bring order to your busy life and keep everyone on track. Or at least that’s what I thought.

My routine starts abruptly, as it does for most parents, around 6:30 a.m. That’s when my 14-month-old son begins singing and jumping in his crib. He shares a room with his big sister, who’s almost 3, so I’m usually pretty quick to grab him because I’d like my daughter-a night owl like her mommy!-to sleep a little longer.

My husband, who has been a stay-at-home dad for more than a year now, makes breakfast for the kids while I shower and get ready for work. Before I can get out the door, I’ve usually partially dressed the kids, styled my daughter’s hair, danced to an episode of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” and hopefully assembled a clean and presentable outfit for myself (I usually try to confirm this in the bathroom after I get to work).

When my workday ends, I battle the traffic to greet my anxiously awaiting children, and then it’s a night filled with dinner, baths and playing until they’re both asleep, usually accomplished by around 8:30 p.m.

Several nights a week, my husband departs for grad school shortly after I get home from work, or he’s working on school-related projects. When he returns, I’m often under the covers.

And that’s how it goes for my family, week after week. As I said before, routines are good, right?

Well, I’m not so sure anymore.

I recently broke from routine when I went on a work trip to New Orleans for five days. It had been a long time since I’d traveled alone, mainly because I’d sought to avoid leaving my family and messing up our nice routine. The dates of this trip had been etched in my planner all year, usually inspiring a feeling of dread. How would my family survive without me, and me without them?

Let’s just say, we all survived.

While I was away, I had some time to think about what’s going on in my life … and more importantly, what’s not. I realized the critical elements of fun and exploration had been washed away in my daily routine.

For starters, what’s going on with my husband? We get a sitter and go out to dinner once in a while, but where’s that fun and excitement we felt when we first met and the world was ahead of us? Why don’t we talk more often about future plans and our new life goals?

I started thinking about my own ambitions, too. For instance, why do I always dream about taking up photography as a more serious hobby, yet never do anything about it? Why is it I never signed up for that dance class? What about that book I’m really going to write one day? I’m 33; isn’t it time to get started? And what happened to all of my friends in the years since I became a mom-those friends I used to see in real life, not just on a computer screen?

I came home from my trip with determination. It’s time to start having more fun! It’s time to start feeling more alive! I’m investing in a new digital SLR camera, and I’ve already signed up for a photography class that meets on the weekend while the kids are napping (I think my husband will appreciate the study time).

I’m also convincing my hubby to take a couples dance class with me, and I’m making my friendships a priority. Sorry, Facebook, you’re just not cutting it anymore.

For parents like me, time is the most valuable thing of all. We want to cherish every moment with our children, and we tend to put our own goals and relationships on the back burner because we simply don’t have the time. At least we don’t think we do.

I’ve just turned over a new leaf, and I’m trying to make changes in my life that will make me a happier and more fulfilled person. And that, I hope, will make me a better mother, wife and friend. I have a feeling it’s not always going to be easy, and that it may often require the help of a Red Bull.

But I’m up for the challenge. My new mantra: Routines are meant to be broken.

Now who wants to go dancing?

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