It is a telling indictment of modern mainstream parenting culture that most parents can hardly wait for the Christmas Break or the Spring Break to end so they can send their kids back to school. The end of August brings similar remarks of “Can’t wait to get back to the routine” and “The kids are going squirrelly–must be time to send them back to school”.
Mainstream parents have endorsed and swallowed the myth that children thrive on routine. Yes, I said it’s a myth. Children are imaginative, creative and exuberant: how can they possibly be authentic when confined to a routine? And yet I hear it all time. Children thrive on routine. No, they don’t. The truth is that adults thrive on routine, especially adults who are responsible for the care of creative, imaginative and exuberant children.
I can see that there are lots of adults who are eager to get their kids back to a routine because the adults are unable to cope with the spontaneity of the children. Conversely, I also hear parents who complain that when their children are at home they don’t do anything–except watch TV, play video games and mope around the house. The parents of these kids think that they need school so that their children will be entertained. These parents have never considered that their children are desperate to take back control of their own time but that school has so wrecked the children that they don’t even know what to do with their own time.
Some families take the myth of thriving on routine to an extreme. In the last 2 years, Partner-Guy (he’s an elementary school teacher) has had 2 students who have lost a parent during the school year. In one case, the father of a Grade 3 girl died suddenly of a heart attack on a Tuesday and the child was sent to school on Thursday. The funeral was on Friday. She was back at school on Monday. In the other case, the mother of a Grade 2 girl died after a lengthy illness. The girl missed about a week of school while her grandparents visited but when they returned home she was returned to school. The girl cried on a daily basis and simply could not cope, and when Partner-Guy suggested that maybe she needed more time at home with her father and grandparents, the principal insisted that she would be better off keeping to her regular routine at school. Good grief.
You know what children thrive on? Predictability and familiarity. This is more than just semantics. School offers routine but it does not offer predictability, even with all its schedules and rules. There is just nothing predictable about 20 children of different backgrounds and experiences forced to be together every day. One day you have a best friend; the next day she hates you. One day you make a beautiful picture that everyone compliments; the next day your underwear is sticking out the back of your pants and everyone makes fun of you.
Predictability only happens within the familiarity of a safe environment where everyone treats each other with kindness, patience and respect. This the exact opposite of school. In fact, most families barely manage to do it. Routines become so etched in stone that people stop thinking. They zone-out. They are completely unable to think outside the box. Their brains are stifled by routines.
Predictability and familiarity allow children to thrive because it reduces their stress. Routines do not get rid of stress. In fact, the routine of getting to school on time and picking up the kids at daycare on time and going to swimming lessons on time is very stress-producing. And is the purpose of keeping kids on a routine to prepare them for life as an adult? Then why do most adults thrive on sleeping in on the weekends? Why do most adults seem to hold their breath until they get two weeks of vacation respite AWAY from the routine?
Routines are not a component of living a life of freedom and joy. I can’t think of any reason why, as an adult, I would chose to restrict my life by imposing a strict routine. I am thrilled to be earning an income in a way that allows me to chose my own hours, my own priorities and my own paycheque. Unless our financial viability is in grave danger I will not chose to return to a job with a standard 5-day work week.
I don’t thrive on routine either. Do you?