Conventional parenting in unconventional hours

Lucy Fisk

Lucy Fisk

Lucy Fisk is a wife and mother to two gorgeous boys and blogs at Tired From Whitstable. Here she explains how tricky it can be to establish a firm routine when parenting across shift patterns and how she makes it work. Over to Lucy…

My husband and I are like many couples who do not work conventional hours – we have always worked shifts. When we decided to have children we had agreed that my husband would stop working nights to make a more stable family home and an easier environment for parenting. Due to the economic downturn this simply wasn’t possible and fast forward seven years and we find ourselves raising two boys like so many other families with an unconventional family life. Sometimes we are both around, sometimes it is just one of us and the other parent is working or sleeping, sometimes it is neither of us but my parents who very kindly help out with the school run and childcare when we are both at work. Having a home life that operates at different hours on different days means that we don’t have the consistency of a traditional routine, so we have had to find ways to give our sons a consistent upbringing in a schedule that is inconsistent.

School and home
Our inconsistent routine led to a meeting at the boys’ school with the Family Liaison Officer as we found ourselves with two boys, Nate, 6 and Leo, 5 who behave like angels at school and for others but for us behave like they are doing impressions of Horrid Henry times a million! We are the parents running after the children up the High Street, who only ever get told, ‘no’ and struggle with bedtime and getting out of the house anywhere near the time we intended to. Getting on top of all this is hard but it has been essential to be organised to help create a calm atmosphere. Here is how we started to create our consistent routine.

Back to basics
We took some very valuable advice and went back to basics. Children thrive on routine and they look to us to be their stability, their calming influence in a world of chaos and if they have different routines depending on who is looking after them and their idea of discipline and good parenting, the foundation simply isn’t there. This equates to tantrums, bad behaviour and all round general misery for the whole family. So like in any relationship we established deal breakers. The behaviours we absolutely wouldn’t tolerate and which would have a direct consequence being the time out chair and an electric timer.

We created a small but simple list of rules that the children could both understand. These included time out for being rude and being unkind (anyone else’s children like to throw Lego bricks at each other?!) It was made clear to the boys and we got the Grandparents involved too so that level of consistency was adopted no matter who was looking after them.

We made laminated sheets with the minimum we expect each morning and evening from the boys, the routine in a picture format with tick boxes. In the mornings whoever is doing the school run gets the boys to go through the list, have breakfast and a drink, have a wash, get dressed, brush their teeth and read their school books. This is what they need to do each morning and can tick off each thing as they go, almost like a reward chart. If all the things get done in good time they can choose what they do such as playing with some toys or drawing. If they refuse to do any of these things they get given a chance and if they don’t take their chance they then go for a time out. We adopt the same in the evening chart and everything gets ticked off as they do what they need to getting ready for bed.

Keep it simple
Keeping it simple meant that there was no confusion to the children or to my husband, my parents or me depending on who was in charge at the time. We emphasize communication and the boys are aware that we will talk to each other and their school about how they have been doing and the pride they take in a glowing report is so lovely to see. They have really responded to the achievement of a ticked sheet each day!

Stick with it
Discipline is front loaded – hard at first but easier as time goes on. At first we spent the majority of each morning and evening using the time out chair – a lot. If I’m honest, it was a nightmare when I was on my own – I’d get stressed and almost gave in a few times and let the old behaviours creep back, it certainly would have been the easier option. However in a month we found ourselves in the unique position that the threat of the time out chair is enough to stop anyone misbehaving and the boys will now think about their actions and adjust them accordingly. It is well worth the initial hard work to create the new, consistent behaviour that is easier to manage.

It sounds almost too good to be true doesn’t it but I assure you for us it has worked, it is an ongoing process that will need topping up as time goes on but in a world where so many families are not able to parent in a conventional sense, having this routine has helped us massively. I don’t know many parents who can both be there for mornings and evenings anymore and if it makes our busy lives easier then why not give it a go?

Have you developed any strategies for parenting across varying shift patterns or creating consistency? Let us know in the comments.

Lucy is a mum of two, blogger home-maker, wife, volunteer youth mentor, runner and wearer of many hats who lives in Whitstable, Kent. Catch Lucy at her blog Tired From Whitstable or on Instagram.

Home page image Lopolo via Shutterstock

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