I have always been an organizer glued to my planner (now, the calendar app on my phone). I color code for different events and make sure everything is properly scheduled in order to optimize efficiency and enjoyment and minimize any risks, especially when the possible risks include a child meltdown. As the mother of three (or four by the time you are reading this), I have found that planning a schedule and sticking to it is really the key to maintaining sanity at any time, especially during the holidays. There is a problem, however, in that during the holidays, when many of us need a schedule so desperately, we are not really in charge of the schedule at all…or are we?
Knowing that the time period starting with Rosh HaShanah and ending with Simchat Torah offers some challenges, consider the following tips to keep your family going during this time.
Know the schedule. When are your kids off of school? If they are not off of school technically, will you be taking them out of school? If you plan to take them to synagogue or temple or another program, when? Which days? What times? Do you have anything else planned or want to have anything else planned during this time? Do you want to share a meal with friends and/or family at your house or theirs? Do you want to do Tashlich (ritual of throwing bread crumbs into water to symbolize casting out sins)? What else will impact your schedule during this time? Consider the answers to these questions when you can make thoughtful choices instead of having to make decisions last-minute. With so much out of your control, schedule-wise, take advantage of the decisions you can make.
Keep in mind your normal routine, but also consider your options. Of my three kids, two of them take regular afternoon naps. Of those two, one is generally fine if she doesn’t take a nap as long as she is occupied. The other one, however, must nap…or he will literally melt into a hot mess (okay, I am not sure if this is really true because he so desperately needs his nap that we’ve never risked it). Knowing this, when we know we won’t be home in the afternoon for his nap time, we plan for him to fall asleep in the car or in the stroller so he can take a version of a nap (he doesn’t sleep well when he’s not in his crib, but something is better than nothing).
Additionally, my kids are all in bed by 7:00 p.m., but we know we have some flexibility on this, especially with the older two, and the youngest one, when he’s tired enough, will fall asleep in my husband’s arm when he’s decided it’s bed time. So, in our ideal situation, we are home between noon and 3:00 p.m. for nap time and home by 6:30 p.m. to ensure everyone can be in bed by 7:00 p.m., but we know those times don’t have to be firm.
So consider for yourself when do your kids nap? How necessary is a nap? When do your kids go to sleep? How necessary is hitting this time? How flexible are your kids regarding where they sleep? What are their other built-in schedule constraints that need to be considered? How flexible can they be?
Take control of the schedule. You may not be the one who sets the times services are held at your synagogue or temple, but you are the one who gets to decide when you arrive and when you leave. If your child usually sleeps late, and you don’t want to wake him to get a seat in the first row, then don’t wake him (the 18th row has a great view as well). If the service is lasting into the afternoon, and you really don’t want your child to miss his nap, then leave early (someone can fill you in on how things end). If taking your kids to someone else’s house for meals causes too much stress with unfamiliar surroundings and messes with your kids’ sleep schedules, invite people to your house instead or just decline invitations. Determine what your scheduling priorities are and make decisions that align with those priorities.
Don’t forget the food. My kids might be a little flexible about their sleeping, but they are not at all flexible about their eating. Everyone in the greater Denver area has probably heard my daughter screaming when she is hungry, and I have managed to forget the snacks; it’s not pretty for anyone involved. Keep in mind your kids’ eating habits, and make sure they are sticking to a schedule for eating their snacks and lunches. Make sure you always have string cheese or animal crackers or whatever else your kids like with you, even if you are at someone else’s house for a meal (you never know when the “eating” part of the meal will actually happen). Also consider buying some special snacks that your kids love, but you don’t have often for those occasions when your kids need a little something extra to keep them for turning into the aforementioned hot mess.
When all else fails, go with the flow. No one loves when a child (or two or three) who is grumpy all day because he didn’t get to sleep the preceding night. Just remember, tomorrow is a new day, and one day off of your schedule won’t carry dramatic, long-term effects. After all, some of my best family memories so far are from when we went to someone’s house and stayed longer than planned or took a trip to somewhere we didn’t usually go or some other reason we didn’t follow our normal schedule. I do not remember how grumpy and miserable we may have been the next day; I do remember how much fun we had though.
Dr. Sarah Levy has been involved in the field of Jewish education for nearly fifteen years, currently serving at the Director of Adult Education for the Colorado Agency for Education. She lives in Denver with her husband, Benny, and their three kids: Itai, Batya and Ori.