Routine: my guilty confessions to Gina Ford

Before my son was born, we decided that we wanted to get our baby into a routine. My husband, who prefers underlying principles to rules, read Gina Ford and said: “Great, let’s apply the general ideas but not try to follow her timings to the second, because this woman is clearly insane.”

I, however, am one of those people who navigates their way through the flood waters of life by clinging on to rules like a life raft. I am not saying this is good. In fact, I would say this is one of my big failings, as I am prone to getting so caught up in the little details that I fail to spot the big picture, like, say, the reason you are actually following the rules in the first place.

When my son was a baby I tried not to get too hung up on Gina’s precise timings, but she was so adamant that unless you followed her routine to the letter, things would go wrong, and if your baby was not content it was your own fault for not doing as she told you. Aside from rules, I am also a bit of a sucker for Experts. So the Toddler, a baby at the time, got into a lovely routine that looking back I am more than happy with, but along the way I did nothing but stress and beat myself up and clock-watch and shed the occasional tear of frustration at a nap that was too long or too short etc. etc.

With the Baby, I still can’t make up my mind what to do. I am not trying to Gina Ford it. I am trying not to Gina Ford it. Instead, I decided I’d go with a more general ‘rhythm’ rather than strict timings – as suggested by the Baby Whisperer, because I am still a sucker for Experts – of eat, play, sleep in 3 to 3 1/2 hour blocks. I try to watch her and put her to bed when she seems tired. I want to let her sleep for as long as she wants to, up to the next feed. Then I try to keep her awake for about 2 hours before bedtime. That is what I want to want.

In reality, I cannot help clocking how long she has been asleep for and comparing it in my head to Gina Ford’s advice. This morning I let her sleep for an hour and a half before I woke her up, 45 minutes before her next feed was due. That was me incapable of making a decision for either my own plan or Gina Ford’s: Gina would say no more than a 45 minute morning nap is needed, so it was too long. My planned approach would have said: you woke her up well before her feed and it was difficult to rouse her, she obviously wanted to sleep for longer, so let her. In total, today, I let her sleep for four and a half hours. Gina would say that was too much daytime sleep at this age, especially if I then guiltily admitted that I had let her sleep until 8am that morning and that she was more than ready for bed by 6.15pm.

Something in me says: if she wants to go to bed, let her. If she wants to sleep until 8, let her. If she wants to nap for ages, let her. There will be plenty of times when she won’t want to do any of that and you’ll wish you’d taken the opportunities to have a break and some one to one time with the Toddler when you could. She sleeps quite well at night, she feeds, she is happy and content, she settles herself to sleep without rocking, singing, white noise, hand holding or anything. All she wants is a quiet, dark room, and her fingers to suck. This is not a baby who needs more regimenting. This is a baby who is quite happy and self-sufficient.

Eventually, I am hoping I can gently encourage a reliable routine that I can plan my work around. And I also hope this reliable routine will include a lunchtime nap that roughly coincides with my son’s, so that I have time to do some work in the middle of the day. But at 12 weeks, I’m sure my son was no further in being ‘reliable’ than my daughter is now, even though I had put a lot more hard work into his routine and shed many more tears over it.

In the meantime, I will be the one in the corner with a clear view of the clock, pretending not to watch it.

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