Normalizing the abnormal

It’s been anything but normal around here, and routine has long been thrown out the window. I’ve been really frustrated about this. (Biggest understatement of the year alert!)  As we adjust to the more demanding needs of a child recovering from a very serious illness, I have to swallow the difficult truth that, for us, right now, life isn’t normal.

But children need to feel like some things are normal or they feel very unsettled. And my kids have been feeling very unsettled.

After we came home and I got my feet a little more firmly on the ground, I knew we had to start finding at least some aspects of normal again. Obviously, not everything, and we are clearly still more in survival mode right now. But the kids (and us!) needed some aspects of life to look as much like normal as possible.

Anytime you are coming off a non routine time it takes awhile to get everyone back into the swing of things. While everyone is craving routine, it seems really hard to actually get back into it. Add in the fact that we are in a huge time of transition in our lives, and we have had a traumatic health crisis with lots of added doctor and therapy appointments, this has all been extremely difficult.

I thought I would share my strategy for attempting to get the family back to feeling a little more secure.

Pick one anchor

I’ve mentioned before that we like to use anchors as part of our daily rhythm. It isn’t so much about what time something happens, but an anchor or flag post, if you will, that something is changing or a new activity is beginning. Since we were coming off a chaotic and traumatic time,  it was important to not try and add in all our anchors at once.

For one thing, it wasn’t going to work. But it also adds more stress when the kids have been used to no routine at all, to suddenly be throwing all their old routines back at them. Another factor is that Olivia’s needs are so demanding right now that many of our normal anchors would simply not work right now.

We chose to pick the anchor that we knew would be the most consistent. Daytime things are all subject to change because sometimes appointments dictate our day rather than my handy routine. Evenings, however, are intact so we decided to choose our family Bible time and evening routine to be the first thing that we put back into our day on a consistent basis.

It was amazing to me that as soon as we did it, it was comforting to everyone, but especially Olivia. Having been through so much in the past month it seemed like she just loved sitting and singing or reciting familiar Scripture passages. Also, early on when we were still getting very little out of her verbally, she would happily sing with us which was so good to see.

However chaotic and stressful our day is, that time at the end of the day comes like a balm for all of us. Peace, tranquility, and…normal.

Adjust the anchor

You probably guessed this, but just because we added in an anchor and it felt like normal, doesn’t mean it was exactly like normal. Adjusting to new needs has been imperative. Olivia’s attention span dramatically decreased so we have to factor that in. She also has to be put to sleep instead of just putting her in bed at night. All of this means that we have had to adjust the routine that we had in place.

We have shorter reading times and more singing during Bible time. We start earlier so we allow for plenty of time to fall asleep, etc, etc.

It is all relatively simple changes, but change has to take place. Sometimes you just have to swallow that fact that even the normal things will be different. How’s that for an oxymoron?

Our next two anchors we are (or will be) adding in are rest time and read aloud time. I’ll share more later how I’m trying to do this, but suffice it to say that with a very decreased attention span and a child that literally cannot leave my side, it is taking lots of creativity.

Pick your peaceful moment

This may simply be a positive way of saying the familiar “pick your battles” but it has really been important for my own frame of mind. As soon as we came home, I made the mental decision that bedtime would be peaceful. Our kids have always been easy to put to bed, so this didn’t seem like a difficult task, but I knew that with all the added stress and time away from parents (for the boys) things would be different.

Everyone was more needy and this showed itself most right at bedtime. Of course!

Whatever this makes you think of me, I had come to love my time alone after the kids were in bed. So much so that I would often rush through bedtime just so I could go do my own plans. Because my kids are easy to put to bed, this worked. Sadly, though, this resulted in what I know was missed moments of connection and bonding with my children.

When I came home from the hospital after 7 days of high stress and 7 days without putting my boys in bed at night, I realized I had been missing a lot by rushing through those bedtimes. They were wanting more from me right at the very moment I was wanting less of them. And I often reacted with an adult, socially acceptable version of the toddler scream: “That’s Mine!” I still sometimes struggle with this. I’m tired…no…exhausted at the end of the day, and I can.not.wait. for the house to be quiet.

Deciding that bedtime would be peaceful, and, therefore, no matter how much time my children needed as we put them to bed I would give it to them, was a really important decision. I sang a lot of songs for several nights. They needed security and comfort and I sat there with them until they were sound asleep. Bedtime those first few days took a couple of hours. But they were peaceful and special hours of sweet moments with my children. Not crying and commands of “go back to bed” hours.

As they realized and believed that I really would give them what they needed, they slowly began needing less. Funny how that works. Now, for the most part the boys are back to their normal going to bed procedures. But I still spend a few extra minutes with them. And on those nights that I sense they need more, I give it to them. But most of the time they’re okay, because they instinctively know now that I will give it if they need it.

Life isn’t normal. It’s actually quite stressful right now. But finding small moments to normalize the chaotic helps settle small little people. We’re far from being completely settled, and my children are still reacting in ways that show me they are still feeling the stress of our lives right now. Little windows of routine in an otherwise routine-less day helps the process slowly inch toward normal.

Maybe someday we’ll be there. Maybe when we get to normal it won’t look anything like last month’s normal. Or more likely, we’ll realize we’ve learned a whole new normal that we’re all okay with. Until then we’ll just keep inching our way, one small routine at a time.


  1. Praying for you as you find your new normal.

  2. RaShell S says:

    We are continuing to pray for your family. May the Lord give you all peace and joy during this stressful time.

  3. Sorry you guys are going through this, but it sounds like God is giving you the wisdom and grace you need each day to handle every special challenge He allows. Praying for you all!

  4. One day–no, moment–at a time. We are praying for your family. Loved your post!

  5. Continuing to pray for these harder days, and praying they hold many tender moments alongside each hard one.

    And on further note, thank you for the encouragement, as well. Even without crisis moments, I feel our family goes through the ebbs and flows of happy seasons and then seasons where my children are more needy. We are just pulling out of a more needy season, and it was a time in which my children all needed much of my time, and my evenings that once had some hours for “regrouping” seemed to melt one day into the next.

    Once I adjusted *my* attitude, I saw that time for what it truly was–special hours and sweet moments.

    • I agree, Keren. I see the ebb and flow of their neediness too. But sometimes I’m far into the needy period before I suddenly realize why everyone is so whiny and/or behavior issues are more…. It seems to help my frustration when I finally just acknowledge that they need me more right now but it won’t last forever.

  6. Karen B. says:

    My prayers are with all of you. In the process of this move back to St. Paul Randy and I are both trying to start adjusting to our new normal also. These times are certainly reminders not to get too comfortable in life. If you do, you might miss out on some of the greatest gifts that God has to offer us, those times when we are forced to grow to get through difficult times. I sure do wish that we lived closer and could be more help to you:(. We love you guys.


  1. […] my heart! — specifically, re-discovering routine after a chaotic and traumatic interruption. Normalizing the abnormal is difficult, but Johanna suggests 3 basic (and doable!) steps to getting back on […]

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