6:00 – Dinner
6:30 – Bath
7:00 – Quiet playtime
7:30 – Books
8:00 – Brush teeth
8:05 – Bedtime
8:30 – I said bedtime. Go to sleep.
8:45 – Go. To. Sleep.
9:00 – GOOD NIGHT!
This used to be our schedule, some days it would be shorter and some days it was a two-hour fight getting my two kids to go to sleep. I needed bedtime to be at 8 on the dot to have some quiet time, some peace, some time to catch up on household chores, to read, to watch a show, to sleep, to have a break.
But my kids had other plans.
They wanted extra books, they wanted to sleep in the middle, they wanted to sleep with Blue Bun Bun, they wanted a drink of water, they wanted to sing songs or tell stories. The only thing they didn’t want was to go to sleep. My need to control their eyes to shut and them drift off to pillow land by 8:15 was seemingly a dream in itself. I was frustrated – frustrated with my kids which resulted in being frustrated with myself. The screaming and fighting of bedtime was something I dreaded so intensely I would be in tears some nights, desperate for a break.
Then one night I realized, why am I trying to force them to sleep when they are clearly not tired?
The obvious answer was because I needed a break, but there was more peace in letting them play quietly or in reading them books at 9:30 at night than yelling at them to be still and go to sleep at 9:30 at night. So I gave up bedtime. I gave up the fighting and screaming for giggles and magnatile castles. I gave up yelling and the frustration for extra chapters and snuggles on the couch. I gave up trying to control my children and gave them, instead, their autonomy and respected their decision when they were ready to go to bed.
We no longer dread bedtime. My daughter now asks to go to sleep when she is ready and my son follows his big sister. I snuggle them for five minutes and they’re asleep. Is it past 8:15 when they go to sleep? Yes, but usually they are asleep by 8:30-9:00. Some nights, they are up much later because they want to see their daddy when he gets home. Some nights, he brings pizza and they are up even later. Some nights, they are asleep by 7:30 because they had a very busy and active day.
It took me a long time to give up my need to control, but once I did, we began having peaceful “bedtimes.” My children aren’t robots to be programmed to sleep at a certain time of the night, they are people who are conscious of their own bodies and how tired they are. They are people who deserve the same respect I’d give to an adult who would go to bed of their own accord because they know when they are tired.
The transition to this new no-bedtime routine was trying.
The first few nights they enjoyed their freedom so much they did not sleep until 11:30 or later. Of course, they were grumpy the next day, but eventually, they became aware of their drowsiness. Somehow I found the strength and patience to ride out the storm with the help of a few extra cups of coffee. There are even many opportunities that they would have previously missed like gazing at the stars through a telescope, spotting bats and owls, and time with their father.
8:15 is not a magical time they should fall asleep the second the clock strikes, but it is magical the peace we have attained by simply acknowledging and respecting my children’s autonomy. When we give our children their freedom and trust in their own intuitions, we can often be surprised by the choices they make.