Ask any parent and they’ll tell you bedtime is the dreamiest part of the day. You’ll get a lot of, “I love my kids, but I can’t wait for 8pm!” Parents, I feel you. We are all in this. The evolution of bedtime takes a few twists and turns as the kids get older, but the bottom line is: at the end of the day all we want is for the kids to get the f**k to bed.
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The sweet stage: baby time
Remember the sweetness that used to surround bedtime? I’m pretty sure every parenting manual preached r-o-u-t-i-n-e. And so it went. After a full day of spit-ups, crying, maybe a mommy-and-me group, and intermittent napping that wouldn’t even give you time to warm up your coffee, BEDTIME COULD NOT COME SOON ENOUGH. (Did anyone ever notice it getting earlier and earlier?)
It went something like this: the count down to bed time began some time around 10am. Once 5pm hit, you started to feel downright jittery with anticipation. Bath time meant you were so close. Then some snuggly nursing/feeding time and, if you were into putting your baby to sleep awake like some crazy person, a little story time. If you were lucky, some time around 6:30pm, it would be SLEEP.
Bahaha! If you were lucky.
*In my best “narrator” voice*: The baby would, in fact, not fall asleep until well past 10pm and will have been fussing and crying for the better part of three hours.
SO FUN. But, once that sweet face drifts peacefully off to dreamland, and you stand there, half out of your mind with exhaustion in your spit-up-stained shirt, giving yourself a silent high five, you think — no, you know — this is love. The entire day just melts away to this one moment.
The busy stage: toddlerhood
So, you survived the baby bedtime stage and you think, “I’ve got this.” But that baby grows into a toddler and that toddler comes in and just f**ks things up. Toddlers have their own bedtime agenda. They begin to learn the art of negotiation. They are busy, sneaky pint-sized spitfires with wild imaginations.
But the real fun begins when they move into their “big kid” bed. We all celebrate this milestone and then silently curse it. Have you ever known a toddler to actually stay in their bed once you’ve tucked them in?
The bones of the bedtime operation are similar to those of toddlerhood except that now dinner is at dinner time. Afterwards, it’s bath time, story time — raising those readers, and, finally, BED.
So, you survived the baby bedtime stage and you think, “I’ve got this.” But that baby grows into a toddler and that toddler comes in and just f**ks things up.
Then it’s a glass of water, having to pee, wanting the light on, wanting the light off, being too hot, being too cold, checking for monsters, wanting the door open, wanting Mommy/Daddy/the family pet to sleep with them, and, eventually succumbing to exhaustion. You still silently high five yourself, but now it’s because you’ve nailed your 10,000 steps going up and down the stairs a dozen times. You also shed a little tear because you know that child will be up at the first light of day with the energy of five espressos.
The Survivor stage: tweenhood
So, you’ve gotten into a bedtime rhythm, but darn those kids for growing up and flipping the switch on you…again. Herding tweens to bed is a whole other level of “outwit, outplay, outlast”. The question is: who will survive?
Now, you’re loosening the reins on the routine. Your kids are active in sports, and busy with friends and school. Tweens are a cool breed but, geez, they can be frustrating. They’ve got all these emotions. Hormones are brewing. They are, by turns, sensitive and explosive. And everything bubbles up at bedtime. Because of course it does.
Tweens naturally push the limits of their independence and bedtime is the perfect forum. They want to stay up later (though you know they aren’t quite ready to handle it). So they turn on sloth mode and procrastinate. They negotiate. They argue. About everything and anything.
They’re hungry and they want a snack. They take 20 minutes and half a tube of toothpaste smeared all over the sink to brush their teeth. Bath time is now them “forgetting” it’s shower night and decide 8:55pm is the best time to jump in. Story time is them wanting “five more minutes” to read in bed. It’s always just one more thing.
But, if you’re lucky, it’s also one more hug. One more kiss. One more bedtime secret handshake. That is, if you manage to stay awake till the end. Don’t worry. Even if you doze off, they’ll be up in ten minutes to tell you they can’t fall asleep.
But, if you’re lucky, it’s also one more hug. One more kiss. One more bedtime secret handshake. That is, if you manage to stay awake till the end.
The go-to-bed-earlier-than-your-kids stage: teenhood
It’s the end of the line. You baby is now a teenager and, while you still want to guide them into good sleep habits, they’re pretty much regulating themselves. I will say this, though: if you want ANY type of alone time with your spouse/partner/S.O., you definitely need to enforce boundaries. Teens are still children; their brains are still developing so they won’t always make the soundest decisions. Be the parent.
Those routines of babyhood are long gone, replaced by looser, unwritten rules. Dinnertime is usually with the family but sometimes at a friend’s or on-the-go. Baths have long since been replaced by showers. Still, you may have to enforce the shower situation for the simple reason that teenagers don’t seem to be overly preoccupied with their natural scent permeating the air. Story time has been reduced to texting with friends until you silently put out your palm to collect the phone for the night.
It’s important for teens to power down at a respectable bed time or else they will be powering down in the middle of Science class. Teens need sleep. They are adapting to bigger workloads at school, friend issues, more competitive sports, and activities. With more on the go, they want their chill time. But, guess what? So do you.
More and more, you find yourself crashing before your kid is even in bed and missing out on your own adult time. No Netflix binging tonight! And guess what else? Teens are tired. That nap they took in Science class doesn’t really count. So, unless you want to deal with a teen zombie every morning, continuing well-established sleep habits will save you both a lot of grief.
Just as you would dim the lights and put on gentle music for your baby, ensure you child has a calm sleep space without screens or distractions. Our kids all like to fall asleep to music or even a sleep meditation. Journaling before bed can be relaxing to some, for others, reading — like from a real book — for a few minutes is all it takes to settle the mind. If all else fails, simply tell them to “Get the f**k to bed.”