After thirteen years of motherhood, I can say with certainty – I HATE bedtime! I can see your faces, you are questioning my sanity, maybe thinking – Does she not like quiet? Bedtime is the most challenging time of the day for me as a mother. After years of heartache, frustration and worry, I gave up on the traditional idea of bedtime and morphed into a routine that works for me and my children.
Fighting Natural Circadian Rhythms
Every person has a natural circadian rhythm. My children are naturally night owls. If left to their own devices they will stay up late and sleep in late. No one in my house gets up at 6am if left alone without an alarm clock. So while often necessary, forcing a set bedtime is a constant battle with everyone’s natural cycle.
You Can’t Force Sleep
There may be people who will fight me on this, but you cannot force anyone to sleep. You have the ability to set up an environment for sleep, but physically falling to sleep cannot be forced. As adults we accept this and listen to our bodies; with children we put them in bed and expect them to be asleep in 20 minutes. With my crew, I put them in bed and hours later they are still wide awake.
Up Down All Around
The result of fighting our natural body clocks is a never ending bedtime routine. We start with the normal things – pajamas, teeth brushing, books, prayers, music – and move into the “I’m not tired” battle. Sometimes it looks like kiddos up and down out of bed every 15 minutes. Other times, everyone stays in their rooms, but I can hear constant chatter for up to two hours. There are many nights when everyone is begging to snuggle with mommy and I become a human teddy bear for a good portion of the evening.
Not Up for the Fight
The last thing I want to do is argue with my children all evening. My natural sleep cycle does not match theirs (they all take after their father on this one) and I am tired and need to slow down. There is nothing slow or calming about negotiating with three children for two hours. Sometimes I am all for the snuggling, but other times I am 1000% touched out by 8pm. What is a mom to do?
Let It All Go
I let go of my preconceptions of how a normal bedtime looks. Why should I spend my evening angry and frustrated? I just don’t see a reason. Instead of forcing a lights out hard stop to the night, we moved to individual quiet time. Quiet time looks different for each child and often looks different from night to night. So whether they are reading, drawing, or playing with action figures, it is all fair game. When they naturally start to get tired, they slow down. The older ones will turn out the lights and start their playlists without any assistance. The little man will sometimes fall asleep playing. Other days he will need five minutes of snuggles to finalize that it is time to sleep. Five minutes of mommy time over two hours of up and down arguing works so much better for me.
Are They Getting Enough Sleep?
You may be wondering if my children are getting enough quality sleep without a set bedtime. Most nights I say YES. They fall asleep when they are tired. If we had a busy day full of activity, quiet time may only last 20 minutes. On a slower day, when we have been more sedentary, quiet time may last up to two hours. In my experience when a child is truly tired you cannot keep them awake.
From Normal to Pandemic
So when the world turned upside down due to COVID-19, our non-bedtime routine went a step further. We spend more quiet time hours together. Our evenings are spent snuggled together watching movies or other random screen entertainment. Usually the little man is playing with toys on the floor of our bedroom. The uneasiness of our current situation requires more together time to put people at ease. I am following their lead while we have no schedule to keep, no alarms to set. I will confess this does limit my own childless hours. My choice is to temporarily forgo my time to give my children peace of mind. As we work towards a new normal, we will move back to our individual quiet time hours.
To My Fellow Mommas
Motherhood is a series of experiments and at the end is the routine that works best for you and your children. There is no right or wrong way to do things. Focus on the safety and security of your children and the best routine will fall into place. Sometimes tossing the parenting books in the trash is the best path. Leaning into my own intuition instead of parenting norms gives me more peace and in turn more calm for the family.