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Why My Kid Can't Go To Your Kid's Party

boy blowing out birthday candles
Photograph by Getty Images/Moment RM

This year for my son's 7th birthday party, we traveled back in time and hosted a backyard, no frills, time-limited, no big deal party. He only wanted to invite a few friends. He wanted a football theme, Patriots cupcakes and some fun games to play outside.

As each mom entered the scene, I joked, "Welcome to the '80s, where the kids are playing whatever they want and the entertainment is self-made!"

Some stayed, some left, and they all picked up the kids two hours later. It was magical.

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It's no big secret that birthday parties are a bit over the top these days. Allow me to be the first to admit that I'm not much of a Pinterest mom, because I just don't have the skills (or the will). I love to admire the amazing crafts and gift bags that other parents create, but my kids love to do their own creating when it comes to their parties, and that works well for all of us.

The latest and greatest trend in birthday parties, it seems, has little to do with perfect crafts or fun entertainment, though. Lately, the invitations include late-night parties with an end time that is well past their normal bedtimes.

I'm all for a pajama/movie party with an 8 p.m. pickup time, but that's about as much partying as my kids can handle. Sometimes it's birthdays, and other times it's sports team parties. Either way, why the late-night parties?

Sometimes I wonder if it's just me. My kids will wake up at 6:45 a.m. no matter what time they go to sleep. True story. A few times a year, I really push their bedtimes for family gatherings or other big events, and I'm overflowing with regret each time I do it.

While I sometimes feel the pull to let them go just this once, so that they don't miss out on a fun night with friends, I usually come to my senses before I hit that "yes" button on the Evite.

As we all know, sleep debt impacts the whole family. Sure, as an adult I can run on empty for a few days before I really start to crumble. By my kids? They don't do well with too little sleep. Are they capable of handling a few hours of lost sleep? Of course. But why should they have to? Why should I put them in the position of having a tired and cranky morning (and afternoon and evening) just to be part of the late night party?

I know it seems like a couple of hours here and there are no big deal, but those hours add up. When children accumulate sleep debt, they pay the price.

In fact, a study published in Pediatrics found a clear link between irregular bedtimes and behavioral issues. Researchers analyzed bedtime data from 10,000 children in the U.K., collected at 3, 5 and 7 years. The research team also incorporated behavioral reports from parents and teachers. They found that lack of consistent sleep worsened behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, conduct problems, issues with peers and poor emotional regulation. They added, however, that a consistent bedtime reversed the problems resulting from sleep debt.

Adequate sleep is an essential component of a happy and healthy childhood. It's easy for parents to forget that childhood is actually quite exhausting. They learn constantly. They grow in leaps and bounds. They run and play until they can't possibly run and play anymore, and they need that recovery period to hit the reset.

According the latest information from the National Sleep Foundation, school age children (ages 6 to 11) need nine to 11 hours of sleep each night. My 9-year-old daughter sleeps exactly 10.5 hours every night, and my 7-year-old son always sleeps 11 hours. While I won't pretend that my kids are happy-go-lucky every second of every day, that consistent sleep helps them cope with the ups and downs that childhood has to offer, and it keeps them energized and alert throughout the day.

So that late-night birthday party (or any other party) thing? That's just not for us.

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While I sometimes feel the pull to let them go just this once, so that they don't miss out on a fun night with friends, I usually come to my senses before I hit that "yes" button on the Evite. One night of partying with peers doesn't seem worth a day of exhaustion and tears.

Last night I watched an episode of "How I Met Your Mother" called, "Nothing Good Happens After 2 a.m." When it comes to kids, I'm fairly confident we can retitle that, "Nothing good happens after 7:30 p.m."

Sleep tight, little ones. You can party more when the sun comes up.

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