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Bedtime Battles: Not Worth It

We are not what one would call strict bedtime enforcers. Or maybe it’s more of: “OK, one more book” and “Yes, you can finish that chapter you’re on" and "OK, just finish the picture and then …”

AKA, we’re suckers.

I get a lot of, “What time do your kids usually go to bed?” and I’m always, like, "Uh… well? It depends."

And it does depend.

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Weekends are pretty flexible. Sometimes we’ll do a movie night, and when it’s over, it’s later than 9 p.m. And sometimes it’s later than 10.

On the rare occasion when we have people over—for, say, a party—we let the kids stay up as late as they want to because it’s a special occasion and it’s their house party, too. I always appreciated it when my parents let me stay up and hang with the adults. (The kids usually crash at around 11, at which time I usually settle into party mode and do six keg stands, no big deal.)

But on school nights, we try to stick to a schedule. And by “try” I mean “fail constantly”—which, you know, it’s the thought that counts.

This study came out recently re kids’ bedtimes (specifically toddlers) and one part especially spoke to me:

"Evening sleep disturbance can include difficulties falling asleep, bedtime resistance, tantrums and episodes known as 'curtain calls' that manifest themselves as crawling out from bed or coming out of the bedroom, often repeatedly, for another story, glass of water or bathroom trip …"

The truth is, if we put the kids down any earlier than 8:30, they won’t go down until LATER than 9. (There have been times when it has taken upwards of three hours to get the little ones to FINALLY allow themselves to pass out.)

But here’s the thing, getting angry when they creep out of their beds has never kept them in their beds.

This might be a twin issue, of course. Archer and Fable have always procrastinated bedtime, but the moment both heads hit their respective pillows, they’re out. (We still do cuddles where the two of us take turns cuddling/scratching backs/singing songs to both big kids.)

Bo and Revi, however, will get out of bed, turn on their light and sing songs to each other when they’re supposed to be sleeping. They will read each other books, have dance parties, play house, dress up, cook each other pretend dinners and sometimes attempt to sneak out of the house to ride bikes outside. In the pitch dark.

I used to get extremely angry and yell and ask them WHAT THE HELL THEY WERE DOING, TRYING TO CLIMB THE FRIDGE AT 10:23 P.M., WHEN THEY SHOULD BE IN BED DREAMING OF ALL THE WONDERFUL THINGS WE TALKED ABOUT? (I sometimes ask the kids what they want to dream about before bed, and then we make up a story about the dream and I ask them if they’re ready to close their eyes and watch what happens … It helps them go down SOMETIMES.)

But here’s the thing, getting angry when they creep out of their beds has never kept them in their beds. If anything, it has only made them more perseverant in their rebellion. So recently I experimented with giving up and letting them play themselves to sleep.

At the end of the day, whether it’s screen time or bedtime, we all do what we feel we gotta do.

And every single time I have done this, they have gone down earlier than they would have if I had fought with them to STAY IN BED IT’S BEDTIME DO YOU HEAR ME!!!!!

My point is, maybe there’s something to letting kids figure out their own bedtimes. I mean, within reason, of course. Kids need A LOT of sleep, but maybe it isn’t the worst that my kids aren’t in bed before 9 p.m. on most nights. Maybe, for them, that’s what time their bodies shut down.

Or maybe this is just me trying to make myself feel better over the fact that we will never be a “lights out” at 8 p.m. crew and that’s OK. At the end of the day, whether it’s screen time or bedtime, we all do what we feel we gotta do. Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite, amen.

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What about you guys? What time do your kids usually go down? What are your bedtime rituals like? Do you have set bedtimes, and are you able to make them work? And for those with 6,878 kids, what is your story? Because, while I know bedtimes pose a challenge no matter how many kids you have, I find that the most challenging part of having four children is having to get all of them into bed at a decent hour with as little drama as possible.

Hal and I typically divide and conquer: me with the little ones and him with the bigs, and then we switch back and forth between the two rooms so that everyone is kissed and cuddled by both parents and then we go from there. And, yes, we put all four down at once. Otherwise, everyone feels like they’re missing out on a party that is happening without them and it’s very sad and everyone cries.

Anyway! Hi, where was I? Oh, right. TELL ME YOUR BEDTIME STORIES, PEOPLE! Can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Provide tips of the trade, if you have them!

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