Not in our house! The bedtime wars

Around the middle of August, every parent I know started talking about the insanity that was their kids before school got back in the session. “Not at our house! Everybody seems pretty happy right now.” I said with a smile and relief. Silly mama.

I’m not sure if it started that night or the next, but the bedtime skirmishes we’ve had all summer turned into all out war. Everything would be fine! We’ve got through dinner, get everyone in pajamas, brush teeth, read our stories and sing our songs. Somewhere between the story reading and lights out, Remy realized he could read in bed and we probably wouldn’t notice if he was quiet. But then he started turning on the lights and waking up his brother. Tess would give one crazy giggle and would be off on a race for the ages, playing keep away and making so much noise nobody else could sleep. Dave and I were at wits end!

After a particularly bad night left me in tears and feeling like the worst parent in the world, I got down to business and started doing some reading. (If any friends are looking for books on sleep, love and logic, and mindful parenting, I now own them all.)

By 5 o’clock the next morning, I had a list of things to try:

  • give more choices
  • drop the afternoon nap (Tess still takes a long one)
  • read til ready to sleep (little kids down first)
  • later bedtime if napped
  • chore charts and dates with mom and dad as a reward on good weeks
  • Parent lies down and whispers for a few minutes before lights out
  • Massage
  • Deep breathing together
  • Lean into Tess’ silliness – make bunny talk, tickle wars, etc.
  • Love and logic structured responses

Dave and I went over all of this, decided what we thought would work, and geared ourselves up for another night.

I’ve been working out a lot more the last few weeks, and have always found that I have Eureka moments when I getting a particularly good workout. In the middle of a yoga class yesterday, it suddenly occurred to me the bedtime wars have nothing to do with bedtime. Tess is anxious about starting at a new school. It doesn’t matter that she’s excited, that she went to camp there this summer and had a wonderful time, or that Remy will be there too. It’s new, and that’s scary when you’re five. When Tess is scared, she wants a lot more one on one time with us. We figured Remy was in the same boat.

So that’s what we gave them! We tucked the little kids into bed, one after the other, so they got some alone time too. In the meantime, the Bigs loaded the dishwasher with our supervision. Then we gave Tess and Remy 30 to 45 minutes doing something of their choice with us. Remy and Dave headed off to read his library book, which is this weeks’ literary obsession. Tess and I looked over the photo album from the year she was born. She’s always love seeing baby pictures and pointing out all of the family that she knows. We snuggled together, chatting and calm. There were no temper tantrums, no crazy sprints for the stairs, and I ended up feeling a lot better too! I hadn’t realized how much I was dreading the moment when bedtime broke.

We took them upstairs and tucked them in. Tess tiptoed into her room so she wouldn’t wake up her sister, and snuggled into bed with her bunny and a little sigh. She didn’t move, make any noise, laugh hysterically, or go to play in the bathroom. She just went to sleep. Remy did the same.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by how much I need to research problems we’re having, whether that’s colic in an infant or defiance in a two-year-old. Reading studies on behavior and other parents’ experience is always helpful, but it’s so easy to end up treating the symptom not the cause.

Our new bedtime routine might keep working and it might not. At some point I’m sure we will need a new solution! But my big takeaway is to remember that there will never be a permanent routine that works flawlessly every night. No routine will work forever. And if I allow myself to expect that, I will be disappointed and frustrated, which does not make for great parenting.

Being the best parents we can be means finding time to look at the big picture, make a list of possible solutions, and recognize when we are not even going to the source of the problem. Tonight may go as smoothly as last night, or I may end up chasing a fast five-year-old all over the house. One way or the other, I’m going to keep my cool and remember that the sparkly sprite I’m chasing has her own very real concerns and joys that deserve every ounce of our attention.