6:30 p.m. The late summer sun still glows brightly in the sky, nightfall is hours away, and I am ushering my kids to bed. The routine begins with a bath, followed by some quiet play time, stories, stretching and finally, sleep. The slow process finally concludes at 7:30 p.m. I tip toe down the stairs, fix my long-awaited dinner, and ease my tush into my couch for an evening of television that doesn’t star someone from the “Paw Patrol.”
I know many parents will shake their heads and laugh at the thought of their kids going to bed this early. You might even be reading this at 11 p.m. while your still wide-eyed toddler pretends the couch cushions are perfect for his version of “American Ninja Warrior.” I’m not here to judge. I have had those nights. Some nights, the kids are just not going to bed early no matter what you do.
I strive to make those nights few and far between. If both of my kids are asleep by 8:30, I consider that a good night, and earlier than that, even better.
I could cite the research on why early bedtimes are good for children’s well-being. How kids who go to bed earlier are healthier, less moody, blah blah blah. You don’t need to hear that from me. And this isn’t another article telling you how you are screwing up your kids. I’m pretty sure most of us are already doing that in some way. Instead, I am going to tell you why putting the kids to bed before 9 p.m. is more about me (and my husband) than it is about them.
If you stay home with your kids, you understand the need for a few minutes of peace. If you co-sleep, you really understand it. And if, your kids don’t nap well, then you are a certified expert on the need to be alone for enough time to keep your sanity. This is why putting the kids to bed early matters. That hour or two between settling the little ones down for the night and going to bed ourselves, is an important time for relaxation and connection. Often, that means sitting on the couch with my husband and sharing a favorite show or movie with my spouse. This summer, we had fun watching “Stranger Things,” which was the perfect level of campy fun to help us escape the trials of our days.
Yes, for us, Netflix and chill, really does mean, Netflix and chill.
The hardest nights are when our kids are either over-tired, or had an unavoidable late-afternoon nap. Bedtime takes forever, and even when they do, finally, fall asleep, our night is interrupted by constant crying and screaming. We take turns going upstairs to comfort our children until we are both exhausted and ready to pass out. Our whole evening is lost. With little opportunity to be alone together, that matters.
Time with my husband is important, and so is time for myself. The evening described at the beginning of this post occurred while my husband was out of town. After a long day with two kids, I was eager to be on my own. To not have a child hanging on me like a barnacle on a whale is a bit of a luxury for me. I love my kids, but I love being alone, too.
I know other parents might say, why don’t you just stay up later yourself? That just doesn’t work for me. I prefer to be in bed by 10 p.m., maybe 11 if I am feeling frisky. My days of staying up past midnight are numbered. I have even gone to bed at 9 or earlier. If I’m tired, I go to sleep. There is zero chance my kids will sleep in. (I think once they slept in until 9 a.m., but I’m pretty sure that was just a sleep-deprived hallucination.) Nope, mine are up at the crack of awful. And no, it doesn’t matter what time they go to sleep.
Early bedtimes may not be right for everyone. I realize if you are a working parent, there’s only a short amount of time in the evening for you to be with your kids. I also understand your kids might actually sleep in, allowing you to enjoy some much needed peace in the morning. You know what works for your family. What works for my family is getting the kids to bed early. If that means avoiding a car ride at 4 p.m., or waking a sleeping child, so be it. And, I will always be thankful for daylight savings time in the fall, and despise it in the spring.
When the familiar phrase, “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your children are?” is uttered on the nightly news, I hope I can say, “In bed!”