I have friends who are able to tuck in their little ones at a specific time and then walk away, knowing they’ll get a good night’s sleep. These friends can typically do this with daylight to spare, getting their home all settled and quiet and prepared for the coming day long before it’s time to start burning the figurative midnight oil.
These friends have a superpower I just don’t possess. Baby hypnosis, maybe? In any case, we can’t seem to get bedtime on time around our house and I’m not sure it will ever happen.
There’s so much to squeeze into the evening. Some nights I feel like Rachel from Friends when she’s trying to figure out the ideal timeline to meet her future partner… (Spoiler alert: she’s already 30.)
“So, if I wanna have my kid when I’m 35, I don’t have to get pregnant until I’m 34, which gives Prada four years to start making maternity clothes! Oh wait, but I do want to be married for a year before I get pregnant… No, so I don’t have to get married until I’m 33! That’s three years, that’s three whole years! Oh, wait a minute, though. I’ll need a year-and-a-half to plan the wedding, and I’d like to know the guy for a year, year-and-a-half before we get engaged. Which means I need to meet the guy by the time I’m thirt…y.”
Yeah, that’s where we are: trying to cross off all those evening to-do list items to get in bed by 7:30 P.M., then realizing we haven’t even made it to bath time and it’s already 7:40 P.M. Oh well, she probably wasn’t THAT dirty, right?
Finish the workday. Make the commute home. Hugs. Kisses. Try for some one-on-one kid-to-parent time. Then, there’s picking out school clothes for the next day, packing tomorrow’s lunch, preparing tonight’s dinner, eating, meal time clean-up, bath, jammies, stories, diaper changing, tooth brushing, getting your toddler that mandatory glass of bedtime water.
Just typing that list made me feel faintly exhausted. And it doesn’t even include any of those other oh-so-fun items like fighting back the ever-mounting laundry stack, scrubbing toilets, buying groceries or trying to squeeze in a little extra quality time with each family member, be it spouse, child, or FaceTime-hungry grandparent. Even if you were Supermom in the flesh, I think it’d be difficult to cover all those items within the proper time frame. When you consider that the “ideal” toddler bedtime is between 7:00 P.M. and 8:00 P.M. and the typical working parent doesn’t get home until 5:30–6:00 P.M., sheesh! How is it even possible? Let’s add to that that my very own sassy and opinionated toddler has spent the whole summer telling me, “I am NOT going to bed. It is NOT nighttime. It is still daylight.” How is this anything other than a recipe for disaster?
However, when all else fails in the parenting world, the best thing to do is…crowd source. I asked some fellow moms who seem to have the whole bedtime thing down pat to share their evening ritual secrets and sprinkle some of their bedtime fairy dust in the direction of my daughter’s pillow. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Get started earlier.
“I’ve moved bath time to about 4:30 P.M. It gets her in and out by 5:00 P.M. for dinner prep/dinner. Then she has time to be with Dad and play/read before bed at 6:45ish for 15 minutes of more books.”
2. Schedule and plan, and plan and schedule.
“If you have a schedule, don’t allow social media or other distractions to interrupt it. Stick to the schedule, and use that time between getting home and bedtime to invest in your family.”
“Planning, planning, planning! If I plan the evening ahead of time, everything flows better. A consistent schedule helps, too. My son knows that after dinner it’s potty, bath, read two books, say prayers, get a drink of water, and off to bed! Knowing what is going to happen next helps increase cooperation!”
3. Use timing/timers (aka: make Siri the bad guy).
“I set an alarm on our Amazon Echo for 7:00 P.M. We turn off the TV (if it is on that evening), change the music to more relaxing songs, change diaper then do PJs, then we read a few books. Some nights we are still eating dinner at 7:00 P.M. since I don’t get home until 5:45 P.M. on average, but we always try to be in the ballpark of 7:30 P.M. for time to lie down. I just have one, though. I’m sure when I have more I’ll laugh at myself about this.”
“Timers save my sanity. I set Siri or our Google Home timer for just about everything: time to play before dinner, time to watch a cartoon before getting dressed, time before bath time, etc. It is especially helpful before bed. They utilize the clock a lot in her classroom, so it was a natural extension at home. Plus, when the timer sounds it’s Google or Siri that’s the bad guy and ends the fun.”
4. Make routines routine.
“Create a routine for kiddos (they help plan it) and then stick to it. Most fails in regard to bedtime routine are the fault of the parents (myself, especially). Gotta stay consistent. When they know what’s coming (parental response included), they are more likely to adhere without struggle.”
“We were having trouble getting the kids through our bedtime routine. Lots ‘forgetting’ what to do next and coming out of their rooms for forgotten things. I made each of them a bedtime checklist. They close each flap as they complete them. They are three and five, and both love checking their lists and reminding us what to do next. (We also have a good morning version.)”
5. Give them some control.
“Our older two have gone through rough spots where they didn’t want to go to bed at the time we wanted. With my daughter, it is a control thing, so we let her put everything in her bed herself and she climbs in instead of being put in there.”
“We use ‘knock-knock’ passes. I got this idea from a pediatrician who created ‘hall’ passes for her kids. Our daughter would knock on her door multiple times a night after bedtime routine was done for various, unimportant reasons (at least to us). So, now she has two passes to use nightly. She can use them for any reason, whether it’s to ask a random question, wanting extra hugs and kisses, forgetting to ask for ice in her cup, etc. Once she has used both passes, that’s it. She can knock, we go to her door (not opening it), and kindly remind her she used up her passes. It has been a wonderful year of using these passes. They have helped us keep our sanity after a long, full day and still gives her the opportunity to have some freedom.”
I feel like all these suggestions are worth a try, since they’re working for some of the many great moms out there in our ACMB community and in my personal friend group, but I also worry about balancing. Since I work outside the home, I like to have a little leeway in the evening to make sure I’m taking time, having fun, and savoring moments with my daughter. This is the main reason why she’ll probably never be in bed at a decent hour. If she asks to read a book with me, I try to say yes, because she misses spending time with me during the day. I also feel the need to multi-task and cross off as many items as possible in the same go-round. I could technically do things like pack my daughter’s school lunch AFTER she goes to sleep, but when I’m already in the kitchen preparing dinner, it seems like it makes sense and saves time in the long run to assemble the lunch then and there. Also—shame on me!—lately I’ve been falling asleep when my daughter wants me to lie down with her at bedtime, so I miss those golden quiet hours of being able to take care of things around the house once she’s in bed. (Also I wake up with aching joints from dozing off in the most uncomfy positions ever, but I digress.)
So, that idealized early bedtime may just be a pie-in-the-sky dream for my household, but from the wise words of my other mom friends, it sounds like there’s hope if we can just adjust our mindset and routine. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go turn off my article-writing timer and move on to the next big thing.