Bedtime drama

2010 January 29
by Evan Lenz

Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem to characterize our age.

— Albert Einstein

I read this quote recently, and I thought how appropriately it characterizes the state of education in America. But it’s also a great thing to consider in your parenting. Are you perfecting means but confusing ends in your parenting?

This is as good a context as any to share one of my struggles/failures as a father (as I recently promised to do). I have been known to get in some really nasty moods, especially late at night, especially if I’ve been eating anything sugary. And I’ve recently seen a pattern in myself of dreading bedtime, i.e. putting our kids to bed. Morgan, my daughter, tends to be the easiest. She’s ready for bed the soonest, and she falls asleep quickly. And Sammy, my oldest son, although he takes his own sweet time (he gets that from me), is pretty cooperative too. But Lucas, who shares a room with Sammy, is my 3-year-old, and he doesn’t like going to bed, at least not lately. And I don’t like putting him to bed. In fact, I recently told my wife Lisa, “I hate bedtime.”

On more than one occasion, Lisa has had to come to relieve me, when she hears Lucas crying. In those cases, I’m tired and cranky and impatient. All I want is for him to stay in his bed and let me go to bed. I don’t want to hear any more. I don’t want to snuggle him, I don’t want to rock him, or make up any more stories. I just want to go to bed.

Fortunately, we’ve recognized the pattern and are starting to do something about it. Lisa and I will be taking turns, so neither of us gets burned out and each of us gets a break. This is a good start. Also, I’ve been attending better to my own sleep and eating habits, which helps prevent those nasty moods. As for getting Lucas to bed, we’ve even started talking about using rewards or punishments to get him to start cooperating. (Yes, I’ve read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, and, yes, I know this is not ideal.)

This is a sad state of affairs, because bedtime can be a great time for connecting with your kids. One of the things Lisa and I both want to do is start intentionally enjoying bedtime. In other words, don’t just perfect the means of getting the ostensible end: getting the kid to sleep. But ask: what other ends, or outcomes, do we want from bedtime? If getting him to sleep were the only aim, then we may as well just drug him. (I’m kidding, sheesh!) What if bedtime was not only a time to get Lucas to sleep but also a time of connecting with him? Of hearing him and understanding him and deepening our relationship? What if a change of perspective is all that’s needed?

I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re still figuring it out. But I’ve started to step back and ask myself, what’s really possible here? What do I really want from bedtime?

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. yurtmama permalink
    February 2, 2010

    I can absolutely relate to hating bedtime; I did for YEARS! Especially because at that time of night I either wanted a break ~ some alone time or adult time ~ or wanted to lay my own weary head down.

    I don’t think we found a magic bullet to make it better; perhaps my two girls just outgrew their bed time neediness. Things are better now, but they still resist sleep and beg for “just a little more story, daddy!” every night! (Interestingly, I see myself doing the same thing as an adult. “Just one more chapter of my book before I turn the light out…”)

    One thing I have found with my kids is that consistency has helped when we wanted to create new habits. I have a hard time with consistency myself, so it has taken extra intention to create an environment of consistency around habits we want to change with our kids!

    When each of our kids night weaned at a little over 2 years old (weaned because I was so sleep deprived that the nursing relationship was getting quite strained) the first night was horrible, with little sleep for any of us in the family bed between the crying, begging and tantrums. The second night was half as bad. The third night was less that a quarter as bad. By night four, the drama was over and we moved on. It was hard to witness my child in anguish, but somehow I knew that I had to keep my balance in order to shift our relationship around bedtime.

    When our daughters moved into their own room, my older daughter was ready and happy to do it at age 10; our seven-year-old was very ambivalent. We decided to give it 3 or 4 nights, and lo and behold the same pattern. First night terrible, by night four we had all adjusted.

    Every kid is different; there’s no one right answer for everyone, but I share my experiences in case they may spark some resonance with you that may lead to light at the end of your tunnel!

  2. Evan Lenz permalink*
    February 2, 2010

    Hi yurtmama 😉 Thanks for sharing your story around bedtime. I completely agree about every kid being different and there’s no one right answer for everyone. In fact, it’s a good reminder.

    I also really appreciate your point about consistency. This is something I’ve been learning as an adult. I tend to be out of sorts unless I have some sort of routine to fall into. Once I create a ritual, particularly if it’s based on an agreement with someone else (to whom I’m accountable), then things become easier for me. I can save the energy I’d otherwise keep having to spend on figuring out what to do. And I’m more productive and at peace.

    That this could be true for our kids too makes perfect sense. Without a ritual or routine, everything is up in the air and it’s hard to rest. We’ve started to create some rituals around bedtime, within the structure of Lisa and I trading off who we put to bed each night. We don’t yet have a very consistent time for beginning the bedtime routine. That might be a good first place to start.

    Thanks again for sharing. Your experiences indeed do spark some resonance with me, and remind me how I can bring what I’m learning as an adult (about routines and rituals) into our life as a family.

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