I may sound crazy, but parents of newborns and toddlers you are currently living the bedtime dream.
I once believed that when my kids were older I would get to sleep again. I dreamt of the day when I would tuck each of them into bed without nursing them every few hours, without swaddling and walking the floor, without endless stories and monster spray and trips to the kitchen for “new, fresh water.” When my work would be done circa 8:00pm, my husband and I would put our feet up and congratulate ourselves on a job well done. Yes, there were sweet moments in those early baby years, but there were also ENDLESS ones. My guess was that when they were around 7 or 8 years old we would be home free. And as with many of my early parenting theories, I was wrong about most of it.
First, I didn’t realize that by spacing my kids out over 10 years I would be 14 years into the parenting gig and still be putting a 4-year-old to bed (I’m not exactly a planner). And second, and more baffling, I didn’t realize that the 14-year-old would be 1000 times worse to put to bed then the 4-year-old. Because, for the love of all that is good and holy, I forgot that 14 year-olds DO NOT GO TO BED. I now remember being one and having all the energy in the world starting around 8:00pm. But that energy is now gone from this 40ish-year-old bod and my oldest kids are just hitting their stride at 8:00. During the school year, it’s not out of the question that the 14-year-old is just unpacking her backpack to start her homework at this ungodly hour. The 12-year-old is not far behind and the 10-year-old is showing signs of nighttime energy that just might be the death of me.
For the record, the 4-year-old is tucked in, and even with a high maintenance bedtime routine is down for the count by 8:00. He may crawl into our bed every night, but since I now know this eventually passes I just scoot over and go back to sleep (not sure you’ll find this move in any parenting book, but hey, my goal is to remain lying down so I say win/win). And the 8-year-old? Yup, she’s a dream and has been for a good year. One book, kisses and hugs and she’s out. So I was right about one thing. At age 7-8 you are home free. This nighttime honeymoon period will last until your child is about 10 and then it’s all over. Enjoy this time if you have one child … it will be briefly peaceful and serene. But if you have kids that overlap a few years in either direction, you too may never know smooth sailing at bedtime until your kids have flown the nest.
Parents of littles who are hanging on by a thread because your kids won’t go to bed, I would love to be the voice of hope for you. So I’ll try and look at the bright side and tell you what is better about older kids staying up later. Mind you I’m writing this as my 10-year-old chats at me from the kitchen at 9:00 pm, sharing a riveting Pokemon saga even though he was supposed to upstairs in bed 30 minutes ago, which means I’ll have to dig deep.
I guess one upside is that they can get things for themselves. Gone are the days when I have to deliver them a sippy cup of water for their bedside table or dig around for a lost lovey. And there is a bonus, in addition to being able to get themselves their own water, they’re also able to whip up a quick batch of before bed Mac ‘n Cheese while they’re at it. And if you’re hungry they might even share with you. They will definitely let you clean up after them if you so desire, and there is nothing like a 4th round of dishes to round out the day. So there’s that.
And the fear of monsters and use of monster spray is long gone, but here is a bittersweet one. The actual fears of life kick in around “bedtime”. And they are often big ones. The ones that are not solved with a swaddle and walking the floor and I miss that now seemingly easy fix (insert mom’s of babies reminding me here that it is NOT EASY. I hear you sister). Will I get invited to the party? What if I don’t? Is my best friend still my best friend? Why does it seem like all the other kids get this school thing and I don’t? You guys are going to die someday, we all are, how in the heck am I supposed to sleep when that is true? What if I can’t have a baby someday and I really want one? What if I never know what I want to do when I grow up? What do you really think of God? Is it OK if I love you guys more than I love Him?
These are actual questions that I get asked at just about the moment my brain has completely shut down for the day. But this is when they want to talk and their hearts and ears are open. So again, we dig deep and cuddle up for a chat during which I pray in my exhausted head, “Please, dear God, let it be your words they hear and not mine. Speak through me.” And He comes through and answers with actual things that come out of my mouth that make sense and sometimes even teach me a thing or two. Sometimes He reminds me of the wise and thoughtful things my parents said to me and I can use that to help the person in crisis. I’m so thankful for that partnership – it’s the ultimate I-am-empty-fill-me-up moment of my day which can turn this all into a blessing.
And then, of course, there are those rare nights when the stars and moon align and they are all in bed at a decent hour and are actually sleeping when I look around and realize the house is too quiet. I totally miss them and they are adorable while they sleep and oh my they are going to leave me someday and then I lay awake and stare at the ceiling because I do not want this to be true (yup, now I can’t sleep). I would much rather stay on bedtime duty forever. And I vow to hang onto that feeling the next time I am doing math at 10:00pm with a freshman (!)…wish me luck.