Thursday, June 18, 2009


Oh my! My friend Lisa Russell just wrote about sleep, and her family's completely joyful lack of a bedtime. I completely admire her seemingly laid back approach to parenting, home schooling, life. She works hard, but keeps a great sense of humor, and is the kind of parent I always wanted to be. But I'm not. That kind of parent. Calm, mellow, quiet, cheerful. And I tried to respond in the comments section, but my comment was turning into an essay, so I decided to be nice and move it over here. Because really, our bedtime is foundational to the happiness and goodness of our family, and I just can't keep it to a handful of words.

When we had just one child he went to sleep whenever he wanted. Which was never. Really. Papa would get home from work when he could, we'd eat supper, read stories, hang out, have a bath, hang out, read more stories, go to bed, talk and talk and talk until eventually we all fell asleep (usually parents first!). Variations of a theme, including working on peace/political campaigns and the only child sleeping under desks, behind signs, and in his play tent in the corner of a campaign office. Somehow or another we ended up with two children (then three) and tried to keep up the same lifestyle, same crazy busy life, same erratic hours, but it just didn't work.

Neither of the boys sleep past 7am unless they're sick, no matter how late they've been up or how tired they are. When Avery was 6 or 7 I got so tired of backtalk I sent him to bed every day for a week at 8 o'clock. And the results were amazing! Suddenly my child had an appetite, his old sweet demeanor, energy to play outside and run around for hours, attention for his schoolwork.* It was really a clear and immediate change. By the end of the week I was convinced that "bedtimers" knew what they were doing, and we happily joined their ranks!

Our family works so much better with a consistent bedtime, because it lends itself to a consistent rhythm to the whole day. Papa knows the boys will be in bed at 8, so he makes a bigger effort to come home for supper by 7. We eat together most of the time, then get ready for bed and he helps them to sleep. It's early enough that he doesn't fall asleep with them too often (or if he does, he wakes up with time still to do computer work or watch a show before he really goes to bed). If he's not home I lead them through the bedtime routine, and they go to sleep on their own. Those nights, when Papa does finally get home, he has a quiet, peaceful house to come home to, to relax in, he can eat supper without being climbed over, we have a chance to talk together without interruption of little people, and we might even watch The Daily Show together! Those weeks when he's working late every day the boys' bedtime is even MORE important to me- it's my only time alone, to think and plan and organize for the next day. The boys don't wake up any earlier with an earlier bedtime, but they are well rested and cheerful in the mornings, ready to jump into the day. If it were only up to me I'd send them to bed at 7, because I think they can use even a little more sleep than what they get now, but I know the possibility of getting Papa home an hour earlier each day is NOT likely, and the children don't get much time with him as it is.

And we do make exceptions. We're not the strictest bedtimers there are. Right now is So You Think You Can Dance season, so we stay up to watch that. We might have a picnic in the park for supper and play late, or have friends over who stay past bedtime, but for the most part bedtime is 8 o'clock, and we can all count on it. I can schedule school time knowing that we'll all be up, ready, and willing to work at 8, which means we can be done with schoolwork by lunch time, we can fit in a morning walk, then play time and activities in the afternoon. I like having a plan for the day, and the kids do too. I also like having the ultimate punishment at my disposal- before we had a "bedtime" I couldn't ever send them to bed early for misbehaviour, and now I can (even if I don't very often). It's nice to have a Hail Mary pass, or Ace in the Hole, or whatever metaphor works best.

Whenever I hear parents talking about not getting enough personal time, getting sick of their kids' bad behaviour, wanting to create a better rhythm for their days, struggling to get everyone going in the mornings, having to wake their kids up, not having time with their spouses, the very first thing I think of is look at BEDTIME**. It's my best advice to struggling parents. Not a particular hour for every family, but a consistent routine and consistent bedtime for each person in each family.

*I know Lisa isn't talking about her kids being sleep deprived, she's letting them more or less choose their own hours, and they get the sleep they need, but I couldn't ever figure out how to keep them from waking early AND staying up late. And her family doesn't need to get up early, where ours does, and her family has to eat awfully late in order to eat together- they're just kind of on a later schedule than a lot of families. They're on restaurant schedule, after all.

**BTW- I am pro-family bed, attachment parenting, all that good stuff. But I have recently realized that attachment parenting doesn't have to mean "attached to Mama 24 hours a day". It can also mean attached to Papa and the big brothers. Attachment Family if you will. Avery puts Miles to bed when Papa isn't home (and they get sweet sleepy bonding time together), Papa puts both big boys to bed when he is home (and gets to share that sleepy end of the day talk and cuddling), instead of me getting everyone to sleep on my own (and then trying to sleep in the mad hot jumble of limbs and dreams and blankets) like before the Bedtime Revolution.


TKSawyer said...

Yalisha, I couldn't agree more! As you know, I'm all about consistent bedtimes and naps. I like a certain rhythm to my days, and I've noticed my kids do too. They rely on me to set the tone and to say, "It's bedtime." Everything goes much better. I used to consider myself AP, but now, I'm not so sure. I just parent. I do some things considered AP (extended bf, for example). I don't babywear because I've never gotten the hang of it ... but I sit on the floor for hours and build towers. I read outloud probably an hour or two a day. I carry my baby in my arms everywhere, unless she wants to crawl or walk. I slept with Lucy for two years and realized it just wasn't working. June doesn't want to sleep with me because for the most part, she's always slept on her own. She doesn't seem to be emotionally stunted from the experience. Instead of AP, I'm more the gentle leader.... and make no mistake, I'm in charge. When interacting with my kids I always remember to be bigger, stronger, and kinder. That's my parenting philosophy now, I guess. Sorry to go off track .... but yes, bedtime is key!

TKSawyer said...

Wanted to add, my comments are not meant to disparage your friend's parenting style. We're all different. What works for one family doesn't work for another. I guess that is why I hate parenting 'systems' like AP. It makes people feel they are somehow inadequate or there is only one way to do things. Diversity, baby, even in parenting - lol!

mama-aya said...

Er... yeah, that!
I always thought I'd be the kind of unschooling, relaxed parent that I see Lisa as, with really wonderful children and a great, kind, generous attitude. But the truth is, I've never quite been able to give up enough control, or something, in order to LET myself and my kids GET to that place of mutually respectful freedom. I think that's what to call it, anyway. And so, when I try to have a more child-directed lifestyle I go crazy and they go horrid, and I clamp down before we get through it- if we would even ever get through it, I don't know. So instead of trying to out-crunchify myself and my parenting abilities I'm concentrating on just making the house/family systems work well and happily. And building lots of block towers and telling lots of stories....
But I never considered myself NOT AP!? I feel completley connected and solidly attached to my children. I always figured that AP was more about being in tune with your own instincts and your children's needs and trying to find that balance of self-child-family-life (rather than trying to make everything fit a preconceived notion of self-child-family-life) than about following any particular RULES.

TKSawyer said...

Yeah, maybe my un-AP comments are off the mark. I think we parent similarly, or share a common philosophy. If AP is how you described it in your comment, then yes, I'm very much AP. It just seems the few times I've encountered hardcore AP'ers (lol - that is funny!), it seems they are incredibly judgmental. I should add, most of my interaction with people who consider themselves AP has been online in forums like babycenter, where people might feel the need to 'define' themselves. I see people in the real world being a lot more flexible on these things. My biggest complaint with how I see AP defined is the emphasis on the child to the point the mother is abandoned. I think as mothers we are women first. We are people before we are mothers and we have needs and those needs are valid. I worry we teach our children the wrong thing when we are giving up our needs for sleep, privacy with our husband, a minute to put a thought together so that our kids never experience a moment of existential crisis. I don't want my girls to think that in order to be a mother they need to surrender everything it means to be a human adult.

mama-aya said...

Oh, yes, I see your point. It is totally possible that my idea of AP is not in line with th e standards and practices division of the Attachment Parents Corporation, but I make it a practice not to pay attention to what anyone else is saying, and I don't ever read anything anymore, so I really have no idea. JUST KIDDING!
I think there is a whole segment of mothers who feel a need to not just compare, but to put down and negatively judge other mothers in order to feel good about their own choices. And there's a whole "Crunchier Than Thou" attitude that people get sucked into. Doing things, like sleeping with your babies, just because you think that's what you're SUPPOSED to do is exhausting, literally, if the practices aren't ones that feel right. And harshly judging mothers only isolates you and makes it even harder for that other mother to do well at her mothering job. At it's best AP makes life easier and more comfortable, at it's worst it is isolating and demoralizing.

Trinity said...

Thanks for your post, you are so right. I think one thing to consider as well is, that all children are different. Mine are quite active, hypersensitive little people. I would have loved to let them decide when to go to bed and I honestly thought that kids would know when they should go, or when they are tired. I read somewhere, that children always get the sleep they need, because they take it. Mine don´t. They hate falling asleep, they can´t let go. Our anthroposophic doctor told us, that this is quite common in little ones, since sleep is something where your soul goes to places where you used to be, and they are still not so earthbound that they can happily leave to come back again. They can be afraid that they will not find their way back.
I think my little ones are like that. They cannot let go. They fight it, until they get quite literally overwhelmed. It was often times really hard to help them go to sleep. One of the things that helps is regular rhythm and a regular bed time. Singing songs and reading, all in the right order.
Thanks for your post - love your blog.

mama-aya said...

Thank you, Trinity!
The insight from your doctor is very interesting. I actually had read that quite a long time ago, and it was nice to be reminded. Definitely having a good in breath-out breath rhythm to the day and a consistent, gentle bed time routine do a world of wonder for making bedtime a sweet, calm part of the day, rather than a struggle.