Ah, bedtime. That beautiful transition between the day’s whirlwind of excitement and the evening’s sweet lure into dreamland. The time when your darling children rest their weary heads on their Pillow Pets, close their precious eyes and murmur one last I Love You before their breathing slows and their faces relax in adorable expressions of peaceful slumber.
Or, in my house, that 45-minute aerobic workout! My husband and I get to take turns getting up from the couch to chase our children back into their respective beds, bring them to the potty, locate their favorite lovey, offer them one last drink, and finally threaten them that if they set even one toe out of bed again, the monster we just swore five minutes ago was not residing in their closet was going to show himself, and he is on a strict diet of belligerent and wide-awake little children.
We’ve all seen the buzz lately. From the release of Adam Mansbach’s hilarious new book Go The F*ck To Sleep to all the discussion that has erupted on bedtime routines, tricks on making things go more smoothly, and how some parents feel incredible guilt when, instead of relishing one more rendition of Goodnight Moon, all they want is to veg on the couch with their spouse and a glass of wine, and catch up on their DVR recordings.
Seriously, is there a secret to a painless bedtime? Or at least, a less painful bedtime? Is there some trick that only perfect parents know and aren’t sharing with anyone, just so they can maintain their perfection and make the rest of us shlubs suffer in bleary-eyed desperation for an hour to spend as we want? Even if that means staring at a blank wall and fantasizing about desert islands and endless supplies of dark chocolate M&M’s served to us by Rob Pattinson in nothing but a pair of board shorts (but only if he’s gotten a tan since New Moon. I would have also accepted Matt Damon in a speedo.)?
Anyway, I'm not perfect, but my answer to this bedtime question is…sort of. I mean, there are no guarantees for an expeditious and tear-free bedtime, but through the course of trial and error (big emphasis on the error here), I have found a few things seem to at least work when it comes to getting the kids to bed with minimal physical exertion on your end.
Tip 1: Limit the bed-time rituals. Everyone understands that preschoolers are creatures of habit, right? That they’re sometimes a bit OCD about lining up stuffed animals, reading books in a certain order, singing the same songs and getting tucked in with the same blanket? It’s their way of exerting power over the limited kingdom they rule. But when you throw in bath time, puzzle time, cuddle time and teeth brushing time, what precious little time you were planning to yourself is slowly being whittled away by a tiny dictator who insists on spending fifteen minutes picking out the perfect pajamas. I have found that keeping the rituals to a minimum will greatly increase the odds that the dictator will go to bed happy and you’ll still have time to read at least a few paragraphs of that book you started eight months ago.
Tip 2: Try a wind-down activity. In our family, we take a 20-minute walk before bedtime. And if my son has had a particularly active day and no nap, he’s usually asleep in the stroller before we get home. My daughter is a different story, but at least she knows that when we get home from the walk, it’s time for her to go to bed and wait for a story or a song. Of course, if it’s raining, too cold or there’s a pack of wild dogs loose in our neighborhood, we are doomed to spend the next hour tag-teaming our children to get them to settle down and—in the words of Adam Mansbach—f-ing sleep.
Tip 3: Stick to an actual bedtime. We are actually struggling with this one in our house. After a few nights of staying up ridiculously late to watch fireworks and visit with friends and family, our kids now think that 10 p.m. is their new bedtime. And we haven’t had much luck resetting them. At this point, I’m thinking by the time they revert to a decent bedtime, Daylight Savings will ruin everything we’d worked so hard for. Or they’ll be teenagers and I’ll be writing about how insane it is that they sleep in until noon.
Tip 4: Eliminate naptime. I know…this is painful for me to even suggest. What parent doesn’t relish naptime? When else are we supposed to have some peace in the house, a chance to email, read, workout, do anything uninterrupted for an hour or two? I have discovered that on days when my kids nap, they want to stay up later than Mario Lopez on New Year’s Eve. So, if we’re in the car during the afternoon and I think they might nod off, I purposely engage them in conversation, crank the radio, play with a set of Kerbangers, anything to keep them awake. It’s a surefire way to send them to dreamland at a reasonable time and still leave you with enough time to reconnect with your mate. Or at least down a glass of wine before you pass out from exhaustion.
So there you have it. Good luck, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite. Or the toddlers.