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Bedtime Is Daddy's Job In My House

Over at Motherlode, Lisa Belkin asks whether its quality time or quantity time that counts when you’re tucking your little ones in at night.

A new study in the Journal of Family Psychology says mamas have to not only perform the bedtime rituals they’ve established with their kids, they have to love it. A mom must be “present”, by which they mean serene, warm and attentive, in order to soothe a little one to a good night’s sleep.

The researchers found that when mom was merely going through the motions, her precious little ones slept poorly. To really send them off to sweet dreams, she needed to be warm and loving and sensitive throughout the process.

Not an easy task when you’ve been caring for that little angel since dawn, and bedtime is the last task in a too-busy day. This is a subject near and dear to my heart: sleep has been the albatross around my neck for six years of parenting and counting.

Belkin mentions that not enough dads spent time with their kids at bedtime to be statistically significant, so the study focused only on moms.

I find that amusing, because “dad” is the answer to how we keep bedtime loving in my house. I care for the kids all day and all night, but there are two hours that I am off-duty: the hour they first wake up, and the hour they go to bed.

We made this arrangement because putting the kids to bed after a full day of caring for them was driving me insane. Dad gets to leave the house and go to work all day, in a world with no high-pitched voices or messes or spit-up or Goodnight Moon. He wants more time with the kids at the end of the day.

And I want less. By the time bedtime rolls around the last thing I want to do is look at another storybook, sing one more sweet melody or, worst of all, snuggle a sticky child against my breast. I want to go for a long evening walk, read a book, or just lie still and stare at the walls until my ears stop ringing from all the laughing, shouting, crying and singing my kids have done all day.

So Daddy does bedtime around here, pretty much without fail. And oh, what a bedtime it is!  My kids get a bath, their teeth and hair brushed, and carefully put into clean pjs. They get tucked in with their favorite stuffed animals. They each get to choose a book to have read aloud to them. When that’s over, he sings them a song, then puts on their “bedtime music” CD, turns on the special nightlight, and gives them gentle backrubs. Then he sits with them in the dark until they drift off to sleep, reading by flashlight in the rocking chair.

As you can well imagine, the kids get an abundance of both quality and quantity time for their bedtime routine. My husband gets to spend a few hours playing with his beloved kids, and I get my quiet time in the evening.

The only problem: they still don’t sleep. The little one wakes up at least once a night to pee, get a glass of water, and make a long list of ridiculous demands.

Put me down for a firm vote in the “quality over quantity” department. I think it’s possible to be too present and loving at bedtime. Yes, the kids feel safe and loved and cared for. But they also feel entitled to get up at 2 a.m. and expect to have a parent cheerfully waiting to give them a glass of milk, rub their backs, put their music back on and even change their PJs just because they suddenly realized they want the blue ones.

I’d much rather have a short and sweet bedtime than the elaborate ritual my family has adopted. But there’s an adage that you can tell someone what to do or how to do it, but not both. I’m not about to step back into the bedtime business myself, so I have to let Dad work it out with the girls.

I just hope they figure it out soon. We could all use more, and better, sleep.

What about your house? Do your kids get the star treatment at bedtime, or does a quick good-night suffice?

Photo: jemsweb

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