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Who Needs Bedtimes? My daughter goes to sleep whenever she wants. By Jeanne Sager for Babble.com’s “Bad Parent” column.

My daughter goes to sleep whenever she wants.

By jeannesager |

Bad Parent: Who Needs Bedtimes?

My daughter goes to sleep whenever she wants. by Jeanne Sager

July 2, 2009

46

It’s ten p.m., and I know exactly where my child is. Upstairs, in her bedroom. But she’s not asleep. Last I checked in on her, she met me at the safety gate at the top of the stairs draped in her miniature surgeon’s scrubs, her bug-hunting hat perched on her still-damp-from-the-bath hair. The contents of one of her two dress-up trunks are strewn across her bedroom floor.

While the bedrooms of the neighbor’s children just across the way are dark, save for a night light in the toddler’s room, my three-year-old is wide awake. She isn’t up past her bedtime. She doesn’t have one.

She has those important rituals of bedtime, sure. She is bathed by me or my husband almost every night, her delicate skin covered first in lotion and then a set of fleecy pajamas. We’ll generally settle in her bed to read stories, but sometimes in ours. She gets at least two books read every night – one per parent. On that, there is no negotiating.

What’s fluid is the time.

Our daughter goes to bed when we do. And so in the hours after my husband comes home from the office and I finish up my work-at-home writing, we spend our time together. We eat dinner together – even if it’s on the living room couch, with a dog staring hopefully at a butterfly-shaped plate set precariously on the edge of the coffee table.

We build pirate ships, and, yes, sometimes we watch TV while she reads herself Clifford the Big Red Dog books, upside down because they’re sillier that way, curled up against my side.

With two working parents, our days are hectic. Even on the days that I work at home, the house is loud – the radio blaring in one room, my daughter outfitting the dog with a set of bunny ears in the other. But we are, by nature, a boisterous and busy family. When night falls, the idea of hustling my daughter off to bed so I can be alone with my husband is a foreign concept to me – and to him.

And yet, many of my friends tell me how lucky they are. Their kids go to bed by seven p.m., and they have couple time after. They do the dishes with no children underfoot. Throw in a load of laundry. Watch their own, much trashier, TV.

Sounds nice – I guess. Except I also hear the wistfulness from other working parents – women and men – who would like more time to spend with their kids. If there’s a common theme among working parents it’s this – they yearn for extra hours to be tacked on to the day. Work is a necessary evil, but they don’t want it to come at the expense of being a good parent.

Or maybe it’s at the expense of watching their kids grow up? Because there’s nothing like seeing a child every day – seeing them in action, not cuddled in a bed for a quick good night kiss – to make you feel like you matter as much to them as they do to you.

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About jeannesager

jeannesager

jeannesager

Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer and photographer living in upstate New York with her husband and daughter, Jillian. She maintains a blog of her award-winning columns at jeannesager.blogspot.com.

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46 thoughts on “Who Needs Bedtimes? My daughter goes to sleep whenever she wants. By Jeanne Sager for Babble.com’s “Bad Parent” column.

  1. patricia says:

    I have to say, Jeanne, I usually really like your stuff, but the smug tone of this bothered me. I appreciate that it is for the Bad Parent series, so I guess smugness is de rigeur, but does this really need to be a battleground? Do I really know my kids less well because I send them to bed and am happy to have couple time? Or is that something that just works for my family but not for yours? I guess if you said it like that, there would be no article. Why do I continue to read these things???

  2. gwendolyn says:

    My first reaction was negative.  But then I remembered how my mother did not insist on a bedtime for me.  I went to bed when I was tired.  She worked 80 hours weeks in a restaurant and would come home at midnight or later.  She would wake me up and we would play card/dice games.  At night I would sit with my dad and watch war movies, talk about the war and help him work on cars.  I would have had none of these experiences if my bedtime was 8pm. 
    I remember being tired when I was a teenager but that’s only because I was the typical moody teenager that would rather sleep than do anything else.
    I always smile when I think back to those times with my mother.  We are a night owl family though.  So maybe you were just lucky to have a kid who prefers the same schedule as you do.  I hear more people are ‘morning people’.  So you have good luck!

  3. GP says:

    Oh, come on. She wasn’t smug. That closing line didn’t imply that parents who *have* a set bed time don’t know who their kids are, it was simply a writer’s turn of a phrase for closure of an article. I have a general bed time for my kid and for us it is important to have time in the evening where we are free of a child. I am home with her all day long and my husband typically gets 2-3 hours home with her each afternoon/evening before bed. We are flexible about bedtime, though, if we are on a family outing or whatever. I just think the article was one of those charming little “we do things a little differently in our house” pieces and there is nothing wrong with that. Don’t be so defensive.

  4. getta grip says:

    it’s funny to see people getting upset about what others do. you put your kid to bed @ 8, she doesn’t. she’s not trying to ‘outcool’ you, so keep doing you, & simmer yourself down.
    btw, loved the article

  5. GP says:

    wow…just noticed this phrase when re-reading “to make you feel like you matter as much to them as they do
    to you”
    very insightful…I have to admit, this is one of the reasons I chose to stay home with my kid while before she is school-age…as much (or more) for me as for her…I would totally understand parents who work all day wanting to have those extra evening hours with their little ones

  6. English Teacher says:

    I have really had it with the overuse of the word “smug.”  Let’s whip out those thesauri, folks and do a little thinking for ourselves instead of just resorting to the attack-word du jour.
    I have nothing in particular to say about Jeanne’s bedtime for her kid.  Whatever works, right?

  7. anonymouse says:

    Except I don’t think that it does work all that well for a young child to get so little sleep, in most cases.When a child is older, sure, I think it’s great and am a night-owl myself. But this child is probably chronically over-tired (hence the getting up early). None of my business however!The tone of the piece was fine, but it was a pretty obvious rationalization of what the mother/father WANTS to do schedule-wise, regardless of the health effects on their daughter. Again, it’s no big, the piece wasn’t smug, just your normal human-nature-type rationalization! We all do it.Like they say in Italy, “We’ll all sleep when we’re dead!”

  8. ChiLaura says:

    I find the issue itself interesting. Was it here on babble where Dr. Ferber said that kids generally need less sleep than parents assume? On the other hand, I read an article with Dr. Jack Maypole in Wondertime several months ago about how a lack of sleep can cause serious issues in brain development. At the same, the NY Times’s “expert test” (is your kid alert and happy upon waking?) seems, at first glance at least, to be a pretty solid standard.
    The piece itself? Blah blah blah. I stay home with my kids, so guess what? Like GP says above, I don’t need extra hours at night to “to make [me] feel like [I] matter as much to them as they do to [me].” I need the 7 o’ clock bedtime to maintain my sanity, maybe get a few things done (I try to have all my chores done before my husband gets home, except dinner dishes, so I’m *not* doing laundry at 10 p.m.), spend time with my husband, watch a movie without interruption. Maybe some attachment parenters would identify with the piece (maybe?), but I think that the audience is inherently limited. Next, please!

  9. me says:

    Uhhh….if anonymouse is talking Jeanne’s kid being over-tired – she specifically says the kid wakes up when she (the kid) wants, not when the parent wakes them up. I would assume the bodies of even kids know when they’ve had enough sleep and wake themselves up accordingly.
    Besides. Sleeping from 9pm to 7am is the same amount of time as from 7pm to 5am…or some other variation of that. Sleep depravation comes from lack of sleep, not at what time one gets sleep.

  10. Nobilis says:

    So what happens when this child hits school age, is required to get up at 6am to make a 7am bus, but has been up until midnight the night before, and what’s worse, is used to being able to stay up until midnight whenever she wants?
    Or when money gets tight and the family moves into the mainstream where two incomes are the norm?
    Must be nice to live in that country where luxuries such as those portrayed on that article are found.  It’s not mine.

  11. ChiLaura says:

    me: Regarding your contention that “I would assume the bodies of even kids know when they’ve had enough sleep and wake themselves up accordingly”: This is not the case with my kids at all. Regardless of what time they go to bed at night, even if it’s two hours later than usual, one or both of them will wake up within the same 15-30 minute window in the morning and then be cranky for the whole day. If they are sleep-deprived for days on end (as in, an entire week), *maybe* they’ll sleep in an extra 45-60 minutes on a given morning, but then it’s back to the 6 a.m. wakeup time. I know not every child is like this; mine may even be the exception (and I hope for other parents’ sakes that they are!). I think, though, that this is why the issue is so interesting to me, since my kids’ bodies don’t in fact seem to know what they need. If Jeanne’s daughter is happy, then this doesn’t seem to be the case for her. More generally speaking, though, I have to wonder about kids who are maybe labelled as having difficult personalities, or who have problems in school: Maybe some of these children are indeed chronicaly sleep-deprived? Maybe they actually need an earlier bedtime.

  12. sallyt says:

    Wow, this one is really interesting to me right now with my 2.5 year old. I have been going back and forth on this one, the kid gets tired but he also doesn’t want to go to bed some nights. Part of me feels like hell, who needs to have this fight? stay up. i do stay home with him so the extra time is not an issue. i wonder if my wanting a bedtime (a really really fluid one in this house) is because i am selfishly wanting some time by myself and i cloak the need for an early bedtime in doctor’s orders, that happy sleep habits healthy child really messed me up in having that nagging fear that if he doesn’t get enough sleep he is sure to have some issues with his brain. I never did the crying part of that book and the kid still sleeps with us and he does sleep in rather late… I surely don’t want to fight with him about his. I’d like to believe his little body knows what is best but like tonight, he was crying and crying that he didn’t want to go to bed but two minutes of nursing he was asleep, so obviously tired… I wish I could be as strong in the belief that he’ll get what he needs, same thing with food, right? They’ll eat when they are hungry, offer it up and if they don’t eat, don’t force it. Could that possibly be true for sleep too? my husband works at night so it’s not a couple issue but it is an alone time issue for me a bit. But, hey, if this is what i do with my alone time, perhaps better to spend it with the kid playing another game of farm animals in lego houses, right?

  13. KnittyMN says:

    My kid has a bedtime.  It’s not so my husband and I can have more time together or the space to watch racy movies or to free up extra house-keeping hours, it’s because our over-arching theory of parenting is that we need to prepare her for the world that she’ll be living in.  Sure, I’d love it if our society allowed us all to keep our own sleep schedules and wake up when we feel like it but from grade school onwards, we need to regulate our sleep in order to function during the hours of school, work, etc.  I’d rather my kid learn that from the start then have a rude awakening when school begins.  The start of school is stressful enough without her also having to suddenly learn what “bed time” is at age five or six.

  14. SS says:

    I can’t help but notice a bit of a theme with this woman’s writing. Not so big on boundaries it would seem, which is fine until they start to impact on other people. I don’t really want you bringing your child into my work environment because it works for you. (Previous article). I don’t really want to teach your child in school when they’ve been allowed to stay up until 10 or 11 the night before. I don’t really want to be a dinner guest in your home while your child races around in a variety of costumes, especially since I’ll know enough to leave my children at home in bed with a babysitter that I’m paying. I don’t really think your a “bad parent”, I just think you’re an inconsiderate one.

  15. Thelitleones says:

    It’s true that most parents think they know best.
    This article was wonderful.  This is what her family does, this is what works for her family, and that is great.
    This might not work for you and your family, that is great too. Do what works for you!
    People get so worked up and so worried about other people when really they just need to worry about themselves. That’s what I get from most of these comments.

  16. moominmama says:

    I didn’t have a bedtime, and as a result I stayed up all night.  I have fond childhood memories of eating dinner while watching Saturday Night Live with my mom.  The downside was poor health, a whole lot of absenteeism in school, and a lifetime of insomnia because I never learned healthy sleep habits.  I still struggle with insomnia, but am a much happier, healthier, thinner, more energetic person now that I have made an effort to go to bed at a consistent early hour every night.  I’m determined to start my toddler off on the right foot, so she goes to bed at a consistent early hour, too.  And drops right off to sleep at 7:30 and sleeps through the night.  Doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me.

  17. Laure68 says:

    I think a lot of this has to do with the child. For example, my son has never been big into napping, and he runs around constantly during the day. So, by 7pm, if he is not in bed he is wilting. I remember once when my mom was visiting when my son was about 2, she insisted that he “get to” stay up late. He actually fell asleep sitting up!Maybe some kids are different, but I wonder how much is this the parents choosing to have kids stay up, go to bed, etc. I would have loved it if my son napped during the day so I could get a little time to myself, and then he could stay up later when his daddy was around, but it just didn’t happen that way.It is funny, of all the things I felt judged on, this has not been one of them. I never felt like a bad/good parent for my son’s sleeping habits.

  18. ann05 says:

    My son becomes a giant pill at 6:30. He goes to bed at 7. He starts biting and pinching at noon, he takes a nap at 12:30. We follow his cues and he gets rest when he needs it.
    Seems like these guys do too.

  19. Spartic says:

    Once again it’s more about the author and her happiness than the health and happiness of her daughter. Good luck with her in 5 years.

  20. mom to one says:

    If this 3 year old is still running around at 10PM, and getting up at 7AM or earlier, she is not getting 10 hours of sleep as someone suggested, but 9 or less, which is definitely short on sleep at that age. Most studies show that the later a child goes to sleep, the earlier they often wake up, so no, you can’t trust the wake-up time as a sign that she is well-rested. Maybe the fact that she’s well-behaved and happy shows that, but if so, this is an unusual child.
    As for forcing the bedtime issue, it’s not about making a child go to sleep, which is impossible, but instead about “creating the conditions that will allow sleep to overtake the child” when they need sleep. Thus, low lights, quiet time in the bed, reading stories, maybe permitting a stuffed animal or two, or if the child won’t settle down, then actual turning out the lights, etc. will work. After our story time, I turn the lights out, put on a classical cd of lullabyes, and my son is out in 10 minutes. Of course, he’d rather be up with us, but we know (by his behavior) that he needs to sleep from 8:30 PM to 7:30 AM every night he can (4 years old now).
    To each his own, I guess, but I hope they are paying attention to the child’s needs and re-evaluating every now and then.

  21. Brooke Johnson says:

    I never thought I was a bad parent for letting my child stay up late. I have a 2.5 year old who does not have a bed time. I briefly tried to set one but it is impossible because her father does not enforce it. I don’t get home until 10 pm, sometimes later so without that help it is impossible. He of course does not see the need for a bedtime because he never had one. Since I work at night my daughter can sleep in as late as she wants in the morning. I disagree that early bedtimes set up a child for the future. For school maybe. However adults can pretty much determine their own bedtimes. Sure some people work from 9-5, but something like 40% don’t follow that. Colleges usually have later classes. In the future more people will be able to work from home so our work hours will probably be even more flexible. Also children can adjust easily to change like having to go to sleep earlier for school when they are older. Just like adults.

  22. not the full picture says:

    According to other articles this child watches a lot of TV, and spends parts of at least a few days a week riding around in the backseat of her mother’s car, so my guess is she is actually napping. If I spent most of my day watching TV or riding around in a car, I’d be able to stay up later too.I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, if her child is happy, rested, etc. But this woman’s life clearly isn’t typical of anyone’s, so I wonder why the editors keep urging her to put herself out there as some sort of example.

  23. Not evil says:

    Is anyone else annoyed by this sentence:”Work is a necessary evil, but they don’t want it to come at the expense of being a good parent.”I like working, and I like my job. It’s not evil, necessary or otherwise. Why on earth would it come at the expense of being a good parent?

  24. GP says:

    Many people, it seems, feel they HAVE to work for financial reasons, but if given the choice, would rather stay home with young children. That’s why she is saying it is a “necessary evil” to work. Some people, even without kids, if they were wealthy, would not work unless they needed the money. It’s just the writer’s personal view in this *opinion* (i.e., not news) story.
    I don’t think it makes someone a bad parent if they work, but I do think there are “best practices” in anything, and each person has to decide how their situation fits on the continuum from unacceptable to acceptable to good, better, best.

  25. anon says:

    My 3 year old niece doesn’t have a bedtime either. Can I tell you how little I appreciate that fact when they’re staying at our house? I’m all for live and let live, but this author and many others like her I suspect, give little thought to how their choices impact on the rest of us.

  26. Carrie 1234 says:

    Maybe she’s not tired at 10 because she’s been parked in front of the TV for 6 hours?
    I don’t know, I think it’s fine to let her stay up late so that her parents have time to spend with her; our daughter stays up later than a lot of babies I think, because we work and it’s nice to have that time at night to spend with her and then the time to spend with each other after she goes to bed.
    However, spending several weeks in Pakistan has given me an appreciation for our nice American sleeping schedule. There are many beautiful things about that culture but sleeping is not one of them.  While there, “when in Rome,” our baby, like the other kids, stayed up until 2 in the morning, woke up early, and took naps whenever she collapsed into cranky exhaustion – and short naps, because there’s no quiet place to sleep, people are always in and out of the rooms.  She was fussy and miserable a lot of the time because she was tired! And so were the other kids, the two-year-olds threw over-tired tantrums, and the other baby her age was overweight to the point of health problems, because he was up more and ate more throughout the day.
    Anyway, it doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other, whatever works for your family; our hours are pretty flexible, but our baby does end up getting two good naps and a solid night’s sleep, and she is SO much more happy and pleasant.

  27. Annabella says:

    Just how many Bad Parent articles does one mother have in her?  There’s “I’m passing along my eating disorder to her”, “I park her in front of the TV for six hours a day”, “I take her to work unlike the poor suckers who pay for daycare”, “I don’t allow her to spend holidays with her extended family,” and several more that have slipped my mind.  Taken one by one, they are innocuous; taken as a collection, I’m starting to find it all rather disturbing.

  28. Ali says:

    I would bet you ten bucks this kid is “small for her age”. Children need about 10-12 hours sleep per 24 hours at 2-3 years old to develop and grow properly. That is important time for brain development too. Every family I know who lets their kids stay up really late then get them up early have realy small kids who later on, turn out to be really fat preteens. Lack of sleep causes lots of physical, developmental and emotional problems and the deprivation accumulates over time. Children just need more sleep than grown ups. Ask your pediatrician or read it in any medical book written about kids ( American Academy of Pediatrics is a good source). Parents put their kids to bed at 7pm or 8 pm not to have grown up time but because healthwise it is the responsible thing to do. Just as necessary as feeding them healthy food, clean water and spending time playing outside. I find this idea that sleep is a luxury annoying. It is sound science that humans needs sleep. Babies and children needs lots more. Yes, you are a bad parent. Keeping your kid up and endagering her health so you can play with her is bad parenting. Perhaps your child suffers from Pediatric Sleep Insomnia. Here is a paper on the subject. http://www.springerlink.com/content/v2n31068741p3q2w/

  29. Kay says:

    Oh come on people. If her daughter was getting less than 8 hours of sleep I would be worried. Yes, she should probably sleep more. And in our house we enforce a bedtime because of the studies. But I cannot imagine that 9 hours of sleep a night is considered too little. Every person has their own limit. Technically the golden rule of 8 hours is wrong for adults. A full sleep cycle is an hour and a half, and disturbing a cycle can leave you feeling tired. So 7 1/2 is a good amount, as is 9. I understand the child is growing, but unless her doctor notices her health condition is off, perhaps you should all just let it go. To each their own!

  30. Marj says:

    We had bedtimes growing up.  We were allowed to stay up late on Saturday nights to watch Dr. Who with our dad, which was special because he worked a night shift (3pm – midnight) and it was our first chance per week to spend some time with him.  We usually fell asleep halfway through.  Maybe the author and her kid doesn’t need much sleep but I do.  My husband and I are usually optimal with 8 – 10 hours sleep, and if genetics mean anything, our kids (due August) will need more than 5 hours a night too.  So bedtimes for them too.  Also, I’m a firm believer that a mom & dad (or whatever caregiver relationship there may be) having a strong relationship, which includes some non-kid time, is beneficial to the kids.  Glad it works for her, but I recall something my friend’s ex-husband did with his 4 year old last year.  She refused to go to bed because he was still up.  He decided not to make her, despite having promised to take her to the zoo the next day.  Well, she stayed up really late and slept in til’ almost noon.  When she got up, ready to go to the zoo, he told her it was too late to go, because she slept in too late.  When my friend picked her up later that day she was still crying.  Little kids really are not great at time-management and are fuzzy on non-immediate consequences (and he was a jackass to make her pay for his decision, of letting her stay up late).

  31. dallasmom says:

    If I was a working outside the house parent I would most likely not make bedtime a battle each night as long as my child was happy and was not having sleep issues so I agree on that count with the author of the article. However I am a stay at home mom and I need the kids in bed by 8 pm for MY sanity! I have no guilt or remorse over this…I spend a lot of time with them and they need to be in bed so I can have time too. So yes our bedtime is instituted bc it works for me and my husband regardless of whether my child likes it or not…so sue me for being selfish! Now I can’t make my kids sleep but I CAN make them be in their rooms and not come out. They are allowed to read in bed to themselves (we also read to them as part of the routine) until they get sleepy. My absolute turn off the light deadline on school nights is 9 pm for my 8 year old or he can’t wake up in the morning. My kids have done this since they were toddlers and while they tried the comign out of the room, need a drink, potty, delay tactics every once in a while…that lasted maybe two days. But whatever works for each family right?

  32. skinnymom says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but as a SAHM, by 8 p.m. I’ve had my fill of “quality time” with my 3-year-old, and I’m ready to see the back of her. She doesn’t have to go to sleep, but she does have to stay in her room and play or read quietly until she falls asleep, whatever time that may be. Sometimes it’s 8:01 p.m.; sometimes it’s 9:30. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with everyone in the house having a couple of hours of quiet alone-time at the end of the day.

  33. Loulou says:

    I agree with other posters – this is not a parent I wish to emulate but I believe she has the right to raise her child however she sees fit. But if you really do not want your work life to interfere with parenting, than quit your job. It really is possible. Live with less things and more time for your child – time to, say, teach her a few things about boundaries and limits and being considerate of others…

  34. GP says:

    It really is possible! Yes!

  35. Bubu says:

    Loulou & GP??? What? Parents should go on welfare so they can teach their children to be considerate of others by enforcing your arbitrary sleep schedule on their children?

  36. GP says:

    Hey Bubba…First of all, I don’t support sleep scheduling for anyone’s kid. They can do what they want. Throughout this thread, I was in support of Jeane’s sleeping deal with her kid. I have mine on a loose schedule and I do think its important for kids to get sleep and me to get down time, but she can do what she wants. People can do what they want with regard to both parents working outside the home, too.
    However, it is not a given that people must be on “welfare” if one of the parents stays home with a child under school age. It is quite possible with proper planning beforehand and budget management. Perhaps having only one child helps manage the situation, too. The way things have gotten that people think both parents have to work throughout the child’s early years is not necessarily true. One day, I will work full-time again, but we’ve carved out a few years where I can focus on our daughter more in the way that I believe young children benefit from.

  37. bkgirl says:

    wow, tough crowd. all i know is my kids are monstars when they don’t get a lot more than eight hours a night. and one of them’s 11. but other kids are different, i hear. and i, for the most part, am of the live and let live school. i started out a no sugar, only healthy homemade foods, militant bedtime enforcing, no toy gun brandishing, plastic-hating, co-sleeping for world peacy mom and I’ve had to eat my words many times over.

  38. lalahem says:

    Bedtime wars were the norm during the childhood of my children. I wanted to do it all perfectly. it was a nightmare. It was only when I became a grandmother that I realized what I had done wrong for so long. My Grandkids visit every weekend. The bedtime ritual starts at 9ish, sometimes earlier or later depending on activity levels. it lasts for 45 min from bath to closing of the story book.

  39. Manjari says:

    I find the bedtime issue fascinating, and I don’t have a firm opinion on it. I know that my kids need to get to bed on time most nights. If they have a late night here or there, they can bounce back. There have been times, though, when they have had several late nights in a row (when family is visiting from out of the country), and they just end up being really out of sorts.
    Loulou and GP, my husband and I agree that the best thing for our kids is for them to spend most of their time with me while they are very young. I’m lucky that I have a co-parent, and that he makes at least enough for our rent and food. He’s lucky that he has me to care for/teach his kids 24/7 without having to pay for childcare. There are plenty of parents whose life circumstances, values, goals, and finances are vastly different from ours. We know a lot of parents who don’t do it the way we do. They are all great parents, and their kids are all thriving just as ours are.

  40. anon says:

    Bad Parent is such a vague inexact description. So in this case, I would propose selfish lazy parent or SLP. SLP wants to play with kid after hours, so she does, despite the fact kid doesn’t get enough sleep (8-10 hours isn’t nearly enough for a 3 year old). SLP doesn’t want to put in the work required to teach the kid good sleep habits, so she doesn’t. AKA, the low effort method of being a parent.

  41. rachel momma of 2 says:

    I’m amazed that you all know what to do with your kid and exactly what they need. I  have a very regular bedtime routine for my 2.5 year old and she doesn’t sleep. I put her in her room, lights low, lulling sounds, pajamas, etc. by 7:30-8 and she’s awake/talking/playing until about 9:30 every night. this has gone on for months so it’s not like she’s just getting “used to it.” she rarely rarely sleeps through the night and wakes around 7, usually cheerful, and takes a two hour nap in the middle of the day.  so does that mean I should just kill the bedtime routine and let her stay up later?  I don’t care if I’m a good or a bad parent, but I would love to see her sleep through the night.
    her older sister (6) stopped napping around 2 1/2 but was never cranky in the evening. she goes to bed easily around 8:00/8:30 and wakes up around 7:30 and has since she was 2 1/2.
    I’m a horrible sleeper and generally a relaxed and focused parent–this is the only area of parenting that  I have absolutely no clue about.

  42. Voice of Reason says:

    Rachel Momma of 2, it doesn’t sound to me like you haven’t got a clue. In fact, it sounds to me like kudos are in order. You’re doing everything you can to provide a sleep-friendly environment for your child. That’s all you can do. (Although, personally, I would kill the low lights. I’m really against nightlights, purely because light stimulates waking up hormones and darkness stimulates melatonin release.)Obviously, you can’t actually force children to sleep, but you can impose a good, consistent bedtime routine such as yours to give them all the right tools in their sleep toolbox, so to speak. The fact that your daughter talks, plays, etc for an hour or more before drifting off probably just indicates that she needs to do this as part of her own personal pre-sleep routine. My children have gone though similar rituals after the lights are out and once they are in their own beds. I always think they are processing information they’ve picked up during the day. (My guess is that once you drop the daytime nap your daughter will get to sleep faster, but all in good time…)Personally, I am pro-bedtime. This was a decision my partner and I made together BEFORE we had children, because we were absolutely sick and tired of being forced to be around children who were overtired, cranky, whiny and prone to excessive tantrums. (It seems to me that the more children one has, the more important this becomes. After all, it’s a lot easier to deal with one overtired toddler than it is to deal with several miserable tots of different ages, each with different developmental needs.) The people we knew who avoided implementing bedtimes were not doing so for the benefit of their children – they were just being selfish, to the detriment of their children. However, this is just my experience. I’m sure that each parent knows his/her child(ren) best and if those parents genuinely believe their kids are getting enough rest without bedtimes and that this lack of structured routine isn’t going to have negative implications when they reach school age, then who am I to judge? Our 2.5 year old goes to bed at 7:00 and our 5 year old foIlows 30 minutes later. Other than a few isolated incidents, we’ve never had the bedtime wars I’ve been reading about here. In fact, our children will ask to go to bed early if they feel particularly tired. (We have had plenty of wars in other areas, though!)I should point out though, that I don’t think it’s ‘amazing’ that people know ‘exactly what to do’ with their children and ‘exactly what they need’. For us, and I’m sure for many other posters, there was a process involved, with much dialogue, reading and trial and error involved… much like many other areas of parenting!

  43. SCMom says:

    I’m glad to know we’re not the only parents without a set bedtime (son is almost 3).  I was raised without one and did just fine.  Our parents had the idea that we could learn to be sensitive to our own needs and take responsibility for ourselves, especially as we got older.  There would be a routine to our evenings, and they’d suggest bed, but we were never forced to go to our rooms and “give them quiet”.  Even so, on school nights, we were usually well asleep by 9pm.
    Our son generally goes to sleep when we do – about 10-11pm.  Sometimes if he had a real busy day or skipped a nap, he’ll go to bed early.  My husband doesn’t get home ’til 7:30-8pm, so if he had an early bedtime, they’d have no bonding time during the week.  So I totally understand the author’s viewpoint.  When our boy was younger and I did get him down early, he’d just wake up the moment he heard dad come up the stairs, then be cranky because his sleep cycle was altered.  So I found it best to let him go to sleep late and wake up later.  It’s really no big deal for those kids that don’t *have* to be somewhere early the next morning.  He gets plenty of sleep, wakes up very ready for the day and still takes a good, restful nap just about everyday.  I’m not worried about later…our plan is to do some sort of homeschooling since (imo) public education is mostly about babysitting anyway (I’m self-employed and have plenty of flexibility in my schedule to allow this…something I worked for before we had kids).  When he enters the workforce, if he decides he wants something other than a traditional 9-5 job, he can find it.  Plenty of people work unusual hours.  Conversely, I’m sure he’ll be able to adapt his sleep anytime that becomes important to him or to us.  What matters is that a person is getting the sleep he/she needs, not when it happens.
    As far as some of these comments, I find it very sad that some say they need to “see the back of their kid”.  Yikes…would you say that to a friend?  Parenting isn’t supposed to be a miserable chore…if it feels like one by the end of the day, I’d hope that parent is making some changes to make it better.  Little is worse for a kid than to feel like they’re not wanted, at any time of day.

  44. gotobednow says:

    I am concerned that many children do not get sufficient sleep and that poor sleep patterns are being established when they are young. Just because a child is capable of staying awake until after 8pm and is still functioning in an apparently cheerful way on a regular basis, does not equate to sufficient (ie optimum amounts) sleep. I liken it to feeding a baby on demand. Why wait until a baby is so hungry it is crying with hunger, likewise why wait until a toddler starts exhibiting signs of sleep deprivation before insisting it needs sleep. The same goes for adults, yes you may well be functioning on little sleep, but could you be doing better with more ? With more reasons to keep awake- ie on the computer or phone, this generation of kids will be complete zombies if their parents don’t put them to bed at a realistic time.Established sleep patterns, good or poor, take a while to alter. Trying to enforce an earlier bedtime needs to be done gradually and with commitment. A child does NOT know best what it’s sleep needs are- that’s what parents are for. I hear the argument for keepingkids awake until dad or mom get home, way too often. It’s just life that some kids don’t see much of a parent who works long or shift hours. Make time for the kids in the morning and for other times when parents aren’t working- just not when the kids ought to be asleep. I think “bonding” time shouldn’t be a choice made over sleep.When Dunkin Donuts brags that this country runs on coffee and donuts, it is not a good thing…ie caffeine addicted, hyper, sleep deprived, angry, frustrated, obese and diabetic, yeh- good one, we don’t need sleep. NOT!I had neighbours and other playgroup mothers who all team “late or no bedtime” and honestly, their kids were regularly unable to control their emotions or behaviour to the point where they were unpleasant to be around. I have twins and I am often complimented on their behaviour. Having a regular bedtime does not mean there are no late nights ever, our mornings are rarely started before 6.45am, mostly after 7am, sometimes as late as 8am. My kids understand that when they are sleeping is when their bodies grow.If you deprive a child of sleep on a regular basis throughout childhood, it’s sleep that can never be made up.

  45. CEA says:

    I agree with SS and Annabella. Every time I read something by this author, I find myself thinking, “Hmmm. That doesn’t sound right.”
    I think she should stay away from the personal/opinion pieces and stick with reporting – I would not say her parenting choices are terrible, but I do not think they are good, different, or smart enough to pass on to other people.
    It’s as if she is a rickshaw driver offering rides from Boston to New York… it could work, but, I would rather take the bus.

  46. Kirsten Fisher says:

    I have to add my tw cents. I think making sure your children have a set routine & bedtime is extremely important. At least it is in my house with my 2.5 year old. If I can get her to bed on time I can bypass a lot of tantrums. Why would I put us all through that when all I have to do is stay consistant? She used to be in bed by 7:00, then we pushed it to 7:30 and She would be up until 8:00. So now we have settled for an 8:00 sleep time because after trial & error we have figured out that is when her little body is actually ready to go to sleep. So every night it’s dinner, a little playtime, bath & tucked into her brand newly converted toddler bed. I don’t hear another peep until sometime in the middle of the night when I hear a little voice say “hold you mommy”. She wants to get in the big bed. If I hold out She will go back to sleep…but it’s taken a while to get that far. Im a mush. But the bedtime & routine were a must. No one was getting sleep before we put it into practice.
    For those parents that say it doesn’t work, I suggest the “No cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. In desperation I read 1/2 of it. Just that one 1/2 has helped my family sleep more and sleep better.

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