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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.

Bad Parent: Who Needs Bedtimes?

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

July 2, 2009

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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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