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

Bad Parent: Who Needs Bedtimes?

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

July 2, 2009


That’s why there’s no bedtime in our household, why the seven o’clock hour does not turn our child into a screaming, writhing pumpkin who just wants another ten minutes to play with her toys or sit between Mommy and Daddy on the couch. We tried it a few times – the march upstairs to the bedroom, the tuck in, the request for water, the tuck in, the pleas to go potty again, the tuck in. Each night it would go on for an hour or two, her too keyed up for bed, us more exhausted by the minute.

Pretty quickly, we realized it wasn’t just a rule we didn’t like enforcing but one we saw no point in enforcing. If she was awake, why argue her into bed? Why spend our few hours together as a family every night manning our battle stations?

Commenting recently in the New York Times on the fact that President Barack and Michelle Obama enforce a strict eight p.m. bedtime for daughters Sasha and Malia, Dr. Judith Owens, who directs the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, says parents unfortunately misjudge the appropriate bedtime because they think their kids need less sleep than they do. Owens says just 2.5 percent of the population needs significantly less sleep than average, but 95 percent of the population wrongly thinks it’s in that 2.5 percent category.

But Dr. Perri Klass, who wrote the New York Times piece, points out that the sleep experts suggest “testing your routine by checking whether the child wakes spontaneously, alert and cheerful and ready for the day.”

Mine does.

In fact, she still rises earlier in the morning than I do – because she generally still falls asleep before either her father or me, him because he stays up to check out the ESPN scores, me because after a bedtime story, I pick up the latest novel off of my bedside table and spend at least an hour decompressing with some escapist trash.

By the time she’s ready to crawl out of bed, so are we.But while the friends who brag that their children are off to bed by seven p.m. are the same mothers and fathers who make repeated requests to institute a mid-day nap just for parents, I am rarely wakened by an overeager toddler at five a.m. or even six a.m. She generally makes her appearance in our room just before the alarm goes off at seven – sometimes later, while we’re still pulling out clothes for the day. On weekends, when there is no work alarm, she may sleep as late as eight, a blissful lay-in for the whole family on a Saturday morning. By the time she’s ready to crawl out of bed, so are we.

To me, those extra morning hours in bed are nice. But they’re only the icing on the cake. Because some of the best parts of me – my undying love of the Rolling Stones, my penchant for E.L. Fudge cookies – come from late nights long after my mother and brother were sleeping, when I sat in my insomniac dad’s home office. In between drafting invoices for his contracting business, we listened to classic rock and shared shortbread loaded with fudge.

I had no bedtime, but my father knew just where his child was at ten p.m. Even better – he knew who she was.

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