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


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.

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.

Article Posted 7 years Ago

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