Ok, I’m just going to say what every parent out there is thinking: why don’t kids have an ‘off button’ that when it comes to bedtime you press and they simply go to bed nicely? Please? If anyone is thinking of designing one I wholeheartedly (and without checking with their other parents but I’m sure they’ll agree with me) offer my kids up as Guinea pigs for the experiment.
To give some context we have 4 children to put to bed, all within an hour and a half of each other. With 4 kids, ages ranging from 13 years to 4 months you’d think we would have a well oiled routine in place. We don’t. One of the problems here is that as kids get older, smarter and more wily to new tricks designed specifically to delay going to sleep, my partner and I get older, more frazzled and are generally non-plussed as to what’s happening around us at bedtime.
We start with the baby. Anyone heard of the witching hour? It’s totally true, however it is not just an hour. Anytime from 4pm onwards our sweet, smiling baby turns into a whinging ball of fury whose purpose is to stay up as late as possible making the household miserable with her moaning. I’m hoping it’s just a phase. If it is, it’s turning out to be a long one. Around 6pm all the occupants of the house have had enough of her and many of them can be found hiding in other rooms in a bid to avoid her. My partner and I draw straws as to who gets to put her to bed and after a period of procrastination, the bedtime routine starts. Those words; bedtime routine are meant to make parents think of nice, calm activities, bath, lullaby, bed. This inevitably doesn’t happen as the baby, wise to the fact every other occupant in the house is still awake and HAVING FUN WITHOUT HER, does not go quietly. She stretches out bedtime as long as humanly possible and her current record from getting into PJs to actually going to sleep, stands at 3 hours and 10 minutes. Not bad for a 4 month old.
The only one who comes close to her record is my six year old. After having his nightly shout that it’s not fair he can’t stay up as late as the bigger children (one of whom is more than double his age), he takes my hand and walks upstairs. “Please let this be the night he goes straight to sleep” runs through my mind as a chant many parents will recognise. It’s yet to be the case. He often has me fooled though as he’ll go up to his room and go through the motions of going to bed and it’s only an hour or so later that my brain switches back on and I realise not only is he not in bed and asleep, he’s not even in his room. For him, going to bed involves trying on all the different pairs of pjs he owns, half an hour after he should have been asleep, complaints that he’s still hungry and raiding the fridge, sneaking drinks up to his room and spilling them, requiring a change of sheets and drawing on anything he can get his hands on, namely the furniture. I’m considering putting him to bed in a padded cell with a locked door.
Once he and the baby are down (hopefully) for the night, we have about 3 seconds with the older 2 children before they need to go to bed. Using the old ‘divide and conquer’ technique and in a bid to actually spend some quality time together before we’re old and grey, my partner and I split off: he puts his daughter to bed, I put my son to bed. We try to compete to see who can do it the fastest (me because I promise my son all sorts of treats the next day if he’ll just GO TO SLEEP).
At aged 10 (and a half) and 13 (and 4 months) the kids have amassed 8,695 bedtimes between them so going upstairs, cleaning teeth, changing into pjs and getting into bed shouldn’t be a new thing. The uninitiated observer may think otherwise. 20 minutes after lights out is the time when my son needs to tell me what’s happened during his day, what worries he has and any school specific stuff he needs for the next day. This is despite him having had 5 hours after school in which to do this. My step-daughter, well the light doesn’t even go out at the allotted time as this is also her perfect time to tell my partner what may be bothering her. Roughly an hour after our patience has run out and any good humour has upped and left the room my partner and I meet in the sitting room to spend what’s left of the evening doing what parents do best; sitting zombified in front of the tv and running upstairs every 15 minutes to check the baby’s ok. Then in the blink of an eye it’s time to go to bed ourselves.
If anyone has any tips on how not to have your children run rings around you when there are 4 of them tag teaming each other, I’d be very grateful if you’d share them beneath this post.