Bedtime Battles

As a mom I have always felt very blessed with my children.  They’re overall very good kids, and most days I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  But I’ve always felt most blessed because I was given three very good sleepers.  I’ve heard horror stories of parents who’s two and a half year old still gets up 2-3 times a night, or who’s 6 months old is up every hour on the hour.

During those endless days and nights with a newborn its difficult to appreciate how well they’re sleeping when you know in 4 hours they’re going to wake up and want feeding again, but in hindsight I had it very easy.  All three of my kids settled into a routine within the first few days of being home.  And since my husband was able to take paternity leave, we were both home to do the overnight feedings.  Generally by the time he went back to work a few weeks into their lives we were at a point where if one of us stayed up late and the other got up early we’d meet the baby’s needs and still get almost a full nights rest.  Best of all, by the time I went back to work after 12 weeks they were sleeping fully through the night.

Brendan was by far my best sleeper, and when we got pregnant with Cameron I remember everyone telling me that I’d gotten off easy the first time and that I’d have a miserable time getting Cameron to sleep…but they were wrong.  Then when we got pregnant with Kaylee, the same people said the same things again…and were wrong again.  So then people started to say things like, “well they sleep now…but just wait until they get a little older”

Brendan’s bedtime when he was an infant and toddler was 7:00.  Yes, you read that right 7:00.  Putting him to bed that early meant that he would sleep in until 7 or 8:00 the next morning.  And he’d still take a 2 hour nap in the afternoons as well.  My baby boy loved his sleep.  Even as he got older and needed less sleep, we kept his bedtime at 7:00 because with our work schedules we had to get him out of bed at 5:00 in the morning in order to get us all ready and him to daycare before work.  As the other kids came along, we put them to bed at 7:00 as well since it had worked so well for us.  They too had to get up at 5 for daycare so even if they didn’t sleep as long as their oldest sibling did as an infant it still worked well for them to go to bed that early.

Bedtime battles didn’t really start for us until Brendan was in second grade.  At that point our 7 year old prudently pointed out that by going to bed at 7:00, he went to bed at the same time as the baby…and he wasn’t a baby any more.  The problem was, that our big boy still needed a lot of sleep, and the few times he’d gotten to stay up past 7, he was an absolute bear the next day.  So we worked out a reward system.  As Brendan did the right thing, and made good choices he’d earn a penny for his jar.  As he did bad things, and made poor choices he’d lose 2 pennies from his jar.  At the end of each day he could choose to spend 1 penny for a 30 minute delay in his bedtime, or 2 pennies for an hour.  This worked on two levels.  First, it gave us a more consistent opportunity to view whether he was ready for a later bedtime or not, and it showed Brendan in a very concrete fashion that there are consequences for his actions.  We didn’t remove pennies for just any naughty behavior, there were specific behaviors that we were trying to curb, and those were written on a list and posted on the refrigerator.  So if he made the choice to do one of those things, he knew there was a consequence involved.  The longer we did the program, the more we saw those behaviors disappear.

Towards the end of the school year, we determined he’d done well with the program and granted him an 8:00 bedtime.  Meanwhile, Cameron was now 4 and wanted to stay up just as late as Brendan did.  As Cameron has gotten older, we’ve determined that he can function on much less sleep than Brendan ever could.  However, at the time he brought up wanting a later bedtime we were still getting all of the kids up at the crack of dawn because I was still working, so we wouldn’t even consider giving the 4 year old a later bedtime at that point.  Things changed over the summer because I was staying at home with the kids.  The hour from 7:00-8:00 became absolutely torturous.  Cameron fought going to bed tooth and nail, he’d get up every 5 minutes needing something.  He’d whine incessantly about being in bed and continuously ask when Brendan would be coming to bed.  So we re-evaluated the bedtime situation and determined that although we hadn’t done so when Brendan was 4, circumstances had changed and we granted Cameron a 7:30 bedtime.

Since doing that things have gotten a bit better with Cameron, though my little con artist does still try to weasel his way out of bed whenever he can.  Going into this school year I’ve felt like we finally have the bedtime routine back under control.  Each child starts getting ready for bed 15 minutes prior to their bedtime, and I have 15 minutes to sit and relax in between each one.  It’s been about as perfect as I could get it.  I figured I had a good couple of years before I had to start thinking of bedtime routines again and updating them as the kids got older.

Wrong.  In the past few weeks Brendan has again been whining about getting a later bedtime.  At this stage we are absolutely unwilling to consider moving his bedtime any later.  Firstly because it is obvious he’s not ready to handle that responsibility on a regular basis.  The nights that he asks for a later bedtime seem to be the ones where he’s already tired and irrational anyway.  As soon as he asks and we say no, he bursts into tears and begins to whine uncontrollably about it.  He seems to think that this approach proves that he’s ready for it, but as I’ve explained to him a thousand times it just proves that he’s not.  Beyond that, on those days that we’re not able to get our kids to bed at their appointed bedtimes the next morning becomes an absolute nightmare for me.

The kids now get up at 7:00 in the morning.  That leaves me just over an hour to get all three kids bathed and fed before school (I prefer to do their baths in the morning.  First because Kaylee’s long hair means she gets terrible bed head in the morning, and second because it seems to perk Brendan up and make him less grumpy in the mornings.  There is no advantage to bathing Cameron in the morning, I just do his because I’m already doing the other two)  On the morning after Brendan went to bed late, I’ll hear complaints of, “It’s too eeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaarly, I’m tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired, I don’t waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaant to get up.”  Then I spend the rest of the morning trying not to lose my temper as I deal with a child on the verge of having a complete meltdown.  If this happens on a Tuesday or Thursday it is inevitable that at the point we are climbing into the car to take Brendan to school I’ll hear the argument about how its not fair that he’s the only one who has to go to school while Cameron and Kaylee get to stay home and play all day long.

Brendan’s requests for a later bedtime have sparked Cameron into requesting one as well, and like Brendan he’s not ready to handle a later bedtime.  Even on nights that we do get him to bed on time he spends the next morning whining about having to get out of bed, and no matter what he’s a bear to get ready in the morning (he is definately not a morning person.  He is a night owl like his daddy).  And to make things even more fun Kaylee has started a new stage where she will try anything to delay her bedtime as well.  After I put her into bed, tuck her in, and kiss her goodnight she will stop me by saying, “Wait mommy.”  If you respond with the obligitory, “What?” you get bombarded with requests for specific stuffed animals, specific songs on her music player, requests to turn on the fan or off the fan (depending on whether you’d already turned it on), requests for books, specific blankets, one more ‘tory.  She can usually think up about 5 minutes of excuses.  If you ignore her and just go ahead and leave its much much worse.  Then you hear shrieks of, “Mommy Mommy Mommy” which can last up to 30 minutes.  Despite the annoyance of standing there and giving her all that she’s asking for, it’s much easier to deal with than the alternative.

And so my days of bedtime bliss have gone by the wayside to be replaced with bedtime battles.  But through it all I realize I’m still blessed with three wonderful children, even if there are times I’d sell them to you for a nickel apiece.

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