Bedtime was always a struggle, and not getting kids to bed is harder than it ever was.
One fine day, BCP and I got a bedtime SOS from a mother (well, to be fair — she contacted them and they forwarded her to me):
I have 5 kids 10 and under (10, 8, 6, 4 and 1), and I am not handling bedtime. I feel like all I do is NAG. I need to be on top of every little detail or else no one will even move. I have to ask them to take a shower 10 times because they’re always “doing one more thing” or just ignore me. And even when showers are done, they have to put on pajamas, brush their teeth and actually get into bed (and stay there!).
And let’s not even talk about the baby…
By the time we reach the end of bedtime hours later (at 10 or later!) I find myself yelling at them, and I’m frustrated and exhausted.
(My note: And, now that there’s no schedule and no school, things have become even more difficult for her!)
If this sounds like you and your family every night, you’re not alone. The evening rush, and pushback during bedtime, are something that many mothers struggle with. There is so much advice out there, that you may or may not have tried, with mixed success.
Things to do, things not to do, and the classic, “my sister-in-law’s kids are ANGELS because she…”, and somehow makes your kids even worse (if it was even possible!)
When it comes to really solving these sorts of struggles, diving headfirst into someone else’s successful plan doesn’t always mean success for you and your family.
So, to really craft a successful plan, here are the foundational steps:
1. The Key: what will work for YOU.
Your family is different than any other family. And – let me add here: “other families” include your very own family a year ago, as well as your own family a year from now. With your children grow older and new babies joining your family, your very own family’s reality will shift and change from year to year; that means that your strategies and “what works” will change, too.
While we often turn to friends, sisters, mothers, etc. for advice in many areas of life, when it comes to the intricate details of (oftentimes large) family dynamics, since the average mother really only has experience with what does and doesn’t work for her own family, her solution very likely will not be the solution for you.
If you do ask other mothers for advice, do go into it with an open mind, but use your common sense and discrimination to sift through the advice and craft a strategy that will really work for your family, rather than blindly following what worked for them.
The key is to find what will work for you.
But, even when crafting your POA, there are two other important foundations to consider.
2. Take control, release control
Anyone who’s familiar with the DOR method (Division of Responsibility) will associate that term with a method to prevent or deal with picky eating.
But here’s the thing about DOR: It’s not just about eating, it’s about everything in parenting. And, of course, that includes bedtime.
At the foundation of DOR is understanding this: what can/do/should I have control over, and what does my child have control over?
Trying to take control over things that we actually have no control over is a recipe for frustration and disaster.
On the other hand, releasing control to your children when it’s something that you ought to have control over can cause an equal amount of frustration.
Put the two together, as, unfortunately, often accidentally happens, and…
It ain’t pretty.
So what is an appropriate place to take control and relinquish control for bedtime? That will depend on your child’s age.
In this family, the 10-year-old should be in charge of making her own bedtime routine happen. Mommy may cue her by letting her know when it’s time to start her bedtime routine, and then will also be “in control” of when the actual in-bed-and-lights-out happens. Everything else (when/if a shower happens, if she is in pajamas, which pajamas to wear, tooth brushing, etc.) is in the child’s control.
For the 1-year-old, there’s very little in her control at all — with the exception of actually falling asleep. Mommy will have to make everything else happen.
And for the 6-year-old, there’ll be a little bit of both — definitely some guidance from Mommy to make it happen, but also allowing space for his own control.
(As an aside: for older children who can understand, educating and talking through routines, etc. is a great way to help guide our children along and teach proper hygiene – both sleep hygiene and cleanliness hygiene. However, AT BEDTIME is NOT the time to have that chat! At bedtime is the time to release control and allow your child to have natural consequences — both positive and negative — occur from her actions.)
To DOR your kids’ sleep, you’ll have to get really honest with yourself.
What do you have control over?
What is actually in your kids’ domain of control?
What could you have control over, but shouldn’t be controlling because the most effective thing is to release control?
And — where are you trying to control that you don’t really have control over?
3. Mind the gap
Back in my camp days, hikes were the best trips we went on in Sternberg. Hikes came along with their own unique cheers, including our classic hiking cheer in which we were reminded: “Don’t leave a gap!”
Turns out, it wasn’t just good advice for hiking — it’s also a good lesson for life.
We often have gaps between our reality and our ideal/expectations, and if we don’t notice the gaps and just leave them there, they’re bound to cause unnecessary frustration — both for us and for everyone else involved.
One of the areas of life rife with gaps is parenting – specifically: our children’s behavior. And, to hone in on our subject matter: bedtime.
We all have a mental image of how bedtime could/should/would look… and oh boy does that often clash with how it actually does look.
To rid ourselves of that frustration and close that gap, first, we need to notice it.
Again, this will require a level of honesty. Ask yourself:
What am I expecting to happen? What is my “ideal scenario” that I paint in my head?
…And what is my reality?
Is there anything I’m doing to create that gap?
What are my children doing to contribute to the gap?
And then: What can I do to close the gap?
Sometimes closing the gap requires a shift in reality, sometimes it may need a shift in expectations, but often, as in the case of the mother who asked the question above, it’s probably a combination of both.
What is a realistic expectation or ideal you can create? Find a middle ground between reality and a pie-in-the-sky expectation to aim for something reasonable.
As you do, ask yourself: How can I guide my children in closing the gap?
And, above all, remember that it will be a process – the gap won’t close overnight, and it may be weeks or even months before you completely close the gap.
As my fifth-grade writing teacher always reminded us: eat the elephant bite by bite.
Because just one step today? That’s super doable.
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