I’m just gonna come out and say it: bedtime is absolute hell. You’d think it would be easy, you’re winding down from the chaos and stress of the day. The kids have been going, going, going and you know they’re done. And for us parents, bedtime is the stop gap before we get to unwind ourselves. But it so rarely happens in a smooth transition for some reason. In fact, I hate the mom I am by the end of the day.
By bedtime, everyone is exhausted. But kids have a way of harnessing that exhaustion into pure energy. We adults are just depleted. And so bedtime becomes a battle to the death. It’s hard to know who wins in the end though, because we all just kind of crash.
If my son had his way, he would be up all night. Even before we start getting ready for bed, there’s usually been a fight. I give a time countdown so when I say, “It’s time to get ready for bed,” he’s not caught off guard. And yet when I say that it’s time to clean up and get ready for bed, he will act totally surprised. It’s as if I hadn’t been warning him for 30 minutes.
Bedtime at my house follows two different routines. On bath nights, he’ll sometimes happily collect his toys for a bath and get undressed. Then there are nights where the shit hits the fan and he has a complete meltdown — which is, of course, most nights. And that’s where my patience starts to disappear. One night I had to carry him into the bathroom, literally kicking and screaming, and put him in the tub. It wasn’t my proudest moment, trust me. But I was just done.
Speaking of tantrums, do all kids sound louder when it comes time for bed? By the end of the day, it feels like they do nothing but scream. Some of it is pent up energy from the day, but I think somewhere deep down, they know that all we’re trying to get to is the peace of silence. And so they decide to be as loud as humanly possible. Whether it’s screaming while they play in the bath, or just incessant talking, there is so. much. noise.
There have been times where I’ll be helping my son get dressed after a bath and he is literally vibrating. Like, he’s so all over the place that I can feel the energy coming off him. Which is basically the opposite of what I’m going for. If he’s that amped up, I can already tell that getting him to lay down is going to take every ounce of energy I may have left. Usually, there’s not much to draw from, which means that I turn into a rage monster.
It’s hard to be calm at bedtime when your kid is testing the final ounce of patience you have remaining. There are only a few tasks left by the end of the day. We are so close to the finish line. All he needs to do is put on his PJs, brush his teeth and get in bed for his story. What should take 15, 20 minutes tops can sometimes take a half hour or more. And why? Because he acts like this isn’t what we do literally every night. Or he’s still so energetic that he turns bedtime into playtime. Just trying to get him to focus is like pulling teeth.
I feel like this goes without saying, but I don’t like being the bad guy at bedtime. I don’t think any parent does, but here we are. And it’s fucking exhausting. Chances are, bedtime is the same thing every night. So why is it that our kids somehow manage to turn it into World War 3? How is it that they still haven’t figured out that Mommy or Daddy won’t yell if they just listen?
Parents need grownup time, and the only time we usually get it is after the kids have gone to bed. That time looks different for all of us — sometimes you’re actually just trying to get to bed yourself. Other nights it looks like ice cream and Netflix. Or maybe a nice hot bath or shower. And as much as we don’t want to, we know we’re being short with our kids at the end of the day because they’re the barrier between us and that much-needed relaxation time.
But that chill time is so much less relaxing when we’re swimming in a pool of guilt and regret for being the bedtime rage monster. When my son pushes me to the brink at bedtime, I feel awful. Not only because I’ve had to lose my shit, but because I want bedtime to be a nice time for us. I’ve been working all day and not giving him the attention I can finally give him at the end of the day. I look forward to bedtime every night. Not just because he’s going to bed, but because I like having those few minutes of calm with him. I love to give him a million kisses as I help him get dressed, and then snuggling with him and his “babies” while I read everyone a bedtime story.
But, when he’s acting like a little jackal, we’re both going through the motions. I’m annoyed with him for giving me a hard time, and he’s mad at me for being mad. I know he can hear my exasperation while I read to him. Or the defeat in my voice when I kiss him and say goodnight. It’s not fun for either of us.
As hard as I try to be calm, some days that’s just impossible. I know my son doesn’t always mean to make things difficult, but man, these kids of ours really know how to do that, don’t they?
The nights that end badly — with my son upset and me feeling guilty — break my heart. But I also know that there’s always hope for a better night the next day. And the day after that. Then bedtime doesn’t look so bad.