Truth time: My son is a night owl. He has never gone to bed before 9 p.m. He just isn’t capable of doing it, never has been.
When he was a baby, trying to create a routine and sleep schedule was impossible. I cried and stressed and agonized over it for about a month before I finally said “fuck it,” and just followed his lead. He always seemed to be a little easier to put to bed later at night. It still wasn’t perfect, but at least it was less of a struggle for both of us. Obviously, he was trying to tell me that he was more of a night owl. And since I am too, this didn’t really bother me. I can’t relate to parents who put their kids to bed at like 7:30 p.m.; our lifestyle has never allowed for something like that.
When my son was little, I worked as a babysitter and he came with me. Since I worked in the afternoons, any chance at a normal nap time was completely impossible. Napping while we traveled proved to be difficult; there was a lot of transferring modes of transportation, and he was such a busybody, he needed to see everything that was going on all the time. I would try to get him to nap when we’d get to the houses of the kids I watched, but that was a bust. He was too busy spending time with his friends to sleep.
But all that activity meant that when we’d be heading home, he was exhausted. And when your kid is taking a nap in the evening, there’s no chance they’re going to bed at what many would consider a decent hour. But that was a sacrifice we had to make, so I dealt with it.
Sure, it would have been nice to put him to bed and have a few hours to myself before I went to bed, but I also knew that it wasn’t going to be forever.
Well, I was partially right. I stopped working afternoons, but at that point, habits had been set. After taking late naps for a year, his little body was conditioned to sleeping that way, and it seemed that bedtime got later and later. As much as I’d try to discourage it, even trying to skip naps when I could, there was not much I could do. If everyone else was up, he had to be too.
For a long time, he was literally going to sleep in the middle of the night. If I had to work in the early morning, I was barely sleeping. I can actually remember one morning when it took me so long to get him to sleep that I didn’t even bother going to bed because I had to be up in less than an hour for work. That was unbearable, but I knew that it was going to take time to fix.
When he stopped napping, it became a lot easier to get him to sleep before midnight. A cross-country move that shifted our time zone by three hours didn’t hurt either. But even then, our lives didn’t suddenly shift to a time where a 7:00 bedtime seemed realistic. His dad works during the day, and since we’re not together, the only time they can see each other is in the evenings between his jobs.
Then, when I enrolled him in a preschool program, the only slots they had available were for their “twilight” session, meaning he doesn’t go to school until the late afternoon. It’s fine for me because I work during the day and not having to interrupt my day to take him to school is helpful. But that means we don’t get home from school until around 7 p.m. Then, we still have to have dinner and snack, and every other night or so, bathtime. There’s no way I could cram all that into even an hour.
Now, he has a bedtime that I try to enforce. He goes down anywhere between 9:00 and 9:30 unless we’re out or I’m not home. Even though I will give him some leeway, I want his little butt asleep by midnight. But that’s only because by then he’s just loopy with exhaustion that I don’t want to put up with his bullshit. For some people, his bedtime is still really late for a 4-year-old.
But since we have nothing that he has to get up early for, it’s a perfect bedtime. I’m a late night person anyway, so I still get a few hours to myself every night to unwind/get work done that I can’t do while he’s awake and asking me for shit every five minutes. And he still gets plenty of sleep, averaging anywhere between 10 and 12 hours a night. Even if he had to get up early, he’d still be getting a solid amount of sleep.
“But what about when he goes to school?” is a question I get asked a lot. Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. He can adapt pretty quickly to a new sleep schedule, so I don’t doubt that he’ll be fine.
Until then, he’ll be my little night owl.