In Defense Of Occasionally Ignoring Your Kids' Bedtime

I’m Strict About Bedtime, But I Never Regret The Nights I Say ‘F*ck It’ And Let Them Stay Up

June 27, 2019 Updated May 19, 2020

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I read a book when I was pregnant with my first child that recommended letting your newborn stay up until 10 p.m. or so as it “would put them on my sleep schedule and they’d sleep through the night.” I tried (and tried and tried) that method for over six weeks because I wanted nothing more than for that child to be on my schedule.

It would have been amazing if it had worked out. I’d put him down when I was tired and — poof! — we’d both wake up at the same time as happy and cheery as a mother and baby who got uninterrupted sleep all night. I also thought it would be delightful to go out to dinner with my then-husband and take a spin around Target without having to watch the clock and speed home before 7 p.m. without him turning a pumpkin.

But, alas, that wasn’t the way it went down in our house.

I’d watch my son yawn, rub his eyes, and literally cry for sleep every night around 6:30 p.m. These were all signs he was ready to call it a day, throw in the towel, and go to bed already. But I’d try to keep him up, hoping he’d be so tired when my bedtime rolled around, there’d be no waking up.

Instead, he was up crying all night long.

As soon as I gave up my dreams of being carefree and able to stay at a family gathering until I was ready to leave, and started paying attention to what my son was telling me about when he was tired, we were both much happier. And that happiness made me stick to a strict bedtime for years. (Heck, decades.) I stuck to that schedule like there was no other choice because really, there wasn’t– it was clear both our moods depended on getting him to bed on time.

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When I had my other two kids, I didn’t mess around with trying to adhere to a different schedule. There were in bed every night by seven, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Now they are teenagers and if you asked them about bedtime, they slap their forehead and tell you how annoying I am because I still have a strict (early) bedtime of around 9:30. Apparently I am the only parent in the world who has this rule and it’s really cramping their style.

But what they are forgetting to tell you is how we stay up until after midnight every New Year’s Eve since they were in elementary school. Or on the summer nights when we are at a party and everyone is eating ice cream sandwiches, scooping up chips and dip, and watching the fireflies dance in the night sky.

Oh, and Christmas Eve? You can forget it. As long as they are in their room behind closed doors and not too loud, I tell them to try and stay up all night if they want. They come up with lists of things to do to keep themselves awake. I hear them playing games, telling stories, and laughing long into the night. There’s no way I’m going to tell them to shut it and take away the precious memories they are making.

While this isn’t a regular thing in our house, it is a special-occasion event and it’s worth it. I’ll take the crabbiness and lack of energy the following day if it means my kids are having the time of their lives.

Special occasions are supposed to be just that — special. And according to my kids, there’s nothing more sacred than watching their mother throw their tight-knit routine out the window and let them stay up late. Maybe because we are so captivated by a movie, then we have to watch the sequel, and everyone is getting hungry so I might as well bust out the microwave popcorn and unearth my hidden Lindt chocolate ball stash.

My kids are like me in that they are not night owls and their minds and bodies don’t handle it well when they don’t catch enough ZZZs. I’m talking tears and limp bodies and the inability to do anything, like throw away their snot rag or not hit their brother in the eyeball just for the hell of it.

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It is I who has to pick up the pieces and deal with their unruliness when I’ve let them stay up past their bedtime. Which is hard on me too since I only feel tip-top when I get the impossible 9-hour a night snooze.

Ah, but when I see my kids running around my mother’s backyard with their cousins, or they are snuggling on the sofa with the glow of the television flashing in their eyes, or they decide to build a fort in one of their rooms and all “sleep” in there together with every stuffed animal they’ve ever owned, somehow it makes it all worth it.

As long as we get back to our regularly scheduled program and stick to it most of the time, the occasional lax bedtime will be one of the best gifts we can give our kids. The hangover it leaves feels pretty small when you realize they will carry those nights with them for the rest of their lives.