Why I Can’t ‘Just Relax’ About Bedtimes

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I was once awake for almost 48 hours straight when my firstborn was three months old. He came into my world a few months before my favorite time of year — the holidays. I thought there’d be no harm in staying at my mother’s house late into the night during his first Thanksgiving like I always did.

After all, it was tradition and I didn’t want to miss out. I was hoping he’d sleep in the next room as I sat and talked with my (childless) sisters while sipping wine and digging into pie and stuffing.

I ignored the fact that I was exhausted and my baby wouldn’t fall asleep. He seemed fine even though he didn’t doze off like I’d hoped. I mean, how could he? There was a house full of people who weren’t used to being around a baby, so they were loving him up very loudly. Not to mention he wasn’t in his usual environment.

On the way home, he screamed bloody murder. It was going on 10:00 (his usual bedtime was around 6:00), and I figured he was good and tired and would sleep for days.

I was wrong.

I paid the price for that get together for days, and it was miserable. I cried the next day when my husband went to work. I called him begging him to come home because our son was only sleeping in 20 minute increments. He was so overtired and wanted desperately to sleep but his over-tiredness wouldn’t allow it. And I was too inexperienced (and exhausted) to know that’s what was happening.

The following night was almost as rough as the first. After a few more nights of missing bedtime during the festive season, I talked to my pediatrician and she strongly advised not missing bedtime or naps anymore.

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While some babies are easier to deal with if they miss sleep, my son was not one of them. Even if I pushed it a little bit and missed his “window,” there’d be hell to pay. It just wasn’t worth it to me, and it was torture for him too.

But I did feel lonely, especially when family members and friends got hurt when I declined their invitations because it interfered with sleepy time. Though not as lonely as I felt when I was up with a baby for two days straight because they were overtired.

Besides, my friends and family weren’t the ones who’d have to deal with the aftermath. That was all me. So, if they couldn’t move their dinner invitation to 4:30, we didn’t go.

Of course, I would have loved it if my child fit into my schedule with a bit more grace, but that’s not how it works when you become a parent. I found out his brother and sister followed in his foot steps (or should I say sleep patterns), because believe you me, I tried to stretch the limits with them too.

My baby boy turned into a toddler who liked to stay at the playground a little longer in the late morning, but I also had babies who needed their morning nap. It was a tough call some days, but when I did give in and prolong fun time, there was always a consequence. And with 3 kids under 3, I couldn’t afford to have them all crying and restless.

Now as teens, I can honestly tell you they are the same when they don’t get enough sleep. At 16, 14, and 13, I make them retire to their rooms by 9:30 every school night, period.

Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep and mine have to get up for school at six in the morning. My son drives them there, and they need to be “on” in order to learn and behave in class. Vacations and weekends are a different story– kids need to have fun too, but my rules about turning in and sleeping will hold strong.

Maybe they don’t cry through the night anymore, but when they are sleep deprived, they fall asleep in school, fall behind in school work and their manners (I have the emails from teachers to prove it), and their teenage-moods get even more teenager-y . Hell hath no fury like a 13-year-old who hasn’t gotten enough sleep.

After a few months of making some mistakes and feeling like my social life was more important than my babies’ sleep, I learned a hard lesson: You don’t mess with a sleep schedule if you want a happy child.

Listen, being a mother is the hardest thing you will do in your life. It’s also the most rewarding, and I’ve found it’s more pleasurable for all when everyone is getting the sleep they need (including the parents). If that means ducking out of the party, or declining the dinner invitation, so be it.

This is temporary and the people who are meant to be in your life will wait until you have a little more wiggle room in your schedule.

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