It was the night of the last day of school. Our three kids were on the sofa in the living room, watching Pokémon on Netflix, sprawled in various poses, one on the floor, the other on the sofa, and the third sideways in the easy chair.
“Bedtime, kiddos,” I announced. All three of them, ranging from age 5 to 12, looked shocked. As if every summer I hadn’t put a huge smack down on their plans to stay up until midnight watching TV, raiding the pantry, and arguing over every single thing.
It was 7:45 PM, the same time I began the bedtime ritual every night regardless of weekends, holidays, or summer break. Despite the complaining, the arguing, and the “but dad, it’s summer…” refrains, all of them were going to bed.
It didn’t have to do with them getting enough sleep, or keeping them on a routine, or health and wellness, or anything of the sort. Not that I don’t think about those things — I do. But the prime, number one reason is my sanity.
And yes, I know there will be folks who think I’m a stick in the mud or that I am being a jerk, saying that staying up late is the best part of summer as a kid, and suggesting that I chill. And yes, I stayed up late as a child in the summer, so I am aware that it can be a great time.
But here here’s why I’m strict about bedtime even in the summer. My wife and I have only a short window of time where we can be together without children. Where we can, for the most part, have the house to ourselves. Regardless of summer break, I’m an adult, and I get up real early. Shamefully early. Earlier than I’d ever experienced when I thought about my adult life as a child, and so I go to bed early, too. Mel and I have between about 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. to talk about finances and schedules and behavior concerns without a child screaming that they are being pushed, or it’s their turn to pick the show, or that they need need help wiping in the bathroom.
We also have limited time to snuggle on the sofa and watch a show, or take a shower, or be intimate, or just talk like adults about stuff our children really shouldn’t be hearing. I’m not interested in giving that up just yet. I’m also not interested in children playing video games late into the night, and turning the volume up to 800 so they can hear My Little Pony in every single room, or some late night argument over their brother breaking the rules and eating Cheerios in the living room.
Am I being selfish? Yes, I am and I’m comfortable with admitting that. I give my everything to these kids, so I don’t feel bad about claiming the evenings.
And let’s be real, it’s not like allowing my children to stay up late will cause them to sleep in later the next morning. Not yet anyways. My preteen will sleep in a little bit, but the rest of the kiddos? Forget about it. If I allowed it, they’d be up until midnight, and then knocking on my door at 5 a.m., like they always do. Then the rest of the day, they’d be moody and tired and full of fits.
I want no part of it, so as long as I’m at the wheel, my children will go to bed at the same time they always do. End of story.
Will this get harder as our children get older? Yes. I have no doubt. I’m already struggling with my 12-year-old. He’s pretty amazing at digging in his heels. If we make it the whole summer with him still going to bed before 9 p.m., I will be shocked. But I’m going to push this out as long as I can. I’m going to be a dick about it, and I don’t care, because those evenings are for the parents. We claimed them. We have to stake our claim and assert our rights, and we won’t be giving them up without a fight.
So if you are like us, and your kids go to bed nice and early even in the summer, don’t worry. You are not alone. I respect you. Your children will still have a wonderful summer of backyard fun, camping, and road trips. They will still get plenty of screen time because, let’s be real, that’s a huge part of summer. They will still love you, and they will still have a magical childhood. Your marriage and your sanity, however, will be all the better for it. I assure you.
So get those kids to bed. Fight for it. Don’t give it up. Then, during that golden hour or two in the evening, turn on your favorite show and enjoy the heck out of it. It’s summer, after all.
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