The Bedtime Monster

I’ve been in the process of taming a monster that has been living at our house for a few years.  I’m not really sure how it got in or when it grew so big and unwieldy.  But it had to be stopped!!  It was the monster that the kids’ bedtime routine had become.

I remember back when Bailey was around two the bedtime routine consisted of reading three books in the bed, turning out the lights, and then singing and scratching her back until she fell asleep.  Then around the time Piper came along, Bailey decided that she didn’t like being read to anymore.  Then somehow books turned into oral stories.  Then sometime after we moved into this house there started being a “lights-on” portion of the bedtime routine that happened downstairs.  This was usually a game of some sort and lasted anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes!!  Then Bailey got her “lights-off” portion of oral stories and back scratching that usually lasted another 30 minutes.

This all must have happened when she moved to her own bedroom, because Piper by this time was on the strict three-book followed by lights out routine.  Rick would mostly do Bailey’s and I would do Piper’s, but sometimes we would switch.  Then Piper got old enough to feel like she was being cheated out of a “lights-on” part.  So they would each get their own completely separate routine, with Rick and I taking turns.  But then the girls decided that Daddy’s routines were way more fun than mine and would complain when they were stuck with me.  At least twice a week  one (or both) of them would get over-tired, be convinced that they got the short end of the deal, and become hysterical for an hour before finally drifting off.  It was out of control!!

Back in November, we moved Piper (4) into the same  full bed with Bailey (7).  In preparation, we combined their lights-on routine into a single 15-minute activity with each girl taking turns picking the activity.  Then they each got a separate story during the lights-off portion.  Inevitably one would not be satisfied with what was picked or would throw a fit if they lost the game.  Furthermore, I learned that if Piper was not tired or over-tired all hell would break loose.  She wouldn’t lay still and quietly, yet if Bailey made the slightest noise Piper would punch her or pull her hair.  And sometimes Bailey would egg things on intentionally.

I would try to leave them to go start Katie’s routine (three books), but I would constantly have to get up to yell at them to be quiet and stop bothering each other.  Some nights I was so angry I found myself really wanting to blister some butts.  I started making Piper lay down on the floor or putting Bailey in time-out in the hall until I get Piper to sleep.  We usually start the bedtime process at 9:00 with snacks, followed by tooth brushing and pajamas, and then routines, but some nights I wasn’t getting into bed until 11:30 or midnight.  Then I would be so angry and wired that I couldn’t get to sleep for another hour.  It was a nightmare.

It seemed to get better for a few weeks in December, but then it took a turn for the worse again in early January.  Something had to be done.  I realized that one reason for the set-back was because when Piper was sick over New Year’s I let her come back in the bed with me.  Not only did this make her resist sleeping in the other room again, but she was also sleeping later than usual by an hour or so.  Bailey had a morning wake-up time of 10:00 am for a few years, but this meant she was not often ready to go to sleep until 11:00 or 11:30 pm.  Before Piper moved in she could entertain herself by looking through books until she drifted off, but it was too hard to do until Piper went to sleep.  Then there was the bedtime routine itself.

I announced that as of February 1st there would not be anymore “lights-on” portion to the routine, and there would probably only be one bedtime story each night with the girls alternating the pick.  They took it better than I expected.  I actually ended up removing the “lights-on” portion a week early.  I said that we would try to institute a weekly game night  to make up for the together time that would be lost in the routines, at an earlier time when people (including me) would be less grumpy.

Next I started being stricter about wake-up times.  It hurt me as much as it hurt them, because there’s nothing more that a pregnant woman values more than sleep (especially this one).  Piper had developed the habit of crawling in bed with me between 7:30 and 8:30 and we had started sleeping in as late as 9:30 some days.  So now I really try to have us both up every morning no later than 8:30.  I also tried to avoid taking Piper out in the van after dinner when she might fall asleep.  I started moving Bailey’s wake-up time forward to 9:30.  Then when circumstances required that she be up between 8:30 and 9:00 two mornings in a row, I switched it to 9:00 am.

Things are getting better.  There are some mornings where I let Piper sleep into until nine, but usually we’re up close to 8:30.  Katie usually wakes up with us, which means that she’s normally ready for a nap between 1:30 and 2:00.  That has been added bonus.  Bailey is usually up, dressed, and downstairs at 10:00 at the latest.  Some days we get her schoolwork done by 10:30 or 11:30, when it used to sometimes run until after lunch.  And it hasn’t been as much of a fight to get her ready for Sunday morning Mass either.

The girls haven’t missed the “lights-on” portion too much.  Some nights they get snacked and dressed so quickly that they’re in bed by 9:30.  Other nights it’s closer to 10:00.  I still have to gauge how tired Piper is before determining how soon I can leave.  Sometimes I add some extra stories or discussion if I think she’s not tired enough to be still and quiet.  But most nights I’ve been able to leave by 10:30 without having to go back in again to settle any issues.  Piper is learning to drift off by herself, and Bailey is going to sleep sooner, too.  Then Katie gets an uninterrupted routine of books and snuggle time before we go to sleep.

Hopefully, we can keep this under control for the next few years.  And it should get better as Piper learns better self-control.  Of course when Katie turns 4 we’ll have to figure out where the heck to put her.  We’ll probably have to rearrange everyone and the routines.  A lot will probably depend on the gender of the Mystery Baby, and what kind of furniture we can afford when it becomes necessary.  But hopefully for two years at least we can keep the Bedtime Monster at bay.

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