My children, 4 and 6, do not have a bedtime. Nor have they ever been left to cry. They go to sleep when they are tired, and wake when they are rested. They have fallen asleep cuddled by a parent every night of their lives.
This is shocking to many parents. Some even see it as a disservice to our children. I quite disagree.
So what does sleep look like in our house? It has changed a lot in six years. When Owen was a baby and toddler, I nursed him to sleep. Every night. Sometimes this took hours, and I was resentful. I thought that I would have from 7 PM to 7 AM “off”. Instead, I had a child in bed with my husband and I, and spent my evenings willing him to sleep and trying to sneak away without waking him.
Eventually my husband was able to put Owen to sleep, and that took hours too. We thought kids were supposed to be asleep by 8- and if ours was not, that we were failing as parents. So my husband spent his evenings trying to get our son to sleep. Through all of this, Owen consistently fell asleep around 11 PM. No matter what we tried, or how early we went upstairs.
Slowly, we began to prepare him for bed later in the evening, and still Owen feel asleep around 11 PM. Though his bedtime did not change, something else did; the evening atmosphere in our home.
Rather than my husband and I “discussing” what we were doing wrong, we started spending our time doing other things- reading books to Owen, enjoying a glass of wine while Owen played on the floor in front of us, or one of us going out to dinner with friends, or hitting balls at the driving range.
Our nights were different, and so our days were different.
The atmosphere in our house shifted. Though we did not understand it enough to talk about, we were following our child’s natural rhythms. Things became calmer. We connected with Owen differently because there was less tension and resistance between us. We started to appreciate him for who he was, instead of trying to fit him into a cookie cutter mold.
We saw a shift in our child- he was happier, more relaxed, more confident. He basked in the freedom of being himself. Our confidence as parents grew, and we learned to trust ourselves and our child instead of magazine articles, or advice books.
I stopped reading mainstream parenting magazines, and turned into my family.
The implications of this sleep-shift reached wider than bedtime. My husband and I learned to listen to our kids instead of those around us- we made choices that made sense for our family. Our daughter Sydney joined us when Owen was 26 months, and it was easier. We never fought with her about bedtime, or tried to convince her to sleep before she was ready.
Bedtime has evolved and shifted in our home over the years. For a long time we all slept in the same bed. Sometimes, if a child was sick, or a parent was really tired, we would split into different beds. Now, Owen is getting older. He is moving away from the family bed, and he and Kris sleep in one bed while Sydney and I sleep in another.
I have been told that this is a sure-fire way to end my marriage.
Now there is no tension in our house at bed time. Kris and I do not fight about why the children are not sleeping, or who is doing what wrong. Instead, we take our kids to bed when they are tired- and generally fall asleep together. We close our eyes each night happy, snuggling, and connected. This makes my husband and I- and our entire family- stronger.
Sleep has changed in our house over the years, and I am grateful. I am thankful not just for our evenings being more pleasant, but for the way it changed our entire parenting course.