(This is a good post on bedtime as well: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/18/peaceful-bedtime-dreams/)
Many children seem to stay up as late as their parents stay up, and for some families this does seem to work well. However, today I am asking you to consider an alternative: the early bedtime.
The early bedtime will change how you are with your family the next day, because you will have time to be an adult and to rest and recharge and find something of yourself. Some mothers I know cannot believe there will ever be an end to their mothering, and don’t seem to realize (or have time!) for those dreams and the things they once had that were all their own, but I am going to suggest to you to really look inside yourself and see what is there. Personally, there is nothing I enjoy more than being with my family and creating a home, but I also have things of my own that truly do not involve my children. Nighttime can be a time to work on those sorts of things! This is important, because while being a mother is a very wonderful and important role to play, it is not the whole of who you are!
The early bedtime will also change the dynamics between you and your husband because you can be adults, you can talk and finish sentences, you can dream and plan together: in other words you can create intimacy in your own home without small ears about! I see too many attached mothers replacing their intimate relationship with their husband with the relationship with their children. Children need to see a strong, functioning marriage in our society today. I have a dear friend who says, “In 20 years your children may be gone and out of your house and you and your husband will be looking at each other. Practice for that day.” A very wise woman indeed.
As children grow, it is necessary to have a more boundaries as to what is heard and discussed in front of them. A small child does not need to be privy to every adult matter going on in the household, and an early bedtime can provide you and your spouse a time to work on the more challenging issues without putting these adult burdens on our small children. If you need help in this area, please do see this post: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/12/31/the-need-to-know/
Many mothers say that it can be difficult in the baby and early toddler years for co-sleeping children to fall asleep on their own without them falling asleep as well :). I myself have been there and done that, but I can also assure you there are many, many attached families who have moved children into their own beds by the age of 3 – at least to start for part of the night there! Co-sleeping can move into a place where it takes place for part of the night, a few nights during the week; however you want to work out the parameters that work for your family.
The hard part for many families is getting the earlier bedtime down. This involves many times saying NO to things that happen too late in the evening. It could also involve shortening your bedtime routine in order to make sleep the priority, as opposed to having a long and drawn out routine where perhaps the steps of the routine are the priority.
In our house, we often have dinner by 5:30, we put the house to bed (all lights dimmed or off, the shades drawn, certainly no TV or radio or anything like that on – we do sing the house a lullaby together at times), we take baths or showers every other night unless we are covered with garden mud :), and the children are in bed with stories around 6:30 or 6:45. A seven o-clock bedtime works well for children smaller than age 7, with a seven-year-old being able to stay up and perhaps read until 7:30, an eight year old could stay up until 7:45, etc., essentially moving up 15 minutes each year until they hit the bedtime of 9:00 where the bedtime would stay for quite awhile.
One book that helped me early on is this one: http://www.amazon.com/OClock-Bedtime-Early-healthy-playful/dp/0060988894 : “The 7-o’ clock Bedtime: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a child healthy, playful and wise” by Inda Schaenen. She outlines many of the things we do as a society to over-stimulate children and not let them be children, and goes on to discuss ways to actually achieve an earlier bedtime. Some of her nursing references may not sit completely well with those of you who follow this blog and are attached parents, but I think there is still so much usable information in this book. All the copies on Amazon are used and starting at only a few dollars, so there really is no excuse to NOT get this book and read it!
Change your child’s bedtime, change your life!