Getting my kids to bed each night is chaotic, funny, and frustrating all at the same time. The shenanigans start around 6:30 and go until about 8:30 each evening. Two full hours of the same requests, demands, and questions night after night. And each night we hope it will be better than the last. Thankfully, the act itself is less engaging each year as the kids get older, but they make up for it in other ways. Here are the perils of bedtime in our home. (It’s okay to laugh – I laugh at it, too!)
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This article first appeared in The Fibromyalgia Magazine, September 2017. Get the digital copy of the magazine from Pocketmags.
The Perils of Bedtime
At the end of the day…there’s bedtime.
At the end of each day, I look forward to relaxing with my husband, Tim, while watching television. Whether it’s a movie or a show, it doesn’t matter to me, because it’s a time I get to slow down and decompress from the day. The days are long and filled with constant moving (or not moving due to high pain levels, but those days are just as exhausting for me). Even when the kids are in school, there are obligations to be met. It’s exhausting to even think about it.
Either way, moving or not, I’m wanting to be on the couch, just being. No demands from the kids. No housework to worry about. No obligations or commitments to fulfill. Just being. It’s a beautiful and wonderful time to gather my thoughts, and to hear those thoughts without the interfering background noise that is my house.
There’s only one catch. There’s one obstacle that stands between me and that state of being: bedtime.
How can one word evoke feelings of defeat before it even begins? Because it’s a battle that must be faced. Crazy, I know, but it’s true. And I also know I’m not the only one that feels this way. Just like us, parents are waging mini bedtime wars around the globe each evening.
Our nightly match commences upon the sounding of a bell. Literally, a bell chiming. Why? Because after dinner we engage with our children in some way. Dinner time is a place where we talk, but interacting with them in a fun way is also important for us as a family. If we didn’t have a bell reminding us of the time, we would play past bed time. That starts a domino effect of cranky kids, cranky parents, and results in a chaotic mess for the next day. It’s not pretty. We know because we’ve learned this the hard way. Several times.
So, this bell chimes to let us know we have five minutes before transitioning to the next phase: baths. Side note: I get the purpose of the transition thing. Experts say it’s the best way to get your kids moving from one activity to the next with the least amount of resistance. Truly, I understand the intent. The reality? It doesn’t work for us. It doesn’t matter if my kids have a heads up that it’s nearly the time to do something else or not. Either way, a rebuttal will happen. I do it anyway in the hopes that it will work at some point.
Let’s get ready to ruuummmmble!!
The bell has chimed again to let us know it’s bath time. Let the battle begin. It starts gradual with one of a few things taking place: stomping of feet, pouting lip, continuing play as though they hear nothing, or the statue move where the kid stands there, unmoving, with a question of, “what is happening?” on their face. Their best trick? Getting along with no fighting. That’s their power play and they only pull it out when all else fails.
They figure if they do any of these things, I will forget what it is I’m doing and they can continue to play. It’s a trick they’ve perfected over the years as they’ve learned to better understand fibro fog and the benefits they can reap from it. My husband and I have learned to keep moving the bedtime train forward and not to give in to their futile attempts, regardless of power plays. Remember: you need time to relax, so focus on the task at hand.
You need time to relax, so focus on the task at hand. Keep pushing forward.
Divide and Conquer
As Tim and I move upstairs to the kids’ bathroom, they will begin an onslaught of questioning in an effort to reason the need of a bath/shower. Questions such as, “Why do I need to take a shower when I took one yesterday?” or “I just sat in school/laid on the couch/played inside today. Why do I need to shower when I did nothing?” or, in light of learning something new from a recent show we watched with them, “Why do we need to bathe when Adam (the show’s host) said bathing every day isn’t good for the skin?” I admit, that’s a good one, but still doesn’t work. I’m then forced to answer with the one response I’ve loathed since childhood, “Because I said so!” Drastic times call for drastic actions, folks, and that includes answering with phrases you usually avoid.
I’m closer to relaxing. Don’t give up now. We’re in the home stretch!
Now it’s time to divide and conquer. Tim helps the younger kids with bathing while I get their pajamas and beds ready. The time we’re apart is crucial in keeping the task on track as the kids see weakness in this division. I accept the challenge with faint confidence because the end is near. Victory is nearly ours, but we must not get overly confident because that could be our demise. One night they will succumb to our routine and not fight it, but that night is not tonight. Moving about their rooms, readying their beds, I maintain the look of determination in a futile attempt to deflect any further battles.
The end is near…don’t give up now!
Inside, I’m exhausted. My body is pulsating with pain from my tender scalp to my aching feet. My energy is dangerously low and my body’s functions are running on fumes. Mental exhaustion is rendering every light, sight, and sound to be stronger than it really is, and the need to run to my closet for isolation is becoming more powerful with each step. It’s this time of day that is hardest to push forward, but I do anyway. Knowing the end is near makes it easier to put one foot in front of the other and keep the look of a strong front.
Now that the younger kids are bathed and ready to go straight to their beds for story time, the older kids are ushered into the bathroom one at a time. This is my duty while Tim reads the younger kids a story.
Note: To avoid conflict, Tim chooses the story from neutral grounds: books that are the family’s books. In addition, he will read the story using funny voices, facial expressions, and placing the occasional ‘poop’ word in the story. The kids eat this up. They don’t realize this is his strategy to redirect their attention from the impending bedtime and to diffuse any arguing. They see it as fun time with daddy since he’s been at work all day.
Progress is progress no matter how small.
While the older kids bathe, I keep busy by moving in some way. It could be readying laundry for the next morning, tidying my room, or talking with the older kids as they take turns showering. If I stop moving, it’s hard to start again. It’s best if I just keep it going even if it is shuffling or moving so slow you need time lapse to see progress. Progress is progress, right? Right!
Where were we? Ah, yes! Story time is over and now it’s time for lights out for the younger kids. This is where it becomes interesting in a medical sort of way. For some strange reason, my kids will go an entire day without being thirsty. Until bedtime. Then the thirst they’ve managed to stave off the entire day comes hurtling at them full speed. By this time of day, they have an overwhelming need for water in a way in which they are convinced that, if they don’t have it,, this thirst will consume them and they will surely die. I assure them that they will not, indeed, die from said thirst while they sleep. Obviously, it’s not convincing. So, downstairs they go to save themselves from the threatening thirst. This is a cycle that passes through each of the kids regardless of their age.
Victory is ours.
Okay, younger kids are now in bed, bathed, read to, and watered with lights out. By now it’s time for the older kids to have lights out. This is the closing of battle. Their attempts to miss bedtime have become exhausting to them and they are ready to wave their tired little arms in surrender to sleep. Tim and I tuck each one into bed, praise them on their successes of the day, encourage them if there were any failures, and ensure them that mommy and daddy love them unconditionally, despite them thinking we would send them to bed to face the death of thirst.
We have won. For now.
The bedtime battle was once again fought victoriously and we will live to face another day until the next bedtime arises. For now, we will surrender our bodies to the couch of relaxation and wind down from the day. We will smile and share our day’s events, thoughts, and dreams while soaking in the love of our family.
The best as parent and thriver.
The perils of bedtime are defeating at times. I’d like to spend more time into the night with our children, but they need their rest and I also need time for me. For us. We need the time to decompress from the day and as a couple. The daily pain I endure varies from day to day, but the need to relax and have a moment of peace is one that remains steady. Some nights are better than others, and that’s okay because at the end of the day I can rest knowing I’ve done my best both as a parent, and as a thriver.