Dear Husband: Do You Really Need To Rile Up the Kids Before Bed?

So, bedtime should be calm. I swear I’m not making this up. All those smart parenting people have written books, articles, and tweets about it. They’ve explained why this peaceful in-between time should be filled with soothing stories and hushed nighttime voices, preparing a kid for a good night’s rest. The quick version (if you’re trying to put your kid to bed while reading this) is because poor sleep leads to, well … sleepiness, attention issues, and other not-so-good things. So why does my husband take this particular time to get our son all riled up right when he’s supposed to be settling down?

For years, I’ve tried to tell to my partner that a relaxing bedtime ritual helps our 9-year-old sleep better. A warm bath, quiet time talking about our day, and a calm book helps my kid wind down and feel relaxed enough to fall asleep. But with timing as perfect as … something with really great timing, the moment I close our bedtime book, Captain Fun enters the room. Epic tickle battles and grand pillow fights erupt, and these nightly antics energize my son so that he can’t fall asleep. Is there a way my husband can feel valued at bedtime without starting an impromptu game of freeze tag?

“All right, let’s calm down before bed,” I tell my party-til-dawn crew.

I immediately cringe after hearing my bedtime catchphrase. I sound like the quintessential “nagging mom” and wonder if I should take this opportunity to add in other helpful tips like “don’t sit so close to the TV” or “eat your vegetables.” How has it come to this?

Before our son was born, my husband and I talked about parenting. We took long, lingering walks discussing our philosophies. We understood we couldn’t agree on everything. But turns out we were united on many things — the last season of Game of Thrones being a bummer, listening to one another when parenting differences came up, and acting in the best interest of our kid. I felt confident in the power of us.

When our little one was a newborn, I handled bedtime alone because boobs were involved — specifically mine, for the nursing. I figured my partner knew about the magic inherent in a calm bedtime, and perhaps it was all the yoga (or more recently the sleep deprivation), but maintaining a calm space for my kid was one of my mom superpowers. My baby and I successfully established our spa-like evening routine, and it wasn’t until toddlerhood that Captain Fun joined our ranks and turned bedtime into party time.

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At first, I thought those parenting people were mistaken. I mean, maybe my child could play and still settle quickly for sleep. There had been times those smart people weren’t so smart: nothing they said helped my son through colic, after all, and drooling isn’t always a sign of teething — it’s a sign of drooling. Mostly, I felt terrible cutting the father and son Jedi training short because I could see my son’s eyes light up when they played.

After two weeks, though, it was clear this energetic routine made it hard for my kid to relax. That’s about the time my bedtime catchphrase took shape — and 9 years later, we still can’t agree on how bedtime should go down.

“All right, let’s calm down for bed,” I say again, a little more loudly, a little less calm.

 My stomach tightens as I watch tickle-time wind up before it winds down. I don’t enjoy being the fun-squashing parent, but I also don’t like a bedtime lasting 7 hours. Standing in the corner of the bedroom, I’m the invisible parent — even though my hurt feelings feel real enough. It’s not fun feeling unheard and unseen by my partner, especially when this discussion has been on repeat for way too many bedtimes.  Why is my husband in favor of fun bonding before bed instead of sleep? Maybe I should ask him … again.

“You know,” I begin the next morning, “I feel like a calmer bedtime would help our kid sleep better.”

Along with “could you vacuum” and “would you turn the TV down?” this is not a new phrase heard in our home. My husband stares at me and then simply says, “Why?” The same tension I feel at nighttime rises in my belly and I think, Can he truly not know this one? So, I re-explain all the research from the smart parenting people along with my experience. When I’m done, he says with genuine conviction, “But we have fun at bedtime.”

I couldn’t argue his point. They do have fun. This was truly my husband’s idea of a successful bedtime routine. Since my kid wasn’t growing a second head or waking up complaining of being super tired, my partner didn’t see bedtime fun time as an issue — and so late in the game, he probably never would. Huh. It took me awhile to figure it out, but maybe there was a little wriggle room in our bedtime ritual.

“All right, let’s calm down before bed,” I say calmly.

My husband and son freeze during their game of slow-mo freeze tag. My partner winks at me as he scoops up our son and carries him to bed. It only took 9 years, but we’ve finally found a bedtime compromise that incorporates both of our parenting styles and supports our son in falling asleep. I asked if we could come up with a playtime that was a little less high-energy, so that way we could make room for a calming ritual at the end. He agreed — and it’s working.

I may have also moved my kid’s bedtime a little earlier so he can have more downtime before falling asleep, but it’s worth the scheduling tweaks. When bedtime shows up, my son’s eyes tell me he’s just as happy with this plan, too … and a whole lot sleepier when it’s finally time to turn in.

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