So while our bedtime routine has been set for the last two years, we have seen huge variations in M’s bedtime behaviour. There was a time he fell asleep at 7 PM, and then for a while it was 9 PM. There was about a 6-month period where we had the “holy grail” of parenting: we put him in his cot and he conked out within minutes, by himself. But we’ve also had feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep, and then when he was about 15 months he suddenly HATED being confined and the bars of the cot had to come off. That helped, but it did start the Bedtime Dance. Then at some point this summer he decided he only wanted to sleep with me, in my bed. Which was fine, until…
He threw us the mother of all curve balls and the “bed” bit of the bedtime routine just went out of the window. It happened practically on the stroke of midnight on his second birthday, as if to prove to us he’d shaken off the very last bits of babyhood. He was suddenly a Big Boy. He’d scream to be let out of the room, he’d find whatever he could to play with, he’d roll around the bed for up to 90 minutes. It was awful. There was no sleep for him, lots of tears, no evening left for the grown-ups.
So we’ve had a bedtime overhaul: we let him decide when he wants to go to bed. That’s it.
Well not really, it was hard just agreeing to give that a go. We’ve always given M autonomy in as many areas of his life as possible and we have never liked forcing him into anything, but sleep? Precious, much-needed, please-don’t-mess-with-it SLEEP? When one report after another has appeared in the past couple of years warning parents to stick to a fixed, early bedtime or else…
But we decided to give him a chance, because he’s always risen to the occasion when we’ve given him more autonomy previously. Because he probably does know best when he’s tired. Because he’s at the age where if he wants to fight you about something, he will do so for hours and there’s not a thing you can do about it (pass out while playing? Not this child). Because people do simply go to bed at different times - I struggle to stay awake past 10 PM while Mr. P&P is a proper night owl - so who are we to dictate an arbitrary “bedtime” to him? And because we simply couldn’t think of anything else (we don’t do Cry-it-Out).
Usually he’s off the bed and back in the living room before you’ve had a chance to whisper “goodnight”. But that’s okay. Mr P&P have a cuddle and a chat (how novel!) and M plays by himself. For the first time ever, M is playing quietly by himself. We pop our heads round the door every now and then to make sure he is neither breaking the furniture nor himself.
Sometimes he’ll be back within 10 minutes, climb into bed with me and fall asleep. Sometimes he’ll be in and out a few times, do the “I want a drink/to go potty/another kiss from Daddy” dance.
Sometimes he fights. Hard. But that’s okay. I’ll go back into the living room and help Mr P&P with the tidying up. When that’s done MR P&P will sit down to do a bit more work, and I’ll park myself on the sofa with my latest project. The rule is this: if your name is Bean and you are not at all tired, nooo siree, then you can stay up and play. Quietly. By yourself. With one or two toys out at a time. Don’t want to tidy up your toy before you get another one out? You must need to go to bed. Don’t want to play by yourself? You must be tired. Swinging from the curtain rail or trying to run off with Mama’s yarn? It MUST be time for bed.
It may not be ideal, this new bedtime routine, in the sense that he is still not falling asleep in his own bed or even by himself. It’s much, much less stressful though. All the fight has been taken out of it, and Mr P&P and I have some semblance of an evening again.
We also still have all the time in the world to get him used to falling asleep alone. He’s only just turned two, and going through huge changes (and sprouting more goddamn teeth). I’m in no hurry for him to get too big.