I was thinking of this when someone recently posed a scenario about how a mother could combine a reasonable number of work hours with parenting. The woman in question (the story was secondhand) was distraught because she saw her baby for just 10 minutes a day when she got home.
Leaving aside other questions I would ask if I got to speak with this person (let’s keep a time log and see — is it every day Mon-Sun, or just Mon-Thurs? Or is it 10 minutes on particularly bad days, and those are the ones you’re telling people about? And do you see your child in the morning at all? Sometimes kids who go to bed early…wake up early) I thought back to six years ago when I was first combining my work schedule with the care of my own particular baby.
Let’s just say that I didn’t share this woman’s problem. There was no number of hours I could have worked that would have meant not seeing my kid. My oldest son has always had low sleep needs. Even now, he can happily read or write stories until 10:00 or later (he has to be in his room at 9 p.m.). He will then often wake up on his own before 7, and come downstairs to watch TV. He’s not sleep deprived at this almost adult level of sleep. He doesn’t fall asleep as soon as we get in the car, for instance. He just doesn’t need much sleep.
Back in the day, we tried getting him to go into his crib at semi-normal baby times like the books said. We tried for a while. It didn’t work — at least in the sense that he didn’t go to sleep. He just wasn’t tired at 7:30 or 8 o’clock, particularly if he’d had any sort of nap. He’d play and talk and sing in his crib for hours. He gave up the nap early, too. He went to daycare, and they were strict about nap time, but pretty quickly the notes home changed from “napped” to “rested quietly.” So eventually I made my peace with 9:00 being an enforceable bedtime. The upside is that I got to see him plenty. The downside was that this made for some really long evenings.
So this is the background for my thought process when I first heard stories of people only seeing their kids for a few minutes, racing in for bedtime. I’d think — really? If I’d had an intense day, sometimes I’d fantasize about my kid falling asleep 10 minutes after I finished work. The idea that a child might just fall asleep by 7 or 7:30 without a huge fight or some sort of Harry Potter-esque spell seemed unreal. If you’re only seeing your kid for 10 minutes…put your kid to bed later.
I did wind up “sleep training” my third child. She was much more amenable to it, seeming to enjoy sleep much more. Any crying it out lasted a few minutes. Most nights she’d just let me walk out of the room. Plus, she’s my third kid. I’m tired. Getting her to bed at 7:30 means I can hang out with my older two kids and relax a bit.
But here’s the thing — I recognize that this 7:30 bedtime is as much about me as about her. She doesn’t have to go to sleep at 7:30. The other night my husband took the three kids out to an evening event and they got home past 8:30. She was fine. She slept in a few minutes later in the morning, just as an adult would. Sleep has never beget sleep in my house. I trained her for 7:30. If I was working until 7:00, instead of 5 or 5:30, I would have trained her for later, and she would have made it up in the morning or at nap, arriving at her magic number much as my son arrived at his (much lower) number.
It’s been interesting to get different experiences with different kids. It makes me see how much temperament plays into things, vs. any “parenting philosophy” I might have. I am also reminded, again, that we all experience life according to different norms. When I posted on a parenting list three years ago, asking about how to move my then 2-year-old and baby into a room together, people responded that the 2-year-old would sleep through any baby wake-ups. They were right. I posted a follow-up on the list that both kids had been asleep from 11:30-7 that first night. People sent me sympathetic emails saying they were hoping things would get better soon. I thought that was funny, since I’d considered that a victory.
Then again, other people’s kids went to bed at 7:30.
There are lots of ways one can structure work to see children who go to bed at 7 or 7:30. But another thing I might say to people complaining about this is, well, you’ve kind of won the sleep lottery. You could be grateful for that. Would you prefer your baby be extremely energetic, not need much sleep, and stay up until 9 or 10 p.m., so you’ve got 3 hours of intense parenting waiting for you after a 10-11 hour day at work?
In other news: Speaking of putting children to bed, we were reading the end of Peter Pan the other night. When Wendy grows up, she has a daughter named Jane. According to the book, Jane’s nurse puts her to bed most nights, but she’s off one evening a week, and then Wendy does it. This is simply presented as fact, with Wendy telling Peter Pan stories those nights, not in the context of “Wow, isn’t Wendy a crappy mom?” And yet I’m hearing numerous stories these days of women in extremely high-earning jobs — the sort that afford their families all kinds of opportunities — beating themselves up because they’re not there for bedtime every single night. Wendy did 1 of 7! Standards apparently change.
Photo courtesy flickr user ryanrocketship