One way to reclaim leisure time

photo-166My kids have never been great sleepers. They don’t seem to need as much sleep as many kids. The older two gave up their naps pretty early. My 7-year-old can easily go to sleep at 10 p.m. or later, wake up at 7 a.m., and be fine. My 2.5 year old still naps most days, but graduated to a later bedtime in order to keep the nap.

So bedtime had been around 9 p.m. here. But it never seemed to really be 9 p.m. I have been chronically underestimating how much time it takes to get 3 children into bed. I’d start pushing people upstairs around 8:30, but then everyone would be hungry, need another drink, want another story, etc. Bath night was worse.

About a month ago, I’d decided I’d had it with leaving the boys’ room at 9:15/9:30, particularly when I am solo parenting. I decided to move bedtime up drastically. On bath night, we now go upstairs around 7:30 p.m. On other nights, we are up between 7:45 and 8. Dessert as a topic is broached earlier in the evening (most nights). If we are up at 7:45, we have time for some stories, and the boys get themselves in their jammies while I put their sister down, and then I come in, maybe read them a story, say goodnight. I aim to be out by 8:15, and I’m usually out by 8:20. This gives me time to go downstairs, sit on the back porch, and watch the sunset. All by myself.

This has been working surprisingly well. I thought they would protest more, given that it is still light out at 8:15. One key realization is that they aren’t actually going to go to sleep at “bedtime” — and that’s OK. I came up at 9:15 when I heard something the other night, and all three were still up. But I don’t insist the boys stay in their beds with all the lights out. They can play, or read, or whatever. I wander up at some point to make sure the lights are off and push sleep a little harder, but if they’re in their room and quiet at 8:15, I don’t really care what they do in there. Their little sister likewise has a lot of toys in her bed now that she’s playing with.

It’s been quite nice to have some downtime on the porch before I go back on my laptop (or don’t work — sometimes I just keep reading out there). The sunsets have been lovely. I’m not sure this iPhone shot quite captures it, but I have a few more weeks before the sunsets will drift back before 8 p.m. I intend to keep enjoying them.

When’s bedtime in your house?

35 thoughts on “One way to reclaim leisure time

  1. Timely.

    It’s 10:25 and my toddler is still awake. We were upstairs for stories and snuggling by 8:00…there have been multiple requests for water, trips to the potty, getting in and out of the crib, and all sorts of antics. But he did take a nap, so at least I had 1.5 hrs of pleasant this afternoon.

    Still, hard for me to be in bed, much less asleep, by 10:30–which is what I’d like–when I’ve had no real down time.

  2. We are big proponents of earlier bedtimes. In the winter we aim for as early as 7 pm. Summer is seeing more like 8:30ish. After the kids are down is our main grown up alone time and having it makes it easier to go longer between “out on the town” date nights… but we’re definitely due for one of those soon too!

  3. We’re struggling with this again, too, as DS needs little sleep, about in line with your 7-year old. We’ve gone through a week of camp where he was out in grueling heat 8-3, active the remainder of the day, and still up until 9 or 10 every night — and perkily off to camp again the next morning. Then we had family visiting over the weekend and he was hyped up by their 8 p.m. arrival Friday but did actually declare, when we were at an outdoor party Saturday night, at 9:15 (I had told him we had to leave at 9:45, late, but a special event) that he was tired and wanted to go home. So we did (but even so, this was a 10 p.m. to sleep, and he was up this morning at 8).

    During much of the school year, we were beginning bedtime around 7:30 and done by 9, and over that same interval he’s become more independent about managing much of it himself, with some supervision. So that was OK. But what with the longer days, his diminishing sleep needs, the lack of the structure of the school day, and the fact that he’s going through a hugely hungry phase (which is hardly surprising considering how active he is), and pretty much HAS TO HAVE (according to him, but I have no particular reason to doubt this) a bowl of cereal with a banana in it at about 8:30 p.m. So we can’t brush teeth before that, and I always read to him after brushing teeth, and …

    Well, we’ll figure it out. I pretty much always manage most of this when I am home, but I do take one night out per week when this is DH’s responsibility, and that makes a world of difference.

    Having lived through the teenage years with my stepkids, I know it’s not going to get better (for long). There will come a point when these kids we’re worrying about having in bed by a certain hour, we’re just hoping they’re home by a certain hour. And our sleep needs will dwarf theirs. So, there’s that to look forward to 😉 .

  4. For awhile I was under the impression that my 6 month old was low sleep needs, but he’s really probably pretty average (10 hours of nighttime sleep and 3-4 during the day spread out over 3 naps). He’s always been pretty good about bedtime (at 9 pm), too, but we’ll see if either of those trends continues as he gets older.

  5. Some of my kids went through a phase that required me doing something kind of like this. It was at the point where they weren’t quite ready to give up the afternoon nap, but the nap meant they weren’t ready for bed at an early hour.

    So, I just put them into bed at night anyway, and they played or read books or whatever until they fell asleep. Saved my sanity!

  6. An unrelated topic/idea for an upcoming post: hiring good help. I’m about to return to work full-time after a year off while we moved out of state. I’m looking to hire a full-time nanny. We had a nanny in Boston for the twins’ first year, so I’ve been down this road before but feel the anxiety creeping in around “Am I going to find the right person?, How do I set reasonable expectations, etc.”

    SHUBOX (Sarah), if you are reading this, I also thought of how much you might have to share on this topic. I’m working through changing the narrative about the responsibilities I currently have around the house and how those will change. What have you let go and how have you let those things go? We have someone who cleans, and I don’t mind letting that go at all!

    1. @Griffin – congrats on going back to work! I know a lot of people have gotten good recommendations from friends, but both times, we’ve worked with an agency. It was non-negotiable that the person work on the books, and an agency can police that and make sure everyone you interview is both able and willing to do so. They also run background checks.

      1. Thank you! I consulted an agency when we did our first search two years ago but found that friends were having so much luck with sittercity that I used it and found a wonderful match. On-the-books is non-negotiable for us as well, and we use Breedlove as our payroll service. They have amazing customer service. I have the bandwidth to conduct the search myself right now, so it comes down to a matter of candidate pools and whether or not a agency would yield a better one. I will continue to work the personal network.

      2. Saw your comment over at nicoleandmaggie. Definitely want to read your review of Overwhelmed and hope you will post it here. I am guessing publishers thought that title would sell best, but I almost didn’t read it because of the title.

    2. just saw this!! i love our nanny so much that sometimes i cannot believe that we have her. she loves both of our kids (like, truly LOVES) and she is also amazingly efficient. She cleans up, washes/folds our laundry (so all I do is put away), and does grocery shopping and cooks (i write a list and meal plan). She is seriously amazing. We have a cleaning service weekly to do the ‘heavier’ cleaning (i.e., bathrooms and such). I feel guilty about 0 of this 🙂

      1. oh, and we found her on She agreed to work on the books (like Laura we are really careful to do all of the tax stuff right!) — we just pay her contribution AND ours (otherwise it would have been like a pay cut for her).

  7. I feel really lucky that my 18-mo-old DS is a good sleeper. We start bedtime at 7pm, brush teeth, change into to jammies, read stories, and then I’m out of the room by about 7:30pm. He doesn’t always go to sleep right after I leave – I sometimes hear him playing in his crib; he’s got a lot of toys in there – but as long as he isn’t crying/screaming I don’t worry about it. He gets up for the day somewhere between 6:30 and 7:30am and takes a 2ish (sometimes even 3 if I’m really lucky or really ran him around outside) hour nap in the afternoon.

  8. My kids are 10, 7 and 4. Their bedtime is 7:30. We bring them in around 5 to clean up and take their baths. Supper is at 6, then they clean up the kitchen and made dh’s lunch. The goal is to start reading stories at 7, though if they dawdle over their supper or dishes that doesn’t always happen. Regardless, they are in their beds at 7:30. If they stay awake past 9 (as they often do in the summer when it is light), I really don’t care. We often turn on audiobooks for them to lie in bed and listen to, which they like.

    When I’m out for the evening, I don’t think dh gets them to bed precisely on time. But when I’m on solo duty and he is out for the evening, especially if he hasn’t come home yet (I’m a SAHM), I often send them to bed early. I don’t care if the clock doesn’t say 7:30 yet – it’s close enough and if they want me to be cheerful the next day, I need to be “done” with them and have some peace and quiet. Again, having things for them to do quietly helps immensely. They are allowed to take all the books they want to bed with them. Our youngest often falls asleep with a book propped open on her chest.

    So yes, the end of the day is my time and it is heavily guarded. Independent quiet time is good for children and parents.

  9. Oh, Laura, your father gets along on six hours of sleep a night just fine. You kids never needed much sleep either. I did–but I was outnumbered! It’s genetic. The positive side–you are all very productive people!

    1. @Mom- probably is genetic! There are upsides and downsides. On the up, we’ve never felt that working has precluded us from seeing the kids. Even when M was getting back to NYC most nights around 7:15 he had 90+ minutes with the kids. We also don’t have to build weekends around being in cribs at certain times. If we’re home for nap, great. But if not, eh. People don’t melt down at 7 p.m. either. The downside, of course, is obvious.

      1. I’d say there is a strong genetic component! My Dad’s family are notoriously good daytime nappers & early to bed types – even as adults! I take after my father. My husband’s family are mostly night-owls with a ridiculous ability to sleep in & doze in the morning. My daughter takes after her Dad…

        Then again – some of it is probably long-term differences in lifestyle. My Dad grew up on a farm, I grew up needing to be on the school bus by 6.50am followed by a university degree with a couple of years of 8am math classes! my husband grew up 5 minutes from school on his bike & his Dad was a doctor who still counts being home by 7.30pm an early night (and his clinic is 2 minutes from home).

  10. Lights out time here is about 8:45. Since my 4 year old is still getting a nap at day care, she can be hard to get to sleep. We’ve started letting her play a little bit after brushing her teeth, and deciding for herself when she wants the stories and snuggles that come before lights out. That hasn’t actually changed the time we actually leave her room much, but it has done away with the bedtime avoidance, so it is a huge win. Whoever is getting her down sits around and reads or does some chores while she plays. The other thing that has helped me is to do away with the idea that I *have* to be playing with the kids after dinner, before bath. Some nights I do. Some nights, I finish up some work instead.

  11. I aim for in bed by 8, although it’s often 8.30- and I don’t care what time she actually goes to sleep as long as she’s in her bedroom. I’ve got another low sleep need child. I didn’t really believe in the difference until having a few holidays with my in-laws whose older kids go to bed at 7.30 and were both a wreck of grumpy tears after a week of my daughter’s late bedtimes while she was cheerful and chirpy.

  12. Our kids don’t have specific bedtime.It depends if they take a nap in the afternoon. Our oldest is a nap fighter and a lot of times she goes to bed too early( like before 8:30 pm) and the youngest who loves taking a nap stays up later with us,sometimes until 11pm.

  13. I need to get better about this. My husband has been getting home later, so it’s made sense to shift our toddler’s bedtime later (especially since she’s much better now about sleeping in if she goes to bed late, or at least playing happily in the crib), but I’ve let it get very inconsistent. The amount of time between naps and such stays fixed, but the actual times vary depending on when I pull myself out of bed and get her out of the crib. And I DO like that time to myself after she’s down, would be nice to have it more consistent and planned…

    This doesn’t have anything to do with this post, but I have to say, you went strawberry picking at the wrong place. I don’t know that the “right place” exists near you, but I just went strawberry picking today here in Oregon, and WOW.

    $1/lb. for the best strawberries I’ve ever had. (Compared to at least $2/lb. right now for supermarket strawberries, IIRC.) A really sweet variety they can’t sell in stores because they don’t keep well enough. Oh, and the owners encourage eating as many as you want before you bring your strawberries to be weighed and pay for them, too.

    Brought my toddler along, which was frustrating after her initial “YAY! I’M OUTSIDE!” turned into, “Mommy, stop stopping to pick and COME WITH ME” turned into “I’m so tired, carry me everywhere”… but there were two other adults, and between the three of us we picked over 16 pounds. And it wasn’t really much harder to deal with the toddler than it ever is. We walked back to the car, got some water, and then back to the field again…

    Anyway. More than worth every penny.

      1. Not a bad idea. 😀

        I have no idea how common this kind of quality is here, as I just moved to Oregon and was brought along to the strawberry picking place near where my sister’s friend lives. Which is apparently closing next year. But it seems like all the locals rave about the fresh Oregon berries, so hopefully it shouldn’t be too hard to find another good place!

  14. In the UK we tend to put our children to bed earlier than in the US. (I think it’s because we are less child-centred, and because it is still less common for both parents to work full-time.) Anyway, we put our 3-year-old to bed by 7, and our 6-year-old is done and dusted by 7:45. Mornings start early though, 6 am. The fact is, the 6-year-old can only be enticed to sleep about 2 more hours per night (10) than I myself need (8). Oh how I wish it were 3-4…

    1. @Alison – so this is the thing — if going to bed early means getting up early, is that worth it? I’ve never found that sleep begets sleep in my house, so if I somehow managed to get the kids down at 7 p.m., they would be up at 5 a.m. I kind of prefer 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. personally, especially since I now know they’re willing to play/read/etc. in their rooms after 8.

      1. Worth it to me because we alternate going to the gym first thing. This is the only way I can be a morning person; kids are very persuasive alarm clocks! Plus, I rather like having the kid time more evenly divided between before and after school.

    2. Not sure I get the “kid-centric” comment in relation to bed times. Would it be kid-centric to revolve your life around being home on time for naps/bed, or kid-centric to want to spend time with your kids in the evening after work (regardless of whether there are 1 or 2 working parents)? Or kid-centric to want them to get up early with you so you can hang out in the mornings?

      1. I didn’t take this as judgment as much as a cultural thing. I remember reading some article about French parents (maybe something related to Bringing Up Bebe?) and how after bedtime they are literally “off-duty” and pretty much ignore kids who aren’t in their rooms. Maybe Alison is saying that in the UK, bedtime is more about when the parents are ready for the kids to be in bed than when the kid is ready for bed 😉 I can also say that since starting work again, our “family time” is more precious and scarce than when I was a SAHM so I am much less likely to be cranky and ready for a break by bedtime.

  15. Our moms group was talking about what time the bedtime process begins, and the consensus was, at 3pm! Everything we did from there one predicted bedtime, from nap-waking to play, dinner, and on.

    I find it’s still true, and the youngest is in high school, but it’s more about me now. Part 2 of my day starts after school, centers around timing dinner, and any evening activities or pick-ups. If a kid is still at practice till 9, I know can’t get in my pajamas till 10 lol!

    Regarding times, my younger son went to sleep much better when we moved his time up from 8 to 7. Ah, for those days.

  16. Laura, I wonder what you think about mid-day naps for adults- a productive way to recharge, or a waste of potentially useful time? I can’t decide, myself.

    1. @Leanne – if you need a nap, take a nap! Especially if you’ve had a bad night the night before, a short nap can rescue the rest of the day. If you’re just a little tired, though, you can give yourself a similar burst of energy by going for a walk or anything that gets you moving and gets you fresh air.

  17. My son is older now but even when he was young he was a night owl. I don’t get to see him in the AM as I start work at 7am so I only get to see him from when I pick him up around 5pm. If he went to bed at 8pm; I would only see him for 3 hours and my husband wouldn’t really see him at all as he gets home around 8-8:30 from work. I like having “quiet” time but I like spending time with my son too. We tend to go to bed at the same time at 9:30-10:00.

  18. I’m really surprised (though shouldn’t be, I guess) at the diversity here…and some of the implied judgement as well.
    Our kids have been going to bed later recently. Even with black out curtains in their rooms, its hard to convince them its sleeping time when its bright sunshine outside. Also we all just forget about what time it is when we are hanging out outside in the evenings. So I’m actually LOSING a chunk of free time, I guess. Its a tradeoff for some really wonderful family memories though. I’ll start being a stickler again when the days shorten.

  19. I am lucky to have two on the average to high end of sleep needs, though it probably cancels out because so am I. (An ideal night for me is 9 hours and 10-11 if I’m in catch-up mode.)

    We are “those people” who are sticklers about bedtime and don’t do outings past 6:15pm or so. I found by accident that actually putting the toddler in the crib by 6:30 instead of 7 meant she slept all the way through the night more often than not and got rid of her “awake at 2am for 2 hours, let’s hang out” sessions.

    Our 4.5yo is much more flexible about bedtime now than she used to be, so I will occasionally take her out somewhere past her bedtime and she can sleep in as long as she doesn’t have school the next day. But typically she’s in bed lights out at 7pm and sleeps hard until 7am the next day now that she doesn’t nap anymore.

    So I guess I see the rigidity that we currently have as temporary, until the toddler gets older and can deal with the schedule changes without screaming at us in the middle of the night 😉 I’m perfectly willing to make that trade to get my own sleep. (Not to mention crafty and grownup time at night.)

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