My favorite time of the entire day is right before I go to bed. I love that solace time. Quiet. Peaceful. Mine. Sometimes I blog or do a little online shopping. I research and plan upcoming trips because I love to travel (in less than three months, we’re flying to Venice!). I take long baths and read. Or lately, I’ve been catching up on past episodes of House of Cards (I’m so addicted). My biggest complaint is that there is rarely enough time to enjoy it for very long before I fall asleep.
When I first became a mom, I let my daughter stay up far too late. Bedtime was sometimes eleven o’clock at night, which meant I had zero time to myself. When I adjusted her bedtime to something more reasonable, it was wonderful. For the first time, we had a more controlled evening, a nicer bedtime routine, and I had time to unwind for myself. She slept better and so did I. There was no turning back. With a second daughter in the picture, I stuck even more rigidly to routine. Because around nine o’clock at night, I was (am!) totally done with being a mom.
Last summer, we were spending time at a friend’s home. They are so gracious and we love being there but night time is absolute chaos. The children all put themselves to bed at whatever time they feel like calling it a day. And oftentimes, they don’t sleep in their own beds—a couch or the floor is just fine. There is lots of TV, fighting, and commotion. With ample food in the fridge, they all feed themselves when they’re hungry. Showers and homework? Only if they feel like it. The five children range from ages five to 15. In my opinion, that’s nuts. My friends, bless their heart, have very busy work schedules and they have take a very hands off approach to parenting at night. I don’t know how any of those children sleep at night.
Well, “to each their own” I suppose. But I don’t recommend it.
Countless studies tout the benefits of family mealtimes around the dinner table. Children whose parents read with them are better students. Bedtime routines help calm children, which enables them to sleep better, develop healthier eating habits, and show up to school ready to learn.
So what are some great ways to help get everyone ready for a more peaceful and relaxing evening? Well, first let’s acknowledge that creating an enjoyable routine can be incredibly difficult and stressful. There have been too many nights where I barely had time to get one child into bed at a reasonable time only to be up extremely late with another trying to help with homework. It can be hell. Routines don’t always work as well as we’d like. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for something workable and healthy for everyone.
Here are a few tips that help in our home:
1. Dinner: Most evenings, we eat together. My eight year old daughter often works on her homework assignments while I put food on the table. Family dinner is something we all look forward to because we put away our electronic devices and actually speak to each other. It’s a very important bonding opportunity. I learn a lot about them during dinner. Even if we order a pizza, we still sit together and eat.
2. Homework: Not all parents monitor their children’s homework but I do. Every evening, we go over their projects and I help them as much as possible. I can’t say I like this part of parenting. In fact, I pretty much hate it. Nonetheless, it’s part of our routine and they know it.
3. Bath: Both of my daughters take their showers at night and put their pajamas on about an hour before bedtime. The warm water is calming and once they’re in their jammies, it’s an important signal to them (and has been since they were very young) that the day is winding down. Plus, I love how they smell at night!
4. Prep for tomorrow: Mornings are really hard for me so I try to make sure that everything is ready to go for the morning. We put out clothes, pack lunches, and load up backpacks so none of us have to think much when we’re still groggy.
5. Bedtime: Children need their sleep. If my eight year old doesn’t get a solid 10 hours, she turns into a little monster. I almost always tuck them in and we have “talk time.” It’s a great way to end the day.
The best part of getting the children in bed with everyone’s sanity intact? The rest part of the evening is all mine!