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Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Secret to my Sanity


My first child was born when Dr. Richard Ferber's book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, had taken the world of parenting by storm. I enthusiastically adhered to his notion that children can and need their sleep. That's why, for eighteen years, I have been a strict proponent of bedtime for all five of my children.
This has been my most brilliant parenting move ever. In fact, I often contribute my children's good behavior to a solid night's sleep as well as their advance love for literacy. I tuck my kids in early every night with hugs, kisses, books and the warm glow of a bed lamp. It's downright angelic. 
All of that is true however I don't want to mislead you. I also support early bedtimes because I believe it to be my strongest defense against insanity. Caring for five kids all day, everyday is enough to push any middle-aged woman over the edge. The fact is I need a break, a big fat break everyday from my own children. 
I'm not ashamed to admit it. Make no mistake - they are the light in my world, my heritage, the joy of my life and twinkle in my eye. I love them. I totally do. I just also need a break from them. 

 
My early to bed strategy has worked superbly for me until lately. This year, as the lazy days of summer settled over our household and we all shifted to a more relaxed schedule, I made my annual big deal about moving the kids' bedtimes back a few minutes.
Before my children could tell time this was, of course, a brilliant move on my part, as they would shower me with appreciation for my generous gift. But in June, when I announced with feigned authority that bedtime could be moved to ten o'clock my kids scoffed.
And by scoffed I mean; they laughed at me. 
Instantly I was engaged in an awkward stand off.  Sensing my daily dose of solitude was in dire straights I insisted that growing kids need their sleep, guaranteed they would be healthier and promised that they didn't have to actually go to sleep but could read as long as they wanted. 
Even as I spoke the words I knew I sounded lame. My three oldest, teenagers, stared at me as if to say, "Do you hear yourself, mu-ther?"
I knew they were right. It was age inappropriate for me to expect 13, 14 and 17 year olds to go to bed early.
If my siblings and I weren't such hellions when we were young, perhaps I wouldn't have had heart palpitations when the notion came to me that for the first time in my parenting career I was going to bed before my children. I clearly remember waiting for my mom and dad to go to bed so the 'real fun' could begin. 
A deep despair spread over my consciousness as I wrestled with dread sensing my entire bedtime ritual was waning. In the good old days we did a head count, sent the kids off to bed, had supreme possession of the remote control and a little solitude. 
I admit I'm a night owl, and I do love my quiet time, but as desperate as I was I knew there was no chance staying up past the kids was feasible. My best bet was to pray the house was still intact in the morning and adjust my expectations.  
Turns out that teenagers who stay up late also sleep in late. So, good news, I rebuffed delirium simply by moving my me-time to the beginning of the day. My coffee pot has never felt so loved.
Now, August has arrived and summer is drawing to a close. Our tribe is back to school shopping and I'm ecstatic to return to a more structured schedule that includes, you guessed it, early bedtimes. 
You would think this summer's experience would have challenged my early to bed theory but let's not forget that my entire parenting career rests solely on my ability to keep my mental culpability. I am not about to risk losing it now. My kids will be going back to bed early the moment that school bell rings. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!



This article appears as a part of a weekly series for The Daily Review Atlas. Stephanie is a parent educator for the Monmouth-Roseville preschool program as well as a mother to five children ranging in age from 8 year old twins to a college-bound teenager. She can be reached at ssikorski@mr238.org

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