Frogson, now a few days shy of three years old, has recently been a disaster about bedtime. We’ve not been doing anything differently so I don’t know WTF his deal is. The new sibling? She’s been here for a while now. Moon in the seventh house? Possibly. Demonic possession? You never know these days. Always a likelihood.
Bedtime, once a peaceful and happy bonding experience for all parties, is now a torturous triathalon of despair. Phase 1: Fight every step of the bedtime routine. Have a 10 minute meltdown over getting in the tub, getting out of the tub, not enough toothpaste on your toothbrush, unpreffered dixie cup color, preferred PJs are dirty, etc. Phase 2: Procrastinate. Distract. Bring up random memories, ponder existential questions. Will your stuffed bear ride a bicycle when it’s spring? Will a man or a woman teach the next session of story time at the library? I DON’T KNOW. GO TO BED. Phase 3: Once you’re finally snuggled happily in bed and a parent lovingly gives you one last kiss and closes the door, jump out of bed and tear the door open cackling maniacally. When a parent returns you to bed, repeat as needed.
What’s an exasperated mother to do? Now we do our best to be SMUG AWESOME ATTACHED PARENTS™ so we don’t do spanking or draconian punishment. What does that leave me with? That would be Google. Outstanding. So I read a thousand things about what positive, gentle parents are supposed to do about this problem. Guess what. Nothing works. He just looks at me like LOL your techniques are adorable, Mother. Yet– hmm– I find myself– how do I say this?– still not entirely convinced bedtime is the right choice for me at this time. I appreciate your understanding. Now can we revisit my request for more yogurt?
Here is a sampling of the baloney the experts peddle:
Have a routine. Wow! A routine! What’s that because I haven’t thought of that! GROUNDBREAKING. OK for starters let’s just go out on a limb and say I have a basic knowledge of parenting and I have an MFing routine. You know chimpanzee mothers probably have routines. Gerbil mothers probably have routines. CELL OF ALGAE mothers probably have routines.
Make the bed a comfortable space. WAT? It’s a bed. Like, with a mattress. With soft, inviting dinosaur bedding no less. This is seriously the stoopidest piece of expert advice I’ve ever read. Oh, gosh, thanks for saying something! No wonder he won’t go to bed, I’ve been making him lay on this large piece of sandpaper scattered with glass shards, thumbtacks, and puddles of acid!
Offer choices. Who else finds this parenting technique wildly ineffective? This is where they say to let the kid make decisions about arbitrary, unimportant details and it’s supposed to give them a false sense of control and independence. This– SAYS THE EXPERTS– magically makes them cooperative. “Frogson, do you choose giraffe PJs or reindeer PJs?” I choose keep playing! “Do you choose to read Curious George or Clifford?” I choose stay up! Sometimes he just responds with the always versatile I CHOOSE NO! Do I choose to cry into a bowl of ice cream or a Chipotle burrito? Do I choose to send you to boarding preschool or sell you to the neighbors?
Restrain them in bed. So this piece of advice says that the child shouldn’t be permitted to jump out of bed and run around, that you should just hold them there if they won’t stay. And I’ve tried this a few times. He fights valiantly for a while, but then settles down and I think I’ve successfully held the boundary. “OK, are you calmer now?” Yes. “Are you ready to go to sleep now?” Yes. I love you, Mommy! I smugly saunter out of the room patting myself on the back and reflecting on what a brilliant, patient mother I am, and two seconds later he’s back out of bed squealing and chortling and doing an evil little jig. So I wasted 15 minutes of my life restraining a raging 30-pound human like a freaking Cops episode for… well I’d say for nothing but it’s actually a terrific cardio regimen.
Return them wordlessly to bed. Last week Frogson was playing at the library and I was reading Positive Discipline for Preschoolers. Actually as I was distracted with this he tried to push through one of those “Emergency exit only” doors. Friends, this resulted in a rare three fails in one: 1. My kid set off the fire alarm 2. My kid tried to actually exit a building while I was distracted and 3. My kid did these things while I was IRONICALLY READING A BOOK ABOUT BEING A GOOD PARENT. It takes skill to fail that hard, friends. Anyway, there’s an entire chapter about handling bedtime drama and the solution they said was simple: stop bargaining, threatening, or explaining with words. If your child leaves the bed after the routine is done, you pick them up and wordlessly return them to bed. Repeat as necessary. They brought up a heroic mom who had to do it 24 times before her daughter stayed. OK so let’s say it takes 30 seconds to deliver your kid back to bed, you spent 12 minutes on this task? Oh boo hoo! What a martyr you are! Please tell me how to nominate you for canonization! Cry me an 8-pack of mixed berry Juicy Juice boxes! I did this for an hour and forty five minutes. It did not work. He stopped when I told him his grandparents wouldn’t come to see him if he didn’t go to bed. I’m a terrible person.
Assorted Attachment Parenting bunk. Blah blah blah only in Western cultures do we expect children to sleep in their own rooms! Blah blah blah maybe your child simply just needs the comfort of a parent as they fall asleep! Blah blah blah how will your preschooler nurse on demand all night if they’re sleeping in their own room! Blah blah blah SUCK IT, DR. SEARS. Then you can come over here and do the 1,047 things that I need to cram in during the freaking 84 minutes I have to myself at the end of the day.
Lock them in the room. Now we’re getting into the more severe options, but seriously I did not think twice about this after every other option failed stupendously. We were desperate to find something that worked because sleep is important for a child’s health and the health of the whole family. JK because my DVR isn’t going to watch itself. I guess normal children just wail for a bit then resign themselves to bedtime? Not my Frog. I swear he is a wonderful, compliant, angelic child about 93% of the time. The 7% of the time where he finds himself opposed to what he’s being asked to do? HIDE YOUR KIDS, HIDE YOUR WIFE. I had to abandon this tactic out of fear the neighbors were going to call the police.
Quiet Time. Frequently naptime is just as painful as bedtime, so I’ve been experimenting just cutting the nap altogether and replacing it with “quiet time.” Do you know what’s more annoying than trying to get an uncompliant kid to nap? Your uncompliant kid standing right on the other side of his closed door yelling this script for 15 minutes: MOMMY YOU FIND MY BLUE SNOWFLAKE STAMP?? MOM! MOMMY! SNOWFLAKE STAMP! YOU BRING ME MY BLUE SNOWFLAKE STAMP? MOM YOU FIND MY SNOWFLAKE STAMP YET? YOU BRING IT TO ME?? MOMMY!!!! SNOWFLAKE STAMP!!!!
Reward charts, cute lists of your routine with pictures. “Wow, this piece of paper totally makes me forget about whatever it was I was having a tantrum about” said no three-year-old ever.