Laying in the bath a few nights ago,I was trying to read my book but my thoughts kept wandering.I was thinking about the last few days and how joyful they had been.Things had been going smoothly,the evening had been enjoyable and everything just seemed to flow...
About 18 months ago we began to let go of bedtimes.We didn't announce she had no bedtime, we began gently.We said yes when she asked to stay up later,we stopped insisting on a set time for her to go up.Even though it was gradual we found it hard to adjust to Milly being up later, we resented the disruption to our nights.We just couldn't find a way that worked,it all seemed so chaotic.We had got so used to the nights(mostly)being our own time.Very often we had a hyper, over tired Milly who needed a great deal of our attention.Emily has never gone to bed by herself and needed one of us to go up with her,she liked us to stay until she was asleep.We were more than happy to do that and when she had a set time to go up we knew we could come back down and have some time to relax and switch off.If Emily decided to go to bed at 9.30 it meant that by the time she had had a bath (if she wanted one)and we had snuggled and read,by the time she had got to sleep it was late and not really worth coming back down,especially for Alan as he needs to be up at 6.
When she choose to stay up later, it just seemed we had no time to ourselves,as a couple or to do the things we wanted to do individually.It was not unusual for her to stay up with whoever was up the latest and then go to bed with them.We had lots of times when she was over tired and the days were hard because of it.We talked about the effects of lack of sleep,we tried to keep these conversations informative rather than judgemental and brought it up at times it was relevant to the discussion we were having,rather than using it as a "see we told you" kind of conversation.Have to say that was hard and there were times when we were not as understanding,especially when she would get up late and not want to do anything or go anywhere and we had things planned or were wanting to go out ourselves.
It all began to get to us.Alan and I talked it through and looked at the options,setting an enforced bedtime had not always worked,there were many nights when she was just not tired and we would end up staying upstairs for hours and getting more and more wound up that she wouldn't sleep or we would leave her when she was settled, but not quite asleep and she would wake up and be up and down the stairs all night till she finally was tired enough to sleep.So many nights there were numerous delaying tactics,resisting going to bed and our patience was tested to the limit.For a short time (because of getting up for school)we had tried rewards for staying upstairs and also consequences for not staying up,neither worked but even if they had, it didn't "feel" right.It always seemed to be a battle.Bedtimes were doing nothing for our relationship with Emily.
We talked about her needs and how we could meet them and we talked about what we wanted our evening to look like.
We could see that the problem wasn't so much that Emily was up, it was the way we were thinking,the resentment of feeling that we never had any time to ourselves was eating away at us and filling us with negativity.We weren't communicating and both felt hard done too.We wanted to continue and were willing to change our habits and expectations and adapt to a new way. We wanted to ensure we each got some time during the week to ourselves.Once we were clear that was the priority we started from there, and worked out what needed to be done to ensure we could make it work.
We decided it would be a good idea for us to talk about what we wanted to do on an evening and to have a loose plan as to who wanted to go to bed at what time and if any of us had a particular programme we wanted to watch or anything we had wanted to do.Took us some time to come up with this simple plan but we got there eventually:-)We saw that there were other options.Just because our evenings had always looked a certain way, they didn't have to stay that way.
Although we have that loose plan in the early evening, things can change, they are not set in stone .It helps us to have a rough idea.We got what we needed which was a way of organising our evening so that jobs could get done or TV programmes could be watched,or whatever it was we wanted to do.We plan who will go up with Emily.That was one thing that really helped,because one of us was "on" and available to go up with her at whatever time she chooses.We talked about her staying up till she was tired and snoozing on the couch in her duvet, while we watched TV or whatever, but that was not an option for her as she likes to be in bed to sleep.We tried to think out of the box and find ways that we could make it work for us all.We talked about many different ways .By communicating our needs,being adaptable and working together we have managed to eliminate the stress around bedtimes.
She knows when she is tired and not having any reason to battle against bedtime she has no need to stay up unnecessarily.There are occasions when she is particularly into something that she chooses to stay up, but she no longer stays up just because she can.
We had bought a laptop for Emily to use and when one of us had read to to her on a night she could snooze off knowing someone was there with her and whoever had taken her to bed could watch BBCi or 4 on demand or a DVD or blogs:-)) on the laptop.We could lay in bed and read while she dozed off,we have a head torch(I know how comical is that image!!)we need to get a clip on light to go on the headboard which will be so much better!!So Emily gets what she wants /needs which is to go to bed when she is tired, with someone to lay with her so she isn't scared.
We are now much more accepting of her ever changing natural rhythm.We rarely plan anything in the mornings so we can have a slow start in case of a late night.Alan likes to be up early and get going and it was frustrating to him that plans would be made to go for a walk and he would wait ,then she might get up and not want to go.On a weekend he now lets us know his plans for the walk, if we are up before he goes and want to go with him, we go, if not he goes off and enjoys his walk.During the week I might have time on a morning if she is still snoozling in bed,instead of allowing that time to be eaten up doing jobs,I make a conscious decision to take time to do the things I enjoy and then if I still have time before she is up I will get on and do the jobs.
Alan and I find time to connect in different ways,we make the most of the times we have to chat when he comes in from work,we have become expert at grabbing the moment to talk through our day.We still need to work on a way to spend more time together.Have to be creative as we can't afford a babysitter too often and Milly is not always keen on the free option of going to stay at relatives on her own.
To be honest in our house when Emily had a set bedtime it wasn't as if we were actually "together" apart from possibly sharing the same couch to watch TV,even then we have different tastes in programmes, so we were often in different rooms!!If anything, looking at the way we spent our time on an evening has meant that our nights are rejuvenated. The focus is on being together more of the evening(even if that means just being in the same room but doing different things) and having as much fun as we can.
Over time things have settled into a very natural routine.We get the "me time" but it looks different to how it used to;-)
On a typical evening,Emily and Alan will go for a walk and get deeply involved in a role play game, while I cook tea.We have tea, sometimes at the table together, but often they will have tea together watching The Simpsons(I just don't get the simpsons!!)in a different room and I will watch a
programme I like or I am in the same room but read Blogs( I know how dreadful eating at the computer!!) Not so long ago I would have been so conscious that we "should" all eat together at the table.Things have changed,we look at the "shoulds" we examine them and then decide if they are important for us.
One of the reasons most families sit together to eat is because that could be the one time in the evening between homework, after school activities, baths and bed,that they can chat about their day.We are lucky that Alan is home by 3.45 (flexi time, he chooses to go in for 7.30 so that he can get home early)I know that some parents work later so that might be why they would choose to all eat together.Our circumstances are different,we don't need to sit at a table to connect and go through our day, we spend so long in each others company and have many opportunity's to talk during the evening.It isn't the case that we never sit at the table,because that in itself can be very pleasant,however we no longer see it as a " must do "every night.
We might wash up together while Emily is occupied doing whatever she is wanting to do or I will go and play with her and Al will wash up.They also have 20 mins on the trampoline boxing at some point in the evening,so I might do the pots then.Every evening is different, games might be played or we might read together or watch a film or TV,or spend time out in the garden .We don't always spend time together on an evening, we could all be in different rooms doing different things.Jobs get slotted in throughout the evening.Because Milly is following her natural rythym we no longer have the very giddy,hyper little girl who needs our attention all the time on a night.We have found things naturally wind down and become quieter and calmer.Most evenings Milly plans 9ish as her time to go up,previously when Alan and I talked through the options we had, he said he would be happy to go up around that time most work nights,he is up early in a morning and would be going up earlier than me anyway.Because it is something he chooses to do and he knows he has other options if he wanted to,it has meant he is doing it happily.He will read to her while she has a bath or they snuggle in bed and read,normally settling down around 10.If there is something Al wants to do I will take her to bed,once we have read for a while she will snooze while I listen to a meditaion ,catch up on TV , blogs or don my head torch and read:-))If she does want to stay up I will be the one during the week to stay with her.
At the moment she doesn't want to stay up later than either of us,if that time comes we will look at all the options and work out a plan that works for all of us.
As I was laying in the bath,I thought about an old fashioned dance where someone might come along and excuse one partner, the dancing flows on,just different partners at different times.That kind of sums up how I feel it goes here,were all on the floor, sometimes dancing all together, sometimes a couple,sometimes apart, but always in harmony.