I have a question for your page! This stems from my casual observations not science, but it is something that interests me. I feel that in the past decade or two, for the first time in history, children are going to bed and waking up at the same times as their parents. This may seem like a small change, but I feel that over time it may have some negative consequences for the parents’ relationship (e.g., not having time alone to be a couple). Do you notice this change in the child-parent sleep schedule? What types of unintended consequences would you predict from this arrangement? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Thanks so much for your question, Jamie.
Some families make the active choice to have bedtimes coincide so they have maximum time with their children. I find, typically, these families consist of working parents who feel they would, otherwise, have too little time with the kids. Some are parents who do not want to create a hierarchy in the family that dictates bedtime. If there is a price to pay in the adult relationship, these families have actively chosen to make the expenditure.
It’s the accidental bedtime routine that is a frequent topic in my office; habits that were established to avoid conflict; laying down with children until they go to sleep and other lengthy rituals that absorb the evening, leaving parents with little alone time together for conversation, to pursue interests, or to share intimacy.
Parents, at their wit’s end begin to blame each other. Sometimes, one parent leaves the house or doesn’t come home until late in the evening to avoid the entire bedtime fiasco. Once the kids are finally settled, mom and dad are either too tired, or too angry to spend any quality time together and it isn’t long before those frustrations leak into daytime hours, as well.
Demanding children become as anxious about the evening routine as their parents. Although, it is hard to believe that little ones who keep running out of their room, asking for water, and going to the bathroom, really do long for limits so they can transition peacefully to a goodnight’s sleep.
There are varied strategies to change the habits depending upon the individual family dynamic. The key to success is deciding that a change must be made, establishing a workable plan, sharing the plan with the child and following through consistently and without hesitation.
There is more than one way to raise kids. Children and families will not be ruined if kids stay up late, and the parent/child relationship will not be damaged if kids go to bed early. One key to healthy familial relationships is active decision-making and an identified “because”.