Our standing rule has been that Kent and I are done with kids at 9 p.m. We encouraged them to go to bed at that time, but ultimately, they are in charge of giving themselves enough sleep. Last year, I had two high-schoolers who would drag themselves home in the afternoon and nap for a couple hours because they were too exhausted to do anything else. They would perk up around dinnertime, do some homework, and then--too well-rested from their naps--stay up too late with friends either in person or virtually. In line with our Benign Neglect parenting style (Kent coined that term--I prefer to call it Love and Logic), we figured that one day they would learn the benefits of getting more than five hours of sleep at night.
Eventually, we realized our mistake: teenagers' brains do not work correctly. Especially brains that are sleep deprived. So I came up with a simple, elegant solution.
I was already driving the three younger children to their charter school each morning. The charter's elementary and secondary campuses are less than a five-minute drive from our house, so no busing is provided. But it's a 30 to 40-minute walk, which is just far enough that a ride is almost necessary. #s 3 and 4 have both tested my driving mercy in the past, and they know I don't have any. They know it's preferable to be in the car when I leave, or they will be left behind to get a nice morning walk. It's a notably effective consequence in our Utah winter months.
Here's a big parenting tip: once your child is too big to sit on your lap, you cannot control her actions. However, you have some control over location and circumstances, and complete control over your own actions/responses. My elegant solution to help #s 1 and 2 choose to get enough sleep was that if they were in bed (location) with the lights off (circumstance) by 9:30 p.m. (circumstance), then I would drive them to school at 7:30. If they stayed up too late, they were welcome to catch the 7:00 a.m. bus, which meant heading out the door by 6:54 a.m. (They had the timing down!) I call this solution elegant because it cost me only a few extra minutes of driving in the morning, which time I enjoyed talking with my teens, and it gave them an extra 45 minutes of sleep in the morning, not to mention probably 2 1/2 hours more sleep before midnight. It worked! Moods were improved, I enjoyed spending time with my conscious children in the afternoon--and #s 3 through 5 imposed the same rule on themselves!
Fast forward to this year. #1, now a senior in high school, gets a ride each day with friends. She must find time to sleep during work release, because she is still quite cheerful and productive every day. (Maybe she's grown into her adult brain early!!!) #2's friend ride is less consistent, so she works hard each evening to gauge whether her friend is coming in the morning, or whether she should fetch her pajamas around 9:15. This is where the fun comes in!
With interesting conversation--and good shows on Netflix--Kent and I have been enjoying our 9:00-done-with-kids time. Often, we miss the 9:30 check and don't make it down until 10ish to investigate the situation downstairs. Once in awhile, though, we're on time. We keep it random enough that its pretty unpredictable. I love hearing "She's coming!" as the children recognize my footfalls on the stairs and quickly turn off the computer screen in the family room to make a run for their beds.
Last night, I was tired by 8:30, so I watched my smartphone for the moment 9:30 blinked on the screen. As I stood to head down for the nightly check, I remembered that #2 had asked if there was room in the van for two of her friends who also needed a ride to school. Yes! An increased measure of desperation for a ride meant she would surely be in bed on time. Suddenly, I was not so tired. I gleefully went clomping down the stairs, bellowing, "Here I come!" I was pretty sure I heard footsteps running across the kitchen's tile floor, but I was being a little too loud with my put-the-fear-of-Mom-into-them "Bwah ha ha!" that I couldn't be sure. (Retelling this story to #1 who has no mom-fear any longer, I learned that #3 had indeed been lounging in the family room, glued to her iPod when she heard--through her earphones!--me coming. She must have been speedy in her flight, because I never saw sight of her.)
|Earlier that evening: #4 playing cards, |
Curious George-style (shoutout to Leilani!)
Me: "This is great! I don't have to drive either of you to school in the morning!"
#2 from behind the adjacent bathroom's closed door: "No Mom, wait! I'm ready for bed! I'm just finishing flossing."
Me: "I'm glad you're taking care of your teeth. I'm also glad you can get some exercise tomorrow."
(She might enjoy the brisk walk.)
Me, flicking off their light as #4 dropped to the bed and cocooned herself in the covers: "Goodnight! Love you guys."
I turned for the three strides across the hall to the bedroom of #s 3 and 5. Their door was shut, and no light emanated beneath it. I opened the door a crack to...silence.
Me, mellow: "Goodnight you guys."
I began to shut the door. Then, just for kicks, I opened it quickly and flipped on the light. Simultaneously, I heard a teenage body drop onto the top bunk. With the lights on, I saw my 13-yr-old lying face down on top of her covers, her head at the foot of the bed, and the boots that were still on her feet lying on her pillow. (In the retelling, I learned that she had sneaked into her room when I was checking on her sisters. She had hit the lights and was standing in the dark next to her bed when I came to their door. When I opened it on a whim, she had launched herself over the side of the bed and belly flopped. I wish I had seen it! But hearing it was still pretty great.)
#5 was wrapped in his bedding, smiling sweetly at me. He's the one child who actually wanted some sleep, so I turned off the light to let him get some. But then, the pull of the teenagers is too great. I fake shut the door again, and then flicked the light back on. #3 dropped from an almost-up-dog pose to a dang-it-you-caught-me pose. (The first one is a yoga pose, which you can google. The second is a child's pose; not the yoga kind, the parenting kid, which you just have to experience.) Still, she was in bed with the lights off. I reminded her that lights out included screen lights, and she needed to put her iPod away and perhaps remove her earbuds to avoid strangulation in her sleep. Then we shared a knowing smile, and I wished them both a good night's sleep, turned off the light, and shut the door (for realsies).
I turned to find the bathroom now dark and empty, and #2's bedroom door closed and dark at the threshold. As she heard me shut her siblings' door, she called to me.
#2: Mom, I'm in bed and it's 9:30.
Here's another good parenting tip: choose your battles wisely. I knew I had already won this one, so I decided to engage. I opened their bedroom door to find both girls under their covers with the lights out.
Me: Actually, it's 9:32. At 9:30, you weren't even in your room.
#4: But I was in bed at 9:30.
Me, turning on the lights: No, you were on your bed at 9:30--with your lights on.
#4 started getting teary eyed. We're only one term into school, and she's had to bum a ride from friends a few times already, which usually means she misses breakfast. I'm big on breakfast, so my heart went out to her, though I wasn't ready to admit that yet.
#2: But I promised my friends a ride to school tomorrow!
Me: That's great! I'm happy to drive them. You already told them I'm picking them up, right?
#2, sitting up dramatically to stare me down (teenagers are so predictable!): Mom!
#2: I need a ride to school.
Me, after taking in #4's sad face: You know, [#4] is softening my heart a little with her tears. Maybe if you were crying, I would feel like driving you tomorrow.
#2, with a smile indicating she had a solution: Okay. Do you have something I can burn myself with?
Me: You're the one with all the c...
#2, interrupting with her epiphany: I have candles!
#2 was obsessed with scented candles last year. She probably has 20 candles on her shelf. She likes to come home and light one each day while she reads. Her room always smells good. She usually smells good, too. As she leaned forward to spring out of bed and fetch a pain-inflicting candle, #4 sat up and offered assistance.
#4: I can pinch your nipple.
(!!! Where do my kids come up with these ideas? !!!)
#2, sitting back down, started to laugh nervously: O...kay. Hee hee.
#4 turned to her sister and stretched out her hand. #2 was rethinking now. She crossed her arms in front of her chest and laughed some more, trying to build courage while also appreciating the situation. I just stood in the doorway, smiling, and also appreciating the situation.
#2 pushed out her chest: Okay, I'm ready. Hee hee...ha! Okay, go ahead.
#4's fingers clamped on, tweaked, and let go.
#2, crossing her arms over her chest and doubling over: Ha ha-ow...ow! Ha ha!
She was now rocking and holding herself and sort of howl-laughing while she smiled and tried to cry.
Me: That's not crying. That's laughing.
#4 with a blank face stated simply: I can do it again.
She reached her hand toward her sister.
#2, still trying to cry: No! Wait...okay...no!
Deciding this had been funny enough, but not wanting it to get any weirder, I turned off the light: Okay, I'll give you both a ride tomorrow. Goonight! Love you guys.
Then I headed up the stairs with a great story for Kent. I'm telling you, kids' bedtimes can be both fun and entertaining!
Here is our opening song for our evening devotional two nights ago.
Maybe this is why our children aren't very sleepy at bedtime?
(You gotta' check out the moves at the 30-second mark.)