At 10:00 p.m. last night my toddler was still going strong. After a couple of attempts to put him down for the night, I let him play on the floor until he got tired. I tried not to stress about it, even though I know that some people would probably judge me if they knew that I refuse to set a sleep schedule for my kid. I try to remember that they don't have to parent my child, so their opinion on the subject matters less than my sanity.
Now, I'm not saying that I never set a sleep schedule. When my oldest child was a baby everything centered around her nap and bedtime schedule. Every baby sleep book I read told me that having a schedule was the best way to ensure that my baby would sleep through the night and get enough rest. So I tried my best to maintain a routine and, for the most part, in the beginning it worked.
Then my child turned into a toddler and her sleep schedule went out the window. I'm sure there was a logical explanation for her seemingly permanent sleep regression, but bedtime became an hours-long ordeal and she would almost always end up waking up in the middle of the night or in bed with us. Her doctor recommended putting her to bed earlier, and it didn't take long for me to realize that putting my child to bed before she was tired ended in a longer fight, more frustration, and an even later bedtime.
So when I had my next child I became way more flexible about sleep schedules. Hell... with two kids, I had to be. I learned to watch my kids for cues that they were actually tired before even mentioning bedtime and, as a result, found it much easier to get them to sleep. The key was hitting the sweet spot between "I'm not tired," and "I'm so tired, I'm never going to bed." For the most part, though, my kids are way better indicators for when it's time for sleep than any clock or set schedule ever was. So yeah, I don't make my kids sleep on a schedule, and here's why:
Because Routines Are Only Awesome When They Go As Planned
My oldest baby became so dependent on her sleep schedule that when it was interrupted all hell would break lose. If she missed her morning nap she would sleep through dinner. If we went out for dinner she would nap in the car and then want to party all night. If she went to sleep early she'd wake up before sunrise. I started to feel trapped by the very routine that was supposed to make things easier.
Because It's Hard
In my opinion, bedtime is one of the worst parts of parenthood. I hate fighting with my kids, I hate feeling frustrated by their endless stalling tactics, and I hate spending my evening angry about yet another failed attempt at bedtime.
Because I Have More Than One Kid
Putting one kid to bed is hard, so imagine how difficult it is to put five children to bed. I'm certainly not going to hold myself to a rigid routine if it's not working or if it means I have to endure five fights at bedtime. Life is too damn short, my friends.
Because It's Summertime
I make jokes about Daylight Saving Time every year, because if I don't laugh I'm going to cry. It's impossible to get my kids to go to bed when it's still light outside, when they can hear the neighbor kids playing, or when people are still setting off leftover fireworks. Trying to keep their school year schedule in tact during the summer is way too hard to manage.
Because It Doesn't Work
If our toddler isn't tired, he won't go to sleep. It doesn't matter if I use all of the tricks in my bedtime playbook: it's not going to happen. So, instead of spending hours trying to get him to sleep, I now wait for signs that he's tired... and those signs vary from day to day.
Because It Hurt My Relationship With My Partner
In many ways, trying to set and stick to a sleep schedule for my oldest kid actually hurt my relationship with my husband. We were both sleep-deprived and desperate, and by the time we actually got our child to sleep at night one or both of us would be exhausted and angry. It would also often mean going to bed without spending any time with each other one-on-one.
Because I'm Not Sure It Would Make A Difference
Honestly, when my husband and I have tried to keep to a set nap time and bedtime routine we just end up spending more time focused on trying to get our kids to go to sleep and less time actually enjoying being their parents. Worse, I don't think it actually makes a difference in when or how long my children sleep.
Because I Don't Have To
I am privileged to work from home, so I don't really have to stress about bedtime or getting myself ready and out the door. It's pretty awesome.
Because I'm Too Tired To Fight At Bedtime
I just can't do it anymore. I am tired, people. In fact, I am way too tired to want to fight with my kids for hours on end and in order to get them to go to sleep at some arbitrary time.
Because My Youngest Is Still Little
While my toddler is still little and stays at home with me during the day, it's really not necessary for him to go to bed at a certain time just because other people think he should. It's not like we have someplace to be. I know that this will have to change when he starts preschool, but that's a problem for future-me.