To be honest, it can be exhausting, and there are times when I want nothing more than to crawl into bed myself and leave everyone else to fend for themselves. I’m aware that many parents have trained their kids out of needing such elaborate routines well before age 10. Why haven’t we done so?
Though it would certainly be easier if my daughters went to bed by themselves, I see so many advantages to doing things as we do. The bedtime routine is a cornerstone of our bond with them. Our days are busy, filled with school, work, after-school activities, homework, etc.. But the bedtime routine guarantees that we have at least some small amount of time for connection. Many of the most important conversations in our family happen in the hour before bed.
I actually don’t know how we would have made it through the last two years without "the routine." When our younger daughter (the just-turned-10 one, as opposed to the almost-11 one) joined our family as a pre-adoptive foster placement, our household was temporarily thrown into chaos. It’s not easy to integrate an 8-year-old child with a trauma history into a family, and in the beginning we had many rough days. The bedtime routine was one of the ways that we showed our new daughter that we cared for her; we cared enough to listen to her fears and to sit with her until she fell asleep. Eventually, we integrated foot massage, relaxing music, and other calming techniques into the routine to help her relax; bedtime for her became something to look forward to rather than something to dread. And it was at bedtime, also, that we introduced her to books and made reading a regular part of her life.
During that same time period, bedtime was when our older daughter cried in our arms and poured out all of her frustrations and regrets regarding this new sister -- the terrible, awful sister that she wished would go away. Bedtime was when we helped her process the complex swirl of emotions that she was experiencing as part of the major transition that was happening in her life.
Things are very different now; our younger daughter has made dramatic developmental and emotional progress and our older one no longer wishes the younger one would cease to exist. In fact, they seem to get along better than most siblings. And they are 10. Isn’t it time we dropped the bedtime routine?
I know there are those who would argue that it is high time we did so, but I’m just not ready to give it up yet. The fact that each child gets one-on-one time with a parent every day may be one of the very reasons that these siblings get along so well. And the reading and the conversations are also still just too valuable. Our family isn’t perfect; we squabble and disagree and sometimes say things that we regret saying … but because of the bedtime routine, we end each day on a positive note. I see my children maturing daily in so many ways, and I know that the time will come when the bedtime routine will pass out of existence. I don’t need to force its demise; it will simply come about eventually. When that happens, I will probably feel a mixture of relief and regret. I will l still want to prioritize the things I value now about the bedtime routine: connection and conversation. I’ll just have to work a little harder to fit them into our busy lives.