Well, I guess I finally figured it out – again. What I’ve been seeking and finding and forgetting over and over again for years, the very “Secret of Happy Parenting” itself….. (drumroll, please)……an EARLY BEDTIME!!!! If we’ve heard it once we’ve heard it a thousand times as parents*: Kids need their sleep! Duh, Duh, Duh….happier, better behaved children, more time and sleep for Mommy, more peaceful and relaxing evenings, fewer tantrums the next day (here’s hoping). Since we have been “Counting to Christmas” for the last 19 days and Mommy’s been planning lots of fun activities and outings for the kids, I have been a little lax on bedtime, and really been pushing the kids and all of us over our limit. I’m not talking LATE, I’m talking doing some fun family activity from 6-8, and then struggling/ fussing/ fighting through bedtime, dropping the reading and adding the yelling (by exhausted children and parents) 8:30 instead of being in bed by 6:15 for reading and chat and snuggle and falling asleep by 7:00.
This morning I was complaining to someone about unpleasant parenting has been for me lately – so much struggle and misbehavior over little things, so much whining, so much sibling conflict. I was complaining about how I have so much fun with my students at school everyday – playing games, singing, and dancing, but my kids seem to sabotage all the fun I want to have with them after school! And this morning after Ellie got up whining and fussing, then had a breakdown and was forced back to bed where she fell asleep for another hour, this was my clue that she wasn’t getting enough sleep. Duh! I guess another clue was the breakdown at the neighborhood 12 Days of Christmas display last night where she “faked” a fall, blaming Brother and sobbing inconsolably all the way home in our friend’s minivan because she missed the “12 drummers drumming”. So, today, I changed our plans for the evening. (Good thing the plans are usually a surprise for the kids, so they never knew.)
Today I needed some “good time” with my kids. I needed to restore bedtime to a time of love and relaxation, of happiness and “all is well”. Instead of attending a 6:00 Los Posadas Nativity (which would have been just lovely, but followed by the opposite of “heavenly peace”), we decorated gingerbread houses together after school, had long relaxing baths at 5:00, had dinner on my new “M” cheese board (teacher gift!) in front of the “Santa Tracker” station, met in Mommy’s bed for a couple of Christmas books, and the kids were both asleep by 7:00, at which point I had to do a little happy dance! Throughout the evening, I told them that they were doing a great job “keeping Mommy happy” (a wise rule for kids to strive for so that they get to do fun things – thanks, Uncle Jake) by cooperating and getting along so well. Once they’d gotten all their evening chores done (teeth brushed, etc.), I rewarded them with little wind-up toys from the Dollar Store prize bin, but my reward was an evening of joyful, peaceful (if a few assertive) moments with my kids.
Perhaps part of the secret to my happier parenting today was also the fact that I had the day off, and so I had more energy to spend on my own kids, and on better discipline for them. at the first annoying squabble over gumdrops and icing, I immediately and calmly escorted both of them to their separate rooms to cool down, declaring “No fussing, be kind“.Often, I just start pleading, then yelling over them instead, too worn out to try to follow through with consequences. But, of course, this doesn’t help – they start blaming each other, getting louder and angrier, and everything escalates. But this time they played quietly in their rooms for a few minutes, and much to my relief, when I “released” them repeating the words, “No fussing, be kind”, they returned to the ginger bread houses complimenting each other’s work, and passing M & M’s. I had no issues the rest of the night between them! (Incredible!) This little Mommy triumph inspired me to try tackling another issue later – the need that both of them have for me to lie down with them until they are nearly asleep (a very time-consuming habit). Since I can’t be in two places at once (despite my best efforts), and since they only keep each other awake when trying to share a bed, I declared a new rule tonight. Mommy will tuck them both in separately, sharing our “good things”, lullaby, and prayer, but I will not lie down with them. They both fussed and cried for a few minutes, but both the kids were asleep by 7:00. I didn’t even get a chance to “tuck in” Ellie, as she fell asleep in the 4 minutes it took me to retrieve her “lamb-y” out of the car.
Who knows how well I’ll stick to the lessons I’ve learned from my parenting revelations today. But tonight this “mostly good” Mommy is just thankful for a “mostly good” day with my kids.
*There was yet another story about it this week that I heard on NPR about the importance of consistent bedtimes for the health of our children, as being even more important than total hours of sleep. Listen to or read the Story on Regular Bedtimes (it’s short).