August 20, 2008

Reader Question: The Bedtime Routine

Becky writes:
hi swistle!
so, i am reading this whole post about having a second child and why people do it, and how people do it (because with jack's birthday coming up next week, we are at the point when we said we would start thinking about it) and it got me wondering how you guys get all those kids to bed at night! i mean, i can see the older ones maybe going to bed on their own, maybe, but you have a few young ones there, and had a real tiny baby not that long ago (he is getting so big so quickly it blows my mind!) (my mind is pretty well blown by the fact that i practically have a toddler now though too!). in any case, this is basically another one of those "how do you it?" emails.


And Meredith asked me about the afternoon/dinner/bed schedule ages ago, back when I did the Here's the Hell How post, and I was all, "Yes, I'll totally do a post on that! Totally!"---and that was in February and here we are in August.

So. Bedtime routine. Paul gets home from work at around 4:45. He plays with the kids for awhile, and since this is the first time all day there has been more than one adult in the house, I usually use this time to do things that are tricky to handle with one person in charge: looking in the basement for something I'm not quite sure where I put it, washing the dishes, feeding my Facebook pets, eating cookies with no one watching, etc.

Paul usually makes the kids' dinner; he starts at about 5:10. It has to be done while we're both home (I can cook on my own with five kids in the house, but only if I can also scream and throw dishes and swig directly from an open bottle of hard liquor), and he likes that chore better than others, so it's mostly his. It's something simple: eggs and toast and sausage, or english muffin pizzas, or chicken cut up for dipping in sauces, or chicken and scrambled egg and rice. While Paul cooks, I'm in charge of the other kids, although he's always got Elizabeth because she likes to help him.


Rob and William are responsible for tidying up before dinner. They're supposed to basically remove all the day's Kid Detritus from the main living areas of the house---the rooms we still have to look at after the kids are in bed. Rob and William resent that this means they're picking up after the younger three, but recently the twins have been able to help some, and also our attitude about this is NOT MUCH SYMPATHY for children who don't exactly have to work on the farm around here.

When dinner is ready (5:30/5:45ish), whichever parent didn't cook is in charge of supervising Henry in his high chair, and Paul and I both handle requests for more milk, dropped fork, more food, tattling about who put whose carrots on whose plate, etc. It's common for one of us to be able to leave for something brief: checking email, cycling laundry, finally using the bathroom without a buddy, etc.---but we both know not to be gone too long, or the other person gets Resentful Feelings.

After dinner, the kids clear their own dishes; I help out if there's a leftover-food issue to deal with. The parent in charge of Henry (usually me) cleans up Henry and his high chair and swabs at the faces of anyone else who needs it. Sometimes there's a little loose time here if the kids ate fast or if we had dinner earlier than usual, and in that case if I'm feeling energetic I might give a fast bath (just washing, not playing) to two of the Littles (two is my usual limit per session), but it's more typical for it to be about 6:00 and time for the getting-ready-for-bed routine.


Paul changes Henry and Edward into their pajamas. Meanwhile, I brush five sets of teeth: I call the kids in one after another, and then go find Henry and make a stab at reaching some of his. After Rob and William have their teeth brushed, they go get themselves into their pajamas. When everyone's teeth are brushed, I help Elizabeth into her pajamas (she likes to do it "herself," meaning it takes ten times as long and requires four times as much work from me).

At 6:30, Paul and Rob and William go to Rob's room, where Paul reads to them. I stay with the younger three. Sometimes they're playing and I read; sometimes they're watching TV and I'm at my computer; sometimes they're playing and I'm fixing my dinner; sometimes I'm reading to them; sometimes I'm handling some sort of last-minute issue (someone needed a bath, someone wanted to try the potty, someone needed a diaper change, someone's teeth weren't brushed yet).

At 6:45, I put Edward and Henry to bed. It takes a little over 5 minutes to settle them in with their various things: kisses and hugges, blankies, covers, etc. Elizabeth acts as if she's another grown-up: wishing them good-night, closing the door, etc.

It hasn't always been this way, but these days one of us sits with Elizabeth until she falls asleep. This has changed everything around: we used to put Edward and Henry to bed at 7:00, but we start earlier so we can also start earlier with Elizabeth. Paul and I take turns sitting with her. It's a lottery: some nights she's asleep in 10 minutes, and some nights it's 45. The most common is for the parent on Elizabeth Duty to be sneaking out of her room at 7:15 or 7:20.

After their book time with Paul, Rob and William are allowed to stay up---but they have to be playing quietly in the downstairs playroom (a rec room type area with a Lego table, a computer, board games) or in their rooms (well, William's room has sleeping children in it, so our room is his room if he needs it). They're allowed to come up for emergencies (blood, fire, burglars, flood) and every half hour to go to the bathroom (which always turns into a "just wanting to say one thing" opportunity), but otherwise they're not supposed to be underfoot or making demands. On school nights, their "no, really, now you actually have to go to bed" time is 8:30 (non-school nights: 9:00), but then we let Rob read in bed after that and we don't look carefully at when he turns out the lights: reading = good, and also he's always had trouble sleeping.

So to sum up: we're in motion with the dinner/bed routine from about 5:10 until about 6:45; then only one of us is busy until around 7:20; and then we're both basically free for the evening.

43 comments:

Nowheymama said...

I LOVE it when you do posts like this! It's so great to get ideas and also to see how another family handles their daily routines.

el-e-e said...

It AMAZES me that you're basically done by 7:15. It amazes me that anyone can put their kids in bed before 7, actually -- what time do they wake up in the morning? OH wait, don't answer that, I'll go read "Here's the Hell How."

Anyway, very good stuff. FUNNY (and SMART) how you attempt to avoid Resentful Feelings. ;)

Fine For Now said...

I love it too! I also love your no-nonsense attitude! I hope that is going to be me one day :)

Swistle said...

El-e-e- I might not have said what wake-up time was in that post, or it might have changed, so I'll answer it here. Right now, the little kids are waking up in the 6:45-7:15ish range. Elizabeth sometimes gets up earlier if I get up earlier: she's a light sleeper and sensitive to People Enjoying Life Without Her.

Allstarme79 said...

OBVIOUSLY I only have one kid but people are constantly wondering when I have time to do stuff. Non-parent people. It's do-able and I see that you guys have a great routine down. My son's in bed by 8 and then I am free as well. Makes me feel better that with the next one, there will be a point where I'll be free again.

Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas said...

Whew. I'm exhausted just reading it.

Jess said...

Elizabeth is too cute with all her things she insists on and all her adorable mannerisms.

Simply AnonyMom said...

You always have such good advice. It is truely fun reading your blog. I have awarded you an award. Claim it here if you wish:

http://simplyanonymom.blogspot.com/2008/08/you-like-me-you-really-really-like-me.html

t2ed said...

Cereal, I can barely manage myself and the dog on a daily basis. Luckily, we've both learned to poop outside so that helps.

Jen said...

i'm so jealous of your early bedtimes. mine used to go down between 630 and 7 and somehow it's creeped out to 9 or 930, sometimes even 10! plus, still nursing too, good grief!

thanks for this regardless - there are always valuable nuggets for me to tuck away in your how-the-hell posts.

(also my word verification is "vnoooo" which is just one letter away from what deven says when i try and put her to bed without nursing.)

nonsoccermom said...

Wow! I'm impressed! That is awesome that you are essentially done by 7:15 or so. My oldest doesn't get his bath until 7:35 (but luckily is a SLAVE to the clock so there is never an argument) so I am never done until about 8:15 or so. Still not a bad deal though, I LOVE THE ME TIME. Particularly this week when hubby is working late.

McMama said...

Man, my hubby's not home until 6:15, 6:20, so we're lucky if our 3 y/o is in bed before 8 most nights. I'm amazed that you get it done with 5 kids!

Swistle, I need to tell you something serious. Please stop telling us how you do it, because you make it look SO EASY that it drives me to the point of insanity - i.e. thinking maybe WE could handle more children. We can't (I CAN'T!).

Julie said...

So. very. jealous. Every night is still a battle my two. They just refuse to sleep. I keep telling them they're not missing anything...I usually fall asleep on the sofa trying to stay awake until the weather on the nightly news!

Alice said...

i am SO IMPRESSED. also i love how elizabeth wants to be involved in the In Charge parts :-)

Kelsey said...

Methinks my children need earlier bed times! Actually, Harper's normally in bed by 8 and Michael gets a pass for being an infant still.

I think the lack of kids to deal with beyond 7;20 or so must be an important coping mechanism for having five of them!

mamma knows said...

Love your schedule, here's our problem...our just turned three year old is not normal in the sleeping department, if she went down at 7pm she would seriously be up by 3am for the day...oh how I miss my evenings. I will get them back someday, right? Oh and I love hearing about how other people do it! Thanks.

rebcram said...

Wow, you've got it down! I only have two kids, but we are usually done by 7:30 also. My six-month old baby goes to bed at 6:00 pm and my 3-year old is in the bath by 7:00 and in bed by 7:30.

I love, LOVE having evenings again.

Swistle said...

McMama- It DEFINITELY helps us that Paul gets home early: he's gone for work in the morning before we're awake, but he's home at 4:45. I think it makes the whole evening routine work better.

Also: *whispering seductively in your ear* you cannnnnnn!....you cannnnnn!

Mairzy said...

To sum up, if you've got several kids, it's a two-parent job to get everything done at least once during the day. I love how Paul is half of your bedtime plan. August is the same: without his help, I'd have stopped... oh, three kids ago?

MaryB said...

Oh how i miss these days!!!! Kids in bed - nights to ourselves...those were the days! Now it is all homework hell and activites and meetings and no time to ourselves. Want to switch?

d e v a n said...

wow - my kids often go to bed between 7-8, but almost never sleep past 6. I'd be happy if they just slept TILL 6.

the new girl said...

OMG, how much do I love these posts? Isn't that a little nutty? Basically, though, I guess it's the premise behind *reality* TV.

The Swistle Show would be a good one.

Anonymous Her said...

Great post! I love how dh cooks dinner most nights!

Cherish said...

kudos for having such a great routine in place. I know that without my alone time each evening I am not a nice person to be around so we stick to a similar schedule although I aim for 8.

Linda said...

Fascinating. Love posts like this.

One of the biggest drawbacks of my husband's job is the commute. He leaves around 5:30, but doesn't get home till almost 6:30. We eat as soon as he gets home, but bedtime isn't until 8/8:30. If we had an early bedtime, he'd never see our kids. I WISH DESPERATELY he'd get home earlier. It would open up the whole evening!

Mommy Daisy said...

I love how you and Paul see that there is a great need to have the children in bed (or older ones occupied) so you can have downtime for yourselves. This is terribly important in our house too and only with one kid. I need time to relax and unwind by myself and also to spend time with my husband. Toys are all put away and bedtime is 8:00 (closer to 8:30 this summer since he hasn't been sleeping). This is a must for us. We start to lose patients fast after that.

You accomplish the same thing as us with 5 kids. You have a wonderful husband and work well as a team.

Sam said...

You are Every Woman! I love how you manage the flow. Tell me how you managed to cook supper with one kid, will you? Because I think I'm going to have a small breakdown trying to make sure he doesn't climb into the oven when my back is turned.

Meredith said...

I LOVE Elizabeth's tights! What a cutie.

Thanks for telling us all about your evening routine. I am nosy, but I also just need reassurance that it can be done (with five kids). Just imagine how easy it will be when all the kids are older! Do you dream about the day when you can say, "Okay, everyone go get ready for bed," and it just happens?

Also - I love the picture of the toothbrushes.

Marie said...

Wow. Am simply amazed. I need to go take a nap now just from reading this.

Erin said...

I read this post this morning and I have been thinking about it ALL DAY. This is really fascinating to me. Your routines are similar to ours (minus three of the children) and I just find it SO INTERESTING how things work with other families.

I'm writing my own version of this post tomorrow morning.

Dynamita said...

I have one word for you: WOW

drowninginlaundry said...

We only have one 2 year old boy and his bedtime is a rough 8:30. Usually it is up the stairs for a bath at 7:30 and then he can either play a bit or watch an episode of his "Guys" AKA Backyardigans and have a snack. Then Daddy brushes his teeth and we read one story do hugs and kisses, tuck in his baby and say NIght NIght SleepyHead a dozen times. He goes to bed well and gets up at 7:30 am.

Dinner is usually my job - but in the summer Daddy does most the work by BBQ'ing almost every night he is home.

Having the husband involved makes it so much easier doesn't it?

Omaha Mama said...

It seems like you and Paul have great teamwork - that's awesome! We have a pretty good routine, but it seems like the Hubs and I are always trying to steal a little unapproved me time, leaving other spouses who are not getting such time resentful and maybe crabby. It happens a few times a week. My kids also tend to fuss a bit as they are falling asleep, so they may be in bed by 8, but not falling asleep until a 1/2 hour later sometimes.

Kristin.... said...

I am SO GLAD to know I am not the only one who gets their kids to bed early. Phew. My twins go to bed around 6:45-7, and then the two older ones get some one-on-one time with me and my husband (i read to my daughter, he reads and/or plays with my son), and the whole thing is done by 7:45.

I hate trying to cook before my husband gets home. He usually does the cooking to save my sanity (ok, so what's left of it anyway).

And yes, Resentful Feelings; I so get that!

Pann said...

ooooh..... you touched on one thing I am always wanting to know.... what is for dinner??

The more kids one has, I have always assumed that means that you have to just eat what's for dinner and that's that.

I have two kids. They don't like the same things. The hubby has his own prefs, too, and I'm a semi-vegetarian. This can make meals.... um, daunting. AND my husband is NEVER at home to cook dinner, and I work until 6 PM.

Sorry, lost control and launched into rant. I apologize.

Anyway... what's for dinner would be a great post too!

Misty said...

Wait. What about homework? And do the kids get to play outside? Does that happen before Paul gets home?

I bet it does. We spend over an hour on homework every single night.

Swistle said...

Misty- Yes, homework is before Paul gets home. They have a snack and then sometimes get to run around for awhile outside, and then we get cracking on the homework. ...I hate afternoons.

desperate housewife said...

I can't believe your little ones are in bed by seven-ish! This has absolutely never worked around here. Until she was six months, one of us would have to stay up with Addy until midnight, because she was just ALWAYS wide awake that late. Eventually we got her pared down to about eight thirty (over a process of TWO YEARS!) but at least she'll sleep until at least eight o' clock in the morning. I think I'd rather have late nights than early mornings, for me. Am not morning person in any way.

Michelle said...

Wow. I'm exhausted just reading this even though the majority of your routine ends at 7:30. It's a busy patch until you get there! We do much of the same, althoug with only two. But somehow, it still takes us just as long!

So how do you deal with the myriad likes and dislikes of food, or is that covered in the types of food that Paul makes for everyone? I'm doing my best to try to widen the palates of the wee ones, but it's definitely hit or miss! What's your food theory? Do you have any allergies in the household?

Swistle said...

Pann & Michelle- We make pretty simple chow. Scrambled eggs and toast and sausage. Spanish rice (the kind with meat). Chicken and rice. Chicken pieces cut up to dip in mustard. Fish sticks and tater tots (OH YES). Toasted cheese sandwiches. Snack platters: cheese cubes, cut-up fruit, yogurt, peanuts, raisins, whatever else catches our eye. English muffin pizzas. Soft tacos. Ravioli. Noodles with red sauce.

BUT. Because we make simple/kid-palate stuff, we don't do any special orders. Like, if we were serving sharp cheddar cheese soup and shrimp, I'd probably have mercy---but when a kid protests macaroni and cheese, it's hard to work up any pity.

We usually serve more than one food at a meal (like, Spanish rice might stand alone, but toasted cheese sandwiches would have sides of strawberries and carrots or whatever), so they can eat what they DO like and leave the rest if they want to---but we don't make them something else instead.

We don't have any food allergies in the household, which helps tremendously.

bessie.viola said...

I am LOL'ing at Resentful Feelings. Really, just rolling in my chair over this.

I have got to share this with my husband.

You guys manage it all so well - kudos!!

Jen said...

WOW. I can't believe how early you are done with the bedtime routine! I only have 2, and it seems like we are still at it at 8:30 every night. Well, let me revise that: when I am in charge of bedtime, it concludes at NLT 8pm. When my husband is in charge, all bets are off.

Farrell said...

WOW. This is highly enlightening. My problem as a single parent is that well, I am always ON DUTY. And while it's true I only have one who is almost 4, she is HIGH MAINTENANCE (must get it from her father). Also, we don't get home until 5:45-6 and I usually throw her in the shower (not literally) with me around 7:30 and then we do PJs and teeth and reading and snack and it's 8:30 almost 9 by the time she's in bed, and I just can't seem to get that time down anymore, and even if i did, i would still feel as if i had no time with her in the evening, because it is so SHORT.