I sleep well at night.
Let me just repeat that to all parents who whine about their kids not going to sleep, that every bedtime is a battleground, that nobody in their house has had a decent night’s sleep for years, or kids who wake them up too early: I sleep really well!
(actually, I’ve suffered from insomnia since childhood, so not every night’s sleep is good. Frequently, it is not. But hey, it ain’t because of my kid!)
Our Alice is pretty good when it comes to bedtimes. We have always, since she was a baby, put her to bed at 7:45pm (we start the ritual at 7:45pm, anyway. Usually once we’ve finished bathroom, teeth, pyjamas and story, she’s lights out at 8:30). Of course we sometimes have a bit of a battleground over teeth-brushing, or putting on pyjamas – who doesn’t? – but most of the time, it’s fairly straightforward. And she very rarely wakes before 7am. Maybe it’s because we put her to bed comparatively late? Or maybe we’re lucky and she just sleeps really well? I dunno. Ask a scientist who knows about shit like this.
Usually she goes to bed pretty smartly: Lights out, bit of singing to herself, and then sleepy-snooze time. Of course, there are nights when she doesn’t. She’s still wide awake from excitement, or she wants to finish watching a movie, or she wants a story-CD, or she wants the one part of her stuffed-toy menagerie that isn’t in the bed with her, or she claims to have a nightmare within 30 seconds of lights going out (“Daddy, I’m scared of ladders!”, “Daddy, what if a giant squid came in the room??!”, “Daddy, that man is staring at me from the garden again!” etc), or she just wants more attention from us (nearly always a combo of the others in order to get the latter). No matter what happens, I can always get her back to sleep – GUARANTEED.
This is where I have my one true piece of parenting genius (I’m really pleased about this. Incredibly pleased, in fact. Because this is it. I can’t do any other bit of parenting well, and I have no parenting hacks or tips… except for this):
I do her a deal.
“Daddy, Alice-cat* isn’t in bed with me. I want Alice-caaaaat!”
It’s past your bed time, sweetie…
“I WANT ALIIIIIICE-CAAAAAAAT!!”
OK, let’s do a deal.
“OK” (at this point, we sit side-by-side on the stairs. It’s rather sweet)
Here is the deal: I want you to lie in bed with your eyes closed. You cannot talk, you cannot sing, and you cannot kick the walls. You cannot shout out for us, or ask for help, unless you are in danger. You cannot open your eyes. You cannot get out of bed, unless you absolutely have to go to the toilet. If you break any of those rules, the deal is off. I will come in and check on you later. If you’re still awake, you can have Alice-cat.
How long shall I leave you for?
No chance, sunshine. Try again.
“How about 30 minutes?”
So, if you’re still awake after 30 minutes of lying quietly in the dark, then you can have Alice-Cat. That sounds good to me. Deal?
We even shake hands to seal the deal.
So she goes back to bed, I tuck her in, I remind her of the deal, and I go back downstairs, telling her as I leave the room that I’ll be back up in 30 minutes (depending on the terms of the deal. Sometimes the deal is negotiated for 20 minutes, sometimes 1 hour. It depends how much of a bastard I’m feeling, or how long I think it would take for her to go to bed). I then go back to watching the TV, or back onto the computer, or whatever it is I’m doing.
Let me tell you something: It has never failed. I don’t hear a peep for the rest of the night. She’s six, and we’ve been employing this strategy since she was about two, and capable of understanding negotiation.
But here’s my awful confession (Alice in the future, if you’re reading this, STOP NOW): I have never gone back to check on her. Not once. I have totally conned my daughter into giving me an evening’s peace and quiet, not just once, but for fucking years. And it’s deliberate. MWAHAHAHAHAAAA!!
Of course, I’ve told her all along that I always check on her after the allotted time. And she falls for it. Sucker.
Here’s how it works: It’s a catch-22 situation for her, but in a good way. Chances are, she keeps her eyes closed so she probably drifts off all by herself. You know what kids are like, they’re awake, loudly claiming they’re wide awake and that it is IMPOSSIBLE for them to get to sleep. 30 seconds later, “ZZZZZZZ“. They just need to calm the fuck down for a bit. So, eyes must be closed.
She can’t tell the time quite yet, and she’s not going to be wearing her glasses in bed. If she opens her eyes and looks at the clock, she’ll just see a fuzzy blur she can’t understand anyway. And if she says “but I looked at the clock…” I can always go “AHA! You didn’t have your eyes closed! DEAL’S OFF, MOTHERFUCKER!!” apart from that last bit.
If she gets out of bed for any reason other than toilet or mortal danger, the agreement is null and void. If she calls out that time is up, deal’s off. Any movement on her part beyond the confines of the bed completely breaks the terms of our verbal contract. Have you ever slept in a room without a clock? If you’re awake at any point you have no idea how long for. It could be 10 minutes, it could be three hours. When you’re six, your perception of time passing is skewed anyway. She can lie in bed awake for eight hours for all I care. She’s still in bed doing nothing very quietly and giving Sarah and I some peace and quiet.
Basically, it’s the perfect scam. She cannot win, except by going to sleep, in which case time passes for her and she wakes up all refreshed from a good night’s sleep. I get a hassle-free evening, and I pwn my kid to the maxxx. And you know what? I’m totally fine with it.
[sigh] “Totally fine“… look, it’s not nice to lie to my kid for years. I know that. I do feel a modicum (about 5%) of guilt. But then again, I have done it for the greater good.
When my wife does it, she mucks it up. She makes a deal for too short a time (10 minutes), and she always checks up on her, as agreed, which always has Alice sitting bolt-upright when the room is entered (a n00b’s mistake, frankly). As a result, because I was out last night, and Sarah made the deal, Alice got a story-CD at 10pm, and this morning she’s a sack of potatoes about getting up and dressed and off to school.
In a way this is actually fine if Sarah sticks to the literal terms of the contract, because Alice now has the illusion that the deal is always adhered to on our end. But for my part, it never is.
I dread the day she works this out. She will lose her fucking nut when she realises I’ve been deceiving her for years. And she’d have every right to feel angry about it, and for that, I’m sorry Future-Alice-Who-Is-Reading-This.
But it’s OK: My soul is prepared. There’s every chance she’ll never figure it out. Maybe she’ll reach the point where she gets old enough to manage her own bedtime, and put herself to bed. Maybe I’ll tell her when she’s 18, and then cackle in delight at the look of outrage and betrayal on her face as she loses her shit over it.
Here’s where I think we’ve succeeded: I started this when Alice was really young. Really young kids are easy to hoodwink, and the hustle can be kept up for at least another five years, maybe more. Try it out for the first time on an 8-year-old, you might not get the same result, because 8-year-olds have a certain amount of sass. Also, if Alice has a friend for a sleepover and if I made a deal with them to go to sleep, they might challenge each other to stay awake for as long as possible, and the ruse will be uncovered. We’ve set the guidelines to be as strict as possible, with no possible loopholes that Alice can see. She basically has no choice but to sleep. In the end, both Alice and I are winners.
So when you’re battling your three-year-old at 11pm, when they will not sleep, when they emerge from their rooms whining, and blearily demanding more hugs and stories and attention, when they will not go down peacefully without a struggle, when every bedtime is a nightmare, and your nights’ sleep/marriage/sanity/working day/sex life is being torn apart, just think of me having years of peaceful, uninterrupted evenings without any of this bullshit. Think of me, and realise this: I’m a fucking genius. Me. I’m brilliant. And I just give away brilliant parenting tips for free! Maybe you should write and thank me. I’m like Jesus in many ways…
OK, that’s it. You’ve had all my best parenting tips. All one of them. I’m literally all out of ideas. You’re not getting any more because there is nothing left.
*Alice-Cat. Microwavable water-bottle cover in the shape of a cat, named by Alice. It is rather flat, and looks like it has been squashed by a lorry. Filthy, stinky, covered in muck, uncomfortable, inexplicably much-loved by Alice.
Sarah’s response when she read this was “If you think Alice-Cat is filthy, put it in the wash!“