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7 Ways To Survive The Bedtime Routine

Bed time, that magic time every day when you get your life back for a few hours. Our resident Dad, Pat Fitzpatrick, shares what he knows in this 7 Step Survival Guide. 

1. What time is bedtime?

Obviously, it varies depending on their age and how many box sets you plan to watch before going to bed yourself. Our two, aged 3 and 5, go at 7:30 pm. This gives us two hours of adult time, by which I mean stuffing our faces with chocolate and four episodes of Top of the Lake.

A word for anyone who reckons that delaying bedtime by an hour will give you an extra hour in bed the following morning. The word is sorry. That’s not how it works. Mess with their bedtime and anything could happen. Except for that morning sex you had planned, because your son bounced into your bedroom at 6:30 am. But we put him to bed an hour late, says you, wondering if you’d get more action by joining the monks. 

2. The Routine

It seems to me that kids will go along with anything, as long as they are expecting it to happen. We read books and have a chat every night and they head for the room fairly willingly. But if we slaughtered a little goat at 7:15 every night, they’d probably also see that as a sign that it’s time for bed. (As long as they didn’t get too attached to the little goat.)

So figure out what works for you. And, if you have boys, stick to it. From what I’ve seen and heard, boys are sticklers for detail. Which is a nice way of saying, if everything isn’t just so at bedtime, your little Jack will do his nut. 

Once the story and chat is over, our little boy has to be taken to the bedroom, where he lists out the colours of the letters of his name on the door, getting each one wrong deliberately. Then he turns the light on, off, on, off. Then he is ready for bed. Any deviation and he goes bananas. The problem is he doesn’t go bananas there and then; he waits until you are just about to eat that first bar of chocolate. That’s a heartbreaker. So stick with the routine. 

3. Sing out loud

Don’t ask me why, but the sound of me croaking my way through Edelweiss every night tends to reassure the kids. If I tried it outside the house, I’d probably be issued with a barring order. 

Another popular request at bedtime is the song they sing at the end of In The Night Garden, on CBeebies. It’s one of those songs you can sing even if you don’t have a note in your head, like the Fields of Athenry. That’s the end of my repertoire except for a few Pulp songs and it would look weird if I stood there singing Sorted for E’s and Wizz to my kids. At this point, I leave the room, so my wife can sing a final song about dinosaurs and I can start taking the secret chocolate stash out of hiding. It’s hard to know which one of these jobs is more important. 

4. Bathtime?

I’d say American kids must be very clean. All those U.S. parenting sites with ‘5 things to help your baby sleep’ articles say you should give them a bath every night. They usually come with a photo of a baby sitting in the bath, while his hot mother smiles at him, with a little bit of suds on her perfect nose. (I’d say she’s had work done.) There is often a hot hipster Dad in the photo as well, looking very pleased with himself. 

Maybe that is how bath-time works on the other side of the Atlantic. Maybe the children there don’t get soap in their eyes or wriggle like crazy and have a conniption when it’s time to rinse their hair. Or maybe this is all a myth to sell expensive shower gel for kids. 

We give ours a bath once a week, whether they need it or not. Their mother does all the hard work, with a carefully honed shower routine that doesn’t end in tears, involving ducks and dinosaurs that must be washed as well. It all works nicely and they are fit for human company for another week. (Unless one of them gets the runs, in which case they get a quick hose down just in case.)

5. The Hour Change

Here is what I know about people who say the hour going forward doesn’t affect their life – they don’t have kids. We worked hard over one winter to establish a routine that had our kids in bed for 7 pm. And then the hour went forward. 

So 7 pm is really only 6 pm, as far as they are concerned. Confusing, isn’t it. Try and explain it to a crazed toddler at 9 pm, which is really 8 pm, from where he’s bouncing. At least he won’t wake until 8 am tomorrow morning, says you, not really thinking it through.

Because then October rolls around, and the hour goes back again. So now, your child, who had got used to going to bed at 7:30 pm during the summer, wants to hit the sack at 6:30. (If he doesn’t hit the sack, he’ll hit you.)  That’s good -  it gives you an extra hour of chocolate and Facebook. What isn’t good is 6 am the next morning, which is 7 am in crazed toddler real time. That’s the time he gets up. As they say on Game of Thrones, winter is coming. 

6. Keep it Down

They should make a horror movie about 7:40 pm in our house. It would be called I Think They’ve Gone to Sleep. 

It’s like this. If they get through the next five minutes without crying out “I can’t find ducky”, they’ll probably sleep all night. The tension is unbearable. I’ve developed this new, ultra-silent version of shallow breathing like they probably used in Alien when the creature was two feet away. Sometimes I don’t get enough oxygen and nearly pass out, but it’s worth it if they drift off to dreamland. 

The key is to make it through that 15 minutes after they go down. Then you can make as much noise as you like. We live right next to Cork City’s football ground, which lets out a fair roar for a home goal. This doesn’t wake them. Neither does the annoying guy on the PA system, reading out the same long-winded message every week, about respecting local residents on the way home. 

Once the kids are gone, they’re gone. As long as you don’t make too much noise opening a bag of crisps. You’d be surprised how that can burrow into a sleeping child’s ear and whisper, “Wake up, they’re in there, eating crisps.”

7. You’re Up

It isn’t always like this. Sometimes they wake up an hour after going to bed, particularly if they think you are enjoying yourself. This kicks off a game of Pretending Not To Hear Them In The Hope That My Partner Will Go In Instead. 

Here’s how that pans out. You take out your phone and pretend to read something on Facebook. Your wife says, Are you not going to go in and see what’s wrong? You say I went in the last time. She says, I went in the two times before that and anyway I had to push them out in the maternity hospital. You say it’s not my fault you’re the one with the womb.

The good news is that by now your child has probably stopped crying. The bad news is your wife hates you and there’s no sex for a week. So, here’s my advice. The second you hear a murmur from the kids, take out your phone and set the timer to five minutes. There is to be no talking or going into the child during this time unless you suspect there might be a fire. 9 times out of 10, the child will be back asleep when the five minutes is up. And you’re still on for some sex. 

What do you think of Pat's tips?! Let us know in the comments.

About the Author

Pat Fitzpatrick lives in Cork city with his wife and two small kids. He gave up a decent job in I.T. in 2008 to head for the lucrative world of writing. So don't hire him as a life coach, investment advisor or anything to do with your career. His Sunday Independent newspaper columns have been entertaining Irish people through some tough times. Pat is a regular on the on the RTE Today show with Maura Derrane and Daithí O’Sé and pops up frequently on radio shows such as the Right Hook. All of this is a bit too much like hard work, so he has started writing novels which will hopefully fund an early retirement to a hammock in the back garden. His first novel, Keep Away from those Ferraris, is available online and in shops outlined here http://www.patfitzpatrick.ie/novels/. Pat’s kids are both under two, so if you don’t mind, he is now going for a quick lie down.

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