Having been inundated with it from all sides when our two children were young, and despite the fact that both are now healthy, functioning adults with jobs and spouses, I have never presumed to give unsolicited parenting advice. After all, parenting styles are many and varied as are children’s personalities and temperaments Even on those very few occasions when it was solicited, I generally took pains to disclaim any authority on the subject.
I suppose my personal parenting style could be described as a combination of Lots of hugs and goofing around and praise when it was earned with Because I’m the father and you are the kid and I said so. Period. built on a base of logic and common sense. I’d never claim it was the perfect system, but it worked for us, and the results speak for themselves.
The reason I bring all that up is a short piece I found in the newspaper this morning about a new book, available June 14, by Adam Mansbach titled Go the F**k to Sleep. More to the point, it was this passage from the article that has prompted me to break my rule and offer Mansbach and those who parent similarly, some unsolicited parenting advice:
Mansbach, who just finished a two-year visiting-professor stint at Rutgers University, says he was inspired to write the book by his 3-year-old daughter, Vivien. “There were those moments, when she’s not rolling around, sitting up. Her breathing got slow and I’d convince myself, this is it,’’ he said. “Then I’d make that fatal mistake, trying to sneak out early. You know you shouldn’t, but you really want to get out of there. And she’d wake up.’’
As soon as I read that, I understood that Mansbach was one of those parents who think they must pacify their child to sleep each night, remaining with them until the reassurance of their presence soothes their little darling into slumberland.
No wonder he’s using the F-word in the title of the book. Of course, his problem was entirely of his own making. He trained young Vivian to feel entitled to his presence every night as she fell asleep and then didn’t want to live with the unintended consequences — that she’d actually feel entitled and not respond well if his presence wasn’t provided.
We handled bedtime a little differently.
When the kids were newborns, they most often fell asleep while feeding. I imagine that’s true of most newborns. For a few months, we’d rock or cradle them in our arms until they drifted off. Then that stopped, unless they were sick. At bedtime (which still varied somewhat until we got each on a schedule), we put them in the crib, tucked them in, and said good night. As I recall, our son cried for awhile the first couple of nights, but soon learned that crib plus dark equaled sleep. Our daughter followed a similar pattern.
By the time they were a year old, though, bedtime had been established as 7 PM. We’d read a book or tell a story or sing some songs or act out a little play with a stuffed animal until 7:30 when it was lights out. Early on, they mostly went right to sleep, probably because we never made them take naps during the day once they were walking.
At some point as they got older, we heard the inevitable “But I’m not tired” or some variation thereof. That was when each was advised of the rule — you don’t have to go to sleep but you do have to stay in the bed. By that time in their young lives, they’d each become aware of “the look” and that unpleasantness would follow if they disregarded it. So they stayed in their beds. Mostly.
As they got older, bedtimes got later, and the rule changed from stay in the bed to stay in your room, but the result was the same. And never did either Martha or I ever think the words “go the f**k to sleep” much less feel inspired by misery to write a book so titled.
I don’t know if our system will work for others. As I said above, parents and kids are all different. But I do believe that children want, and need, parents, not grown-up friends. That is a role best played by grandparents or a favorite aunt or uncle.
But I’m very curious about how you handle bedtime or how you handled bedtime when your kids were young.
What did you do at different ages? How did they respond? Were you more like us or like Mansbach?
And if your children now have children, have they carried forward your bedtime rituals or come up with new ones?