We have 4 children-- a 1st grader, twin preschoolers, and a toddler. I'm 28+ weeks pregnant and my husband is active duty Navy on submarines. When putting our children to bed, there are three different ways that it happens. The first is when I'm not pregnant and somewhat helpful in the evenings; this would be the two adults approach. The second happens either when I'm pregnant, exhausted, or my husband has been working really long hours and trying to squeeze in all the time he can with the kids. This is when Daddy puts the kids to bed. The third pretty much only happens when my husband works super late, has duty, or is underway. (For all you non-Navy folk, duty is when my husband stays the night on the submarine and underway-- or deployed-- is when the submarine is out to sea.) Bedtime has always been a "Daddy thing" at our house, so if he's home, he is in charge at bedtime and I just assist. With his Navy schedule, a lot of times he is coming home right when we start our bedtime routine or even sometimes after the boys are in pajamas. However, this is the "average" or "what we shoot for."
1. Two parents doing bedtime
This is the easiest approach for bedtime. We can relax in the evening and play outside all the way up to bedtime. We can snuggle and watch movies and ignore the dinner dishes for a bit. There is much more freedom when my husband and I work together to tackle bedtime with our boys. Even with both of us helping, we start moving towards our bedtime routine around 6:30 pm, 6:45 pm. This means we start wrapping up the activity that we were doing. If we were outside playing with toys or playing games in the loft, we start tidying up and so we can go to bed with clean spaces. We start our bedtime routine between 6:45 and 7:00 pm every night. We really make an effort to have all tidying up done by 7:00 pm because at some point in the day the boys are just over picking up toys and it becomes a battle of wills over the 3 toys left in the loft. This does mean that some days we have them go to bed with a bit of a mess to clean up the next day, but it also means a happier bedtime routine and-- possibly-- teaching them how to prioritize and-- maybe-- learning when to let some things slide (so we tell ourselves).
We are not a bath every night type family. We pretty much bathe the boys as needed. With our oldest now attending public school, we do have him bathe at least every other night (he is an active kid). We also make a point of bathing on Saturdays so every one is clean for church the next day. With our preschoolers and toddler... I'm not even going to post how often they get a bath. I will attempt to defend this by saying we have 3 kids with sensitive skin (one of them with eczema), but-- really-- we just don't bathe every.single.night. So... on bath nights we make sure to be upstairs to start the bedtime routine at the earlier time (6:45 pm) and on non-bath nights, it is 6:45/7:00 pm. Since 3 of our boys no longer nap and our toddler has frequently interrupted naps (ahem, thanks to his older brothers...), we sometimes choose the earlier bedtime just because they need to get to bed and we need the break.
Now that I've aired our dirty laundry... if we bathe the boys, we do it in two shifts. The first would be the bath shift and the second the shower shift. Our oldest showers himself. One of our preschoolers has started voicing a desire to do the same, so occasionally he joins the shower shift. For the most part, my husband brings them all upstairs and has them get undressed and then bathes the preschoolers and toddler. Then while he gets them all in pajamas, our 1st grader showers himself and does his pajamas and teeth brushing. After getting the preschoolers and toddler in pajamas, my husband often plays a couple games upstairs with the boys. They toss snowballs or do this little hide and seek game that they find amusing. Once the bathroom is open, he has our asthmatic preschooler do his inhaler (Flovent twice daily via an inhaler and a spacer for his asthma) and then both of the preschoolers go potty and brush teeth. This all usually wraps up around 7:20 or 7:30 pm.
If it is not a bath night, he heads upstairs with the boys around 6:45/7:00 pm and then plays a couple games with them. When they go upstairs, I tidy up downstairs. My husband is great about doing dinner dishes while I finish cooking and plating, but there is always one or two pots and pans left out, plus all of the dishes we used during the meal. I finish getting those in the dishwasher and finish tidying up downstairs while he does bedtime. As much as I hate doing dishes, it sure is nice having a little time to tidy up without helpers. Depending on what I got done that day, I wrap up my leftover chores while he does bedtime. We also set a time limit on the adults doing chores in our house. Once the kids are in bed, it is adult time-- no laundry, no dishes, no organizing. It is time to put our feet up and watch a show or read a book or stare vacantly at the wall (kind of just kidding about the last one...). Often times while he is reading stories, I'm moving and putting away laundry or organizing our bedroom (where I throw all random things during the day and close the door). On non-bath nights, he stops the games and shenanigans and starts having them all put on pajamas around 7:15/7:20 pm.
While the older 3 are putting away their towels and wrapping up teeth brushing, he starts the nebulizer treatment with our toddler (he takes twice daily Pulmicort treatments for his reactive airways). When they finish up, he has them all pick their bedtime story. Each boy gets to pick one bedtime story each evening. On bath nights, he tries to have them pick out shorter stories, just because bathtime takes longer than only putting on pajamas. This doesn't always happen because one of our boys is obsessed with Skippyjon Jones and those stories take awhile to read. Our toddler is still flighty enough that some days he picks out a book and some days he does not. After reading through each of their books, he has started reading them The One Year Book of Devotionals for Boys. He reads them their passage and then sends them all to wherever I am to get Momma kisses. Then they all head to their rooms to wait on their beds for their turn to be tucked in.
Most nights he puts the toddler to bed first. If my husband leaves the toddler out of bed, the toddler runs from room to room and makes everyone mad by touching their things. Or the toddler hunts me down so he can pull over my laundry piles or throw a fit because he knows bedtime is next. So the toddler goes to bed first. He says a quick prayer with him and does their little tuck in routine. Then he goes to the preschoolers' room and says prayers with each of them and does each of their tuck in routines. Finally he goes to our 1st grader's room and they do their prayers and tuck in routine. He saves our 1st grader for last because they like to chat about things and sometimes that takes awhile. If all the little boys are in bed, they don't have to worry about the time or rushing off to get other kids to bed. On a regular night, all the boys are in bed, lights out, by 7:45/8 pm. Our 1st grader has picked up reading after he goes to bed (or playing on his tablet). If I walk by around 8:30 pm and he's still on his tablet, I have him turn his lights out. However, if I see him with a book, I have a really hard time discouraging that and am prone to let him read as late as he wants-- true confession. Most nights, he turns his lights out by 8:20/8:40 pm on his own anyways and he is super quiet and well-behaved about his little privilege and so there are no complaints.
Sometimes when my husband finishes the bedtime routine I am still folding laundry in our room. Most often I've taken a shower or I'm waiting for him downstairs on the couch and we can start our show. Our favorite nights, surprisingly, are not the nights that the children are all in bed by 7:30/7:45 pm. At this point-- with a 1st grader, twin preschoolers, and a toddler-- for bedtime to happen that early, they have to be really grouchy. Those are the nights that we slump on the couch with relief that the evening is over and we just stare at the TV until one of us realizes we are watching Tiny House, Big Living re-runs. The best nights are when bedtime goes as we normally do it and he comes down from getting all 4 in bed, the kitchen is clean, the downstairs tidy, and we have a DVR full of new shows to watch together. We chat a bit. We catch up on a show together. We head upstairs around 9 or 10 pm, depending on his work schedule. I read. He falls asleep. I turn out the light around 10 or 10:30 pm-- all good. That adult time is our favorite time of day. Most weekends we watch a Netflix movie together-- a big splurge for us, as during the weeknights if we watch a movie we split it up over 2 nights (yes, we've hit the point in our lives where a single DVD takes us two nights to watch-- sigh).
2. Daddy doing bedtime
Hmmm. Bedtime routine lately has been different. I suppose this extends from the pregnancy to the first year with the baby, because I don't participate in the routine much during any of that. The biggest change is that instead of me getting things done while he does the bedtime routine, I'm laying on the couch with Braxton Hicks or locked in the bedroom nursing a baby. At least during the first year there is a chance I will fold laundry (or make an elaborate show of moving it about for awhile before shoving it in basket in the corner). During the pregnancy, the dishes get pushed aside until the next day; the laundry gets piled around our bedroom. It is a mess. The first trimester I was too sick to get much done; now in the third trimester, I'm usually exhausted from a long day with 4 kids and school pick up and drop off and errands and life. When my husband starts the bedtime routine, it is the perfect time for me to take a shower or finally ice/heat my back.
So, a lot of times, my husband sends the boys upstairs early, like right after dinner, and starts on the dishes. Sometimes he will even have them help put away or fold laundry before they do pajamas, which is just amazing. He doesn't always get all of these chores done (sometimes I get really behind on the laundry), but the fact that he even tackles most of the chore really impresses me. I love how caring my husband is and how he involves the kids in these chores. I see how they emulate him during the day with the love and care they put in to helping me. I think he has told them to make sure that I have water because they are always refilling my water glass or asking if I need to stop and buy a bottle of water, "Did you bring a water with you, Momma?"
Even with all of this stuff that isn't getting done during the day, we still stick to our 8 pm "no more chores" guideline. There are a few days where it is hard and we do finish dishes or fold a load of laundry after the kids are all in bed, but we try to do those things together then and use that time to talk. Well, doing the dishes pretty much ends up being me sitting at the island eating ice pops while he wraps up the dishes, but we do talk while he does that.
There have been plenty of days-- especially during the first trimester-- where I felt guilty over all of the things I hadn't finished that day. Now in the third trimester, I'm realizing that my body is just helping set the pace for the next couple months. When our fifth baby shows up and I'm nursing and school is out and my husband's work schedule continues to be crazy, the children will already be accustomed to this schedule where some things just have to wait. In the end, that's not a bad thing for anyone involved, even the adults. It teaches the children patience. It is hardest for us adults to extend ourselves grace when we have that shoulda/coulda/woulda feeling that, really, God calls us to let go of. On the hard days or the guilt ridden days where my husband walks in the door and I'm exhausted and he's exhausted and we are figuring out what we have to get done that evening, this is what we remind ourselves of. It really doesn't all have to get done and it is just a passing season.
3. Mommy doing bedtime
Aaaaargh! These are my least favorite times, when I'm putting the kids to bed. My husband works a lot of hours and so we've always viewed bedtime as "his bonding time." He comes home and wants to spend time with the children. While he may be tired, he's freshly dealing with them and trying to catch up on how their day went. They tell him long rambling stories during bathtime and they all cuddle close during storytime. I think for all of them-- my husband and the children-- the 20 minutes of playing games upstairs before the bedtime routine starts is the highlight of their day. There are a lot of days where their emotions are running high after a long day and he's exhausted after his long day and I'm exhausted after my long day, but even then it is a time where he puts forth the effort of being present. I love it (the one time of day that isn't my responsibility), they love it (time with Dad), and he loves it (time with his children).
When I am going to put the children to bed by myself, my favorite thing to do is a super early dinner. We eat around 4:30/5 pm. I clean up the dinner mess while they are still fairly fresh (or at least not in complete hysterics). Then, to get everyone out and break up the evening, we often go for a walk once the kitchen is clean. When we get home, depending on the time and weather, I let our 1st grader play basketball while I start getting the other 3 ready for bed. Once I have all 4 in pajamas, we come downstairs for a quick snack around 6:30 pm. I usually turn on a show while we eat our snack. The boys love Chopped Junior and Fixer Upper, so I keep a few episodes recorded for duty days. Then we head upstairs for medicine and teeth brushing a little after 7 pm. Because I often cut corners during the bedtime routine, I try to extend storytime as much as possible, especially when everyone is in good moods and completely ready for bed.
After stories, the boys all head to their beds to wait their turn to be tucked in. The toddler is pretty difficult for me to get to bed. We've made a lot of progress, but he prefers to have Daddy tuck him in and is quite vocal about it. I have discovered if I crack his door after laying him down, he will eventually fall asleep. I truly believe he lays in bed watching the door, waiting for Daddy to come in, before he dozes off. I say prayers and tuck the preschoolers in. Often I have to go back in to the toddler before tucking in our 1st grader. On duty days, our 1st grader usually ends up sleeping in my room. He helps me fold a load of laundry and we chat before we get in bed. With the pregnancy, I usually close up the house and read in bed after getting all the children to sleep. I'm usually pretty tired and have enough Braxton Hicks that I just want to rest.
When the boat is gone, we really try to stick to the routine we have going when Daddy is home. Obviously some evenings that just doesn't happen. I'm just one person and can't do it all. We did do Friday movie nights where we hunkered down early, partly as a treat to the boys and partly to give myself a "day off" from doing the bedtime routine. I have found that as this pregnancy progresses, I'm cutting myself more and more slack. We cut a lot of corners during the bedtime routine the past couple months. Cold and flu season hit us hard-- even flaring my asthma-- and so I would be administering Albuterol to 2 kids while trying to take it easy myself. The biggest key to the evenings when nothing is going well or easily is to keep my cool. Those times can be stressful and the boys are only following their "usual" routines. I try to give hugs freely, to let them know how much we love them, and to talk calmly. I don't want them to feel punished because their brother is sick and I want them to be understanding and compassionate when others need help. They have impressed me how much they have risen to the occasion. Sometimes our preschoolers teach us songs from their preschool or give us Bible lessons. Our 1st grader is always willing to read stories out loud and show us things on his tablet. I feel like how they approach those times takes those hard to get through moments and makes them teaching moments-- a chance for them to recall things they've learned, share their knowledge with each other, and to put other's needs above their own.
The hardest nights are when everything going wrong. When I have a toddler who's pulled off a stinky diaper and needs a bath, boys who are picking fights with each other and having bad, moody attitudes, and we still have an hour and a half before bedtime (or it is well past bedtime and we are still struggling to get pajamas on). Of course these are usually the times that someone starts puking too. The nights where I am so far past my limit and feel like I cannot deal with another whining, bickering fight... I usually have the boys do a quiet time. I take care of what I have to get done (bathe the toddler, for instance) and then I figure out what doesn't have to happen until tomorrow, even if that means leaving a table covered in dishes. If it is late enough, I have everyone get pajamas on in their rooms and read one story with each of the boys in their own rooms. If there is still a long time until bedtime, I do pajamas and watch a show with them or-- depending on why everyone was sent to their rooms-- a really early bedtime. Thankfully these nights do not happen that often. I'm not saying bedtime routine always goes smoothly or easily, but these type of epic nights are not the norm. These are the nights that, even if my spouse was home, bedtime wouldn't be easy. When I have a night like this when he's on duty, I tend to laugh about it after everyone is in bed. Work has been crazy for my husband lately and so the stories of, "Well, here's how it was going at home..." make him laugh. When I have nights like this when he's underway, I have been known to call my mom when it is really late in her time zone so I can cry and say, "You won't believe what they did tonight!" Then normally she can help me laugh about them the next day when I call her again-- first thing in the morning.
Do you have a bedtime routine at your house? What is your favorite part of the bedtime routine? How do you get through the bedtime routine when your day gets derailed?