Hi, I’m Ashley. And I’m Rachel. Welcome to our series, CapitalMOM Real Life Conversations. This week, we’re going to be talking about bedtime routines—how they’re different for every family, but ultimately how we use this time to connect with our children in different ways. We’ll talk about different age ranges because we have ages from one to nine.

Glimmers & Dimmers in May

So, first is our glimmer and our dimmer. Today, we both have glimmers.

Ashlee’s Recent Glimmer

Mine’s super short and sweet. My three-year-old has had a really hard time staying in his bed—not a crib anymore—and sleeping through the night. I had a really long stretch of not good sleep. It was very interrupted, and I was always taking him back to his bed. I was having to take him back so many times a night that I eventually just gave up and let him sleep in my bed for a little while.

To fix this, my amazing husband has been sleeping on a pad in our hallway for the last three days to catch our son before he comes out of his room. That way, I can get some sleep. Both of us have been happier together because of it. So, thank you, John, and a huge thanks to all the parents that support their partners’ sleep. It makes a big difference.

Rachel’s Recent Glimmer

Mine is going to be short and sweet this week, too. My little one-year-old, who’s almost two in July, has just had an explosion of language recently. It’s the cutest thing ever. I love the one to two-and-a-half-year-old stage where they’re learning so much.

My daughter is very into Elsa in Frozen right now. We started with Moana, but our whole family got sick of it, so we transitioned. So now, she has three Elsa dresses, and she sings all the songs with big arm motions.

The new thing that she does is she’ll come up to us and say, “Question?” I’ll say, “Yes? What’s your question?” She’ll reply, “Snowman?” Like, “Do you want to build a snowman?” from Frozen. And then she starts singing, but she doesn’t know all the words, so she just kind of gets the last word of every line—play, anymore, door. And then she’ll go, “Yay!” and everyone will clap for her. I could just bottle that moment up forever and ever.

Sometimes if I need a little smile, I’ll ask Finley, “Do you have a question?” just to hear it again.

A Variety of Kids’ Bedtime Routines

First, we just want to acknowledge that bedtime routines can vary. All of them can look differently, and all of them can still work beautifully for your family. It just depends on what it is that you want.

But what we try to focus on ourselves is at least just having it be purposeful in how it looks and then trying to make it connecting with each of our kids individually.

Ashlee’s Family Bedtime Routine

I have three kiddos aged three, seven, and nine. So obviously, bedtime looks a little different with each of them. We’re constantly adjusting our routines to try to match the needs of our kiddos and us as parents. But disclaimer: both Rachel and my routines are long.

Basically, starting at a particular time is the best thing that helps for us. Getting started with bedtime is where we get tripped up the most. Wintertime is a little easier for bedtime because it gets darker earlier. But the sun comes out in the summertime, so I never want to go to bed, and the kids don’t want to go to bed. We all end up suffering afterwards, though. Without putting my kids to bed on time, I don’t get a moment to myself. I can’t clean or tidy the house. My husband and I don’t get any time together. So this summer, we’re working to get better with this.

After starting at the same time, we do the normal things like, getting PJs on and brushing teeth. Obviously, I have to brush some of my kiddos’ teeth, but my nine-year-old is doing it on her own now.

Then, I’ll have my nine-year-old start reading on her own, or sometimes she’ll work on mind puzzlers. My seven-year-old saw her do that and kind of started doing it, too. Anything to get them tired and slowing down.

My nine-year-old is the one that doesn’t slow down as easily, so a longer bedtime is helpful. Otherwise, I’m rushing her, and that makes it hard because I don’t feel connected with her when we do that. It’s always when we’re trying to speed up bedtimes that my kids start sharing something really meaningful. That’s when I have to pause and try to create space for anything that they want to share.

When time allows, we’ll go in and read a couple books with her. She’s just started reading chapter books on her own. My husband challenged her to read The Magic Tree House book in one day, and she did. So now she’s like, “Oh, I can do this!” and super into it. We’re really excited about her reading journey.

With Levi, my youngest, we read three books in the rocking chair. He picks them out. And then we hop in bed and sing a song. My husband will even pull out the guitar sometimes before lights out.

After everyone is settled, we try to give an extra quick snuggle or something and tell them we love them before leaving. Levi likes to be snuggled until he falls asleep, though. Usually, I don’t lay with my kids until they fall asleep, but lately he’s been waking up in fits and terrors. I have a hard time not responding when they’re crying, and I can’t tell if it’s a hurt cry or a sad cry or something else. I at least want to let them know that I’m there. So right now, I do lie next to him until he falls asleep, which he does fairly quickly. I’m actually kind of enjoying that right now, especially because I know it won’t last forever.

The other day I asked Levi, “What is it you like about me being here?” And he said, “You make me happy.” So I know that this moment is an important connection and that it won’t be forever but that it is valuable.

For a little while, he didn’t allow John to be there. Rachel and I talked about advice that we read and ways we could help with that issue instead of just saying, “No, stop. You’re going to Dad.” That reaction almost made it worse. We taught our husbands how to respond, framing it as something like, “I know you really want mom right now, but you get me right now. And this is how it’s going to be great!” Fortunately, we’ve passed through that phase.

Rachel’s Family Bedtime Routine

Ashlee’s routine is very similar to mine. Recently, my husband and I have really found our rhythm with the kids’ bedtime. My husband goes with my son every night, and I stay with the girls. We went through trial and error, trying different things. For a while, we would alternate nights. It just didn’t work. So we just stopped trying new things.

Now, we try to go up to bed between 7:30 and 8:00, but this can change depending on when we get home from gymnastics. On nights when we’ve got dinner and baths done on time, we really enjoy our relaxing bedtime routine. It’s pretty much the same thing as Ashlee—teeth, take the hair out, and then reading time.

Reading is very important to me, which is funny because I never liked reading on my own as a kid. So I didn’t think that I would be reading to my kids. But I love it. It happens so organically. We go to the library once a week. We get a big load of books and haul it upstairs. I don’t set a number of books to read with them. I go by time. I usually snuggle up and read to all three of my kids for about 45 minutes.

My one-year-old will sit there and listen to all these stories that are definitely highly above her level. Sometimes I think I’m doing her a disservice by not reading her baby books all the time, but I did the same thing with Brecken, who’s my four-year-old, and she’s now in first grade and excelling in reading at school. I just feel like the kids will rise to that level and that they actually will develop those vocabulary skills earlier. To be clear, I see so many benefits to reading that are more than just vocabulary. It’s stories and getting immersed in your imagination. I’m bad at this. My kids will ask me to tell them stories and I can’t think of anything.

When we’re done with reading time, that’s when my husband takes my son and I stay with the girls. At that point, we read a chapter book or a more challenging book for my oldest. And then I will take my one-year-old with me to co-sleep. I know there’s opinions about co-sleeping, but it works for us so that’s what we do. I’m going to move her to her room very soon when she turns two.

A Friend’s Family Bedtime Routine

One of our best friends, Barbara, and her husband do bedtime a little differently. They each are able to take turns. Obviously, this is dependent on both parents being available in the evening times, which is not always the case. But it works for them, where they trade off evenings with their three kiddos. She puts the baby down first and then spends time with her two older girls.

That way, one of them puts everybody to bed one night, and the other person gets a complete night off. We think this can be a great strategy if you want to prioritize meeting some of your needs individually, all while still having time to connect with your kiddos. I think it’s important to remember that you and your partner are a couple and worth investing time into that relationship.

For Ashlee and I, we just genuinely love that time with our kids too much to give it up. So even though we don’t always have a chance to talk to our husbands in the evening, we still think it’s worthwhile to connect with our kids at bedtime. It’s all about finding a balance.

An Instagram Mom’s Bedtime Routine

A person we follow on Instagram shared that her bedtime routine looks very different. Her kids are, I think, a little bit older than ours. What I love about hers is she does everything in 20 minutes with each kid.

She starts with the youngest, which I think in her case is a six-year-old, and just gives that child 20 minutes of super intentional time. But it’s not reading, which is why for me right now, I don’t feel like I’m at a point where I want to do what she does. Reading for our families is too important currently and they can’t read independently yet.

But I think that when my kids get older and they’re reading on their own, they can do their reading time while I do my one-on-one time with my other kids. I also like that this is kind of a tiered system, where your oldest gets the reward of being up the latest.

I remember when she said that, I thought “Whoa, that’s an hour every night. You’re committing.” But then I remembered that I give my kids an hour or an hour and a half every night already. So it’s very doable.

Besides, this is your window time into their souls. This is when you’re going to get those deep, heartfelt moments that maybe you’re not going to get during the day because you’re busy in a chaotic household with three kids. But bedtime is a special time where they can slow down and connect with your hearts.

Advice for Parents Struggling with Bedtime

Nothing lasts forever in bedtime. So if you’re going through a hard time where your kid is not falling asleep, is coming to your room every night, and you’re exhausted—or if you’re tired and not wanting to do bedtime on bad days—or you have a baby who’s waking up crying wanting to nurse every night, just recognize it’s a season.

Yes, it might be a hard season, but knowing that it’s a season is bittersweet. It’s realizing that this is not going to last forever. Your child is not always going to come to your room. Eventually, he’ll get to the point where he’s a big boy and he doesn’t need to be in your room anymore.

Just recognize that their childhood goes so fast and that the season will pass, and you will get through it. Remember that you’re doing a great job. If you’re trying, you’re doing great. Your bedtime can look however it needs to look. We got your back.

Ashlee Hendricks

Ashlee Hendricks

Real Life Conversations Host

I am a mom to three awesome kids: Ellie, Anna, and Levi. My husband Jon works as a professor at the UNL Business College. While we are not natives to Lincoln (this year marks five years in Nebraska), I did grow up on a dairy farm in southwest Missouri and feel quite at home here. I work as a full-time mom and a part-time nurse at a clinic here in town.

As a family, we are happiest outside and having adventures. We lived in South Carolina before moving here so we’ve had to toughen up quite a bit! We love biking, camping and anything involving water. I have been supported and inspired by so many amazing women and men along my parenting journey. Rachel and I have talked a lot about our shortcomings and wins as moms. I hope as we share some of our story that you’ll find some relatable information that can nurture and inspire you wherever you are on your journey as a parent. We are all in this together!

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Real Life Conversations Host

I was born and raised in Lincoln. I am a stay-at-home-mom to three amazing kids named Ellie, Brecken, and Finley. I worked as a PE teacher at Scott Middle School for 8.5 years and turned into a SAHM when my second kiddo was born. I love being home with my kids. It is so fulfilling to me to be home with them through each stage, to care for them and to be a part of the little details and the big moments in their lives.

My husband, John, is a men’s gymnastics coach at the University of Nebraska. Our kids love to go to the gym and play. We love that they now have a relationship with the college athletes. It is really fun. Go Big Red! I am very excited to be chatting about things motherhood here on CapitalMom. I hope you enjoy and are able to relate as we share our motherhood journeys.

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