I’ve been on Spring Break this week, but my husband is swamped at work and couldn’t take time off to be with us. Last year for Spring Break, we took a family vacation to Legoland and LOVED it, so I hoped to be able to do something as exciting with them by myself just around town this year.
We went to the zoo, the park, ballet class, indoor playgrounds, and some museums. Even though most of these places are a short driving distance away, and we could easily stick to our schedule, there was one place about an hour away. It’s called Pretend City, and I’ve only been there once, back when Big Sis was really too young to enjoy it much. I’ve been wanting to go back ever since, but the logistics with napping babies just wasn’t working out. Until this week. I decided we would just have to take a shortened nap in the car on the way there, and get a catnap driving back. It actually worked out perfectly.
As any parent of multiples knows, a tightly run ship is necessary for the successful functioning of a household with many kids. And as I prioritize sleep for my kids above all else, our bedtime routines have always been pretty rigid. Except for very special days such as those once or twice a year on vacation, our schedule rarely shifts beyond a half hour.
What I realized this week, though, is that once a routine is set, it is something that my kids will stick to even if we take it off course. Let me start by describing what our normal bedtime routine looks like:
It actually starts with dinner. Dinnertime at our house is 5:30pm. Every Sunday we eat at 5 because we’re with the grandparents (because we need to account for the time to drive home), and on ballet class days we eat about 15 mins later, but usually we eat at 5:30. At 6 or so, kids are done and baths begin. Twins get their baths first while Big Sis plays by herself or does something on her iPad, but I do baths pretty quickly so she will often stay in the bathroom to talk with us. After the little ones get lotioned, teeth brushed, and diapered/dressed, they go off to their room for stories with Mama while Big Sis soaps herself up. I sit with the twins to read one or two books (sometimes of my choosing, sometimes at their request) before putting them in their cribs and turning on their humidifier and night light. Then they get a last sip of water, tucked in, and lights off around 6:45. Big Sis gets help washing her hair, and she is out of the bathroom lotioned, teeth brushed, and hair dried by around 7. She puts on pajamas and joins me in the living room for stories or some other quiet activity (like Legos or puzzles or paper folding) with Mama. Her bedtime is usually 8pm, unless I know she’s had no nap or an especially long nap that day, then I will adjust it by a half hour either way. She doesn’t require tucking in anymore, so when time’s up she just grabs her blanket and goes to bed on her own.
I have to say that this structure pays off. From the time they were babies, my kids knew that bath time comes after dinner, and bedtime comes after bath time. It doesn’t matter that on weekends Daddy does some of the routine, because they’re always done the same way, in the same order. They know exactly what to expect, and will often ask for the next step in the routine at the end of the previous one. For example, when Baby Boy is finished eating, he will ask to get his bath. And after they get dressed, Baby Girl will run to choose a book for reading. They don’t always like going to bed, but they know when it’s coming, and lights-out means lie down.
Smooth as bedtime usually is, this doesn’t give us much leeway for any evening activities. Rarely do we commit to events that take place after 5pm. Every so often Big Sis gets to stay out later because her bedtime is later and her schedule less rigid now, but the vast majority of our evenings are spent with our comfortable routine.
This is why, when I decided to take the kids to Pretend City this week, I sort of had to force myself to accept any crazy meltdowns that may occur. Factoring the traffic coming home, I debated whether to leave at 3pm and be home for dinner, or have dinner there and stay later. Since we didn’t arrive until noon, I decided to stay late and have dinner with my brother who lives in the area before driving home. We stuck to the kids’ dinnertime and ate at 5:30pm. But it was 6:30 before we got on the road, and 7:30 before we got home, well past their usual bath time. However, I knew that with the half-nap they got on the car ride there, they would sleep some more on the way home (my kids all love to sleep in the car).
Which they did. When we got home, I immediately started the baths and gave them all back-to-back-to-back. Each kid sat in the bathroom half dressed while waiting for the others. I even read Goodnight Moon (nice and short!) with all 3 together. There were no meltdowns, and everyone promptly fell asleep when they got in bed at 8:10pm.
I don’t plan to do this often, but it’s nice to know that I could if required for something special. And it’s all thanks to such a well-defined bedtime routine.
lunchldyd is mom to 2.5yo b/g twins and their almost-5yo sister. She is also a part-time teacher.