Before I had kids, I would look with exasperated pity at those parents who told you they couldn’t possibly delay their beloved offspring’s bedtime. You’d see the panic in their eyes as the afternoon waned – by 5.45pm, toys and wet wipes were frantically stuffed in bags and wailing children would be dragged away from the fun.
What ridiculous pandering, I thought. When I got pregnant, my partner and I believed – completely, utterly and monumentally foolishly, as it turns out – that we would continue to dictate the rhythm of our lives, including our bedtimes. Idiots.
It kind of worked at first. A sleepy newborn strapped to the chest was the accessory du jour in our part of town, even if sleep deprivation meant that staying out felt less like leisure, more like torture. But as our son got older, and then when his sister arrived, we soon learned why our uncool friends stuck to their routines with military precision – if you don’t, your kid makes Damien from The Omen look like any other rambunctious reception pupil.
Now, more or less, we stick to these guidelines. The bedtime routine has to start when our eldest, five, starts walking in circles, while his two-year-old sister finds ever more inventive ways to injure herself.
If you’ve looked after small children all day, or if they’ve returned from childcare high on Peter Rabbit, when 6pm comes you’re desperate to get them into the bath.
Once out, they are just slightly more calm and manageable. They know the inexorable tide of bedtime has taken over: there is no escape. Bath, (verboten) snack, maybe an episode of Hey Duggee (so shoot me), brush teeth, stories and, with the eldest, a bit of a daily debrief while we try not to fall asleep in his bed.
Sticking to the routine doesn’t always work, of course. Sometimes the kitchen disco goes on a bit too long, with the inevitable tears and recriminations that follow. But in the main, like millions of uncool parents before us and millions more to come, we do the bedtime routine – because, quite simply, we learned our lesson the hard way.