2.21.2008

Bedtime for bozos

Here's the scene: It's 9:30 p.m. and our then-grade-school-aged sons are supposed to be in bed in their rooms at opposite ends of our rambling house. "Lights out" was 30 minutes ago. I've walked to their respective rooms at least four times already, ordering the exuberant young'uns to be quiet and go to sleep.

I hear the harump-thump of little feet. Really irritated now, I stalk to the farthest bedroom and shout into the dark: "What's that noise? Who's up out of bed?"

The nine-year-old answers in a tiny voice: "It was just me. I was jumping around because I'm happy."

Dad: "Don't be happy! Go to sleep!"

Son: (Hysterical laughter.)

Dad: (Heavy sigh.)

I don't care how many parenting manuals you read, you're never going to find any advice suggesting you tell your child "don't be happy." Making them happy is a big part of a parent's job. Granted, I'd been (repeatedly) provoked, but I'm pretty sure shouting "don't be happy" at my child means I don't get my Parenting merit badge.

I'm glad my son is happy. Really. I just don't understand why he has to be so danged happy at bedtime.

Bedtime is a battle of wills in most households. Kids don't want to go to bed. Ever. They're afraid they'll miss something. They're busy trying to soak up the entire world and sleep seems a waste of valuable time.

This position runs exactly counter to the way parents feel. You don't often hear a parent say, "No sleep for me, thanks. I want to stay up late." Veteran parents know you get all the sleep you can, whenever you can. Eight p.m. on a Saturday night, when the rest of the world is partying, parents are thinking, "Bed sounds pretty good about now."

But we parents can't go to sleep until the children do. If we nod off while they're still romping around, we'll likely awaken to the shriek of a smoke alarm.

So it's a waiting game. Cranky, yawning parents demanding that children fall asleep. Children clowning around or giggling in the dark or reading by flashlight. More grumbled demands. More giggling. Heavy sighs.

Before you know it, it's morning. And the kids are saying, "Dad, why are you so grumpy? Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed?" And Dad grinds his teeth down to the gums.

The Battle of Bedtime is symptomatic of the whole relationship between parent and child. As parents, we must inflict our will on the offspring. We want them to go to sleep/eat their vegetables/clean their rooms/brush their teeth/feed the dog/grow up to be responsible citizens. We have a full agenda for their lives and we'll cajole and wheedle and threaten and yell and stomp around to get our way.

Problems arise because children have an agenda of their own: They want to play. As far as they are concerned, everything else -- including a good night's sleep -- is an interruption. And all that yelling by the parents? It's background noise. To them, parents' voices are like static on the radio. An annoyance, but you soon learn to tune it out and go about your business.

Kids are into immediate gratification in a big way. Threats of future harm don't faze them. You can say you will take away tomorrow's TV privileges. You can say you'll ground them for a week. You can threaten them with anything, up to and including the withholding of food. They won't care. That's TOMORROW. And they only care about tonight's gratification, which includes trampoline acrobatics on the bed.

I told this same nine-year-old that we'd go to a matinee if he'd clean his room. He whined. I said, "Look, think of it as a carrot, not a stick. I'm not punishing you by making you clean your room. I'm offering you a reward for doing what I asked."

He thought this over, then said, "So it's a bribe!"

I sighed and said, "That's right, son."

He said, "Okay, then."

Once we'd established that, he made a half-hearted effort at cleaning his room. I caved in and took him to the movie.

I think the matinee made him happy, but I'm not sure. I slept through it.

1 comment:

clitav said...

Recently while lecturing my 6yo G son on learning self control; "If you find yourself having too much fun that is a sure signal that it may be time to stop!" Trust me, I understand your thinking! LOL