Our three-year-old is playing in the playground like a tornado at 10:00 p.m., showing no symptoms of being ready for bed. The swings and slides are full with children his age who are running around beneath the streetlights as their parents and grandparents observe.
This was not a regular evening for us, as it occurred during a recent trip to the Greek island of Crete. The fact that so many of our child’s contemporaries were still awake, though, made us feel better about our relaxed bedtime policy.
Our travels to countries such as the Mediterranean, Europe, and Latin America have exposed us to societies where children are frequently seated at the dinner table at 9 p.m., broadening our perspectives beyond the “in bed by 7” mentality that is so prevalent in the United States and the United Kingdom.
We can enjoy more activities as a family.
Bedtime is frequently 10 p.m. or later when we spend a pleasant family evening away from home, without feeling rushed to come home. But it also means that we can enjoy a walk and a supper without having to search for a restaurant that’s open at 5 p.m., which can easily kill the vacation spirit and leave you feeling resentful that you’re in your hotel while others are just beginning their evening.
During the same trip to Crete, I remember sipping wine at a bar around 10 p.m. while our youngster munched on nuts and potato chips. As a parent of a young child, experiencing a semblance of nighttime may provide you with the satisfaction you require.
Back home in England, we prefer that our son be in bed by 8:30 p.m. on weeknights, and we often put him to bed earlier on Sundays so that we can all begin the week feeling refreshed. However, having a flexible schedule makes us feel so much more liberated and less stressed, so we can enjoy a late night when the occasion arises.
Our son was dancing with the best of us at a recent family birthday party that lasted until 11 p.m. on a balmy summer evening, complete with fairy lights and a backyard DJ. We save money on babysitter costs and do not have to feel guilty about leaving our child while we enjoy socializing.
We retire once he is asleep.
Obviously, it’s not a perfect situation. On nights when our son has a late bedtime, we retire to bed as soon as he closes his eyes, missing out on the alone adult time that proponents of an early bedtime enjoy. And in order to avoid tantrums in the evening, it is essential that our son takes an afternoon nap. However, we are aware that he is growing up and that this routine cannot last forever.
As he nears his fourth birthday, he is taking less naps on a daily basis, so we must be more smart and adaptable with our evening activities depending on whether or not we anticipate a nap day.
During a recent family vacation to Majorca, Spain, two consecutive evenings could not have been more dissimilar. On a Saturday afternoon, our kid said he was not weary, so it seemed more difficult to force him to nap than to continue lounging by the pool and watching him play. By the time we arrived at our 7 p.m. dinner reservation, he had fallen asleep in the taxi.
We took advantage of the unexpected “date night” by transforming our table’s soft seats into a makeshift bed. The next day, a nap came more readily, so we enjoyed a tapas meal about 8 p.m. and some unplanned sightseeing around the neighboring church and castle – it was just as entertaining as the night before.
In a few weeks, when our second child is set to arrive, you might find us all in bed by 7:00 p.m. I am aware that things will change once more, as our second child is due to arrive within the next few weeks. Enjoying the present moment, going with the flow, and recognizing that you are still a person despite having children are the three most important parenting lessons we’ve learnt.