Childrearing

My Father Gave Me The Freedom – And Responsibility – Of No Bedtime

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When I was a little girl, there were very few rules imposed upon me. My father always prided himself on being the type of parent who engaged with me rather than overruled me. I was an only, introverted child with a love of reading and quiet play-time, which my father says made it fairly easy for him to reason with me from a young age. Disagreements were always resolved with discussion in which I was asked to explain why I did not want to adhere to what he asked. I was always encouraged to say why I didn’t want to comply and give reasons as to why I thought that way. Considering that most parenting decisions either boil down into safety, needs, or aspirations, I was able to see that a lot of what he asked me to do stemmed from love.

Although I remember our extended family seeming to approve of his very evolved approach to handling a five-year-old, there was one component of his parenting that some just couldn’t wrap their minds around: I never had a bed-time.

Around the time I started kindergarten, I remember my father presenting me with a proposition. I was a bit older now and I would have to get up at the same time every morning for school. He proposed that he could treat me like other children and enforce a “bedtime,” — a word that I had heard uttered here and there from other children in the neighborhood, or I could be in charge in putting myself to sleep. The catch, of course, was that when he came to wake me in the morning for school, I had to get up (with no tantrums, whining, resisting of any kind). The moment that he caught me going back to sleep or crying, the privilege would be taken away and bedtime would be put in place.

The deal put me in a a very reflective place as a child in that I, like most kids, wanted to stay up as late as I could. But the possibility of oversleeping, of getting too little sleep to sit right up when he came into my room, and therefore not having that freedom made me conscious of the clock in my room as the hours passed. In many ways, it was a fantastic parenting strategy considering that I never actually did stay up that late. My father recalls me often going to bed at the same time as other children, brushing my hair in front of the bathroom sink and putting on pajamas by eight p.m.

Freedom as it may have seemed, his offer was a thinly-veiled alternative to getting me to sleep at a decent hour without dealing with a child’s nightly resistance to going to bed. At the same time, the proposition instilled early responsibility and self-regulation. Being in charge of both understanding and assessing my own rest gave me an awareness from which I felt I could make other decisions about what was best for me — as opposed to what other kids were doing or what the norms were.

These days my father laughs and says that all may be so. But at the end of the day, he just didn’t have the energy to battle me on one more thing.