My toddler has a late bedtime—here’s why our family loves it


At a recent playdate that extended into dinner time, the conversation shifted to wondering what time we should leave so the kids can go to bed. My husband, Pat, and I chuckled as one family was trying to bolt out the door to make it home for their toddler’s 8 pm bedtime. The laugh shifted to horror when we asked when their kid wakes up in the morning. “5:30,” the parents sighed.

Our jaws dropped as we sought to comprehend this ungodly wake-up hour. Because the last time our happy, thriving three-year-old woke up at 5:30 am was July 2020—when she was 10 weeks old. Since then, her bedtime has been 10 pm. Is it later than most elementary schoolers? Yes, but I would never change it.

When we were pregnant with our daughter, I remember Pat asking me what times babies go to bed once they start  a regular sleep schedule. “Usually 7 or 7:30,” I quipped. His face fell. As a federal employee in a high-emergency job, he routinely came home at 8 or 9 o’clock. We’d have a late dinner, watch some tv, then go to bed. It had worked for our pre-kid lifestyle, especially since most of his daytime was clogged by meetings. Of course, lives inevitably change when kids are added to the mix, but I also wanted to figure out a way for us to create a family schedule conducive to our lifestyle.

“Well, we could see what time she actually ends up going to bed. Maybe we can make it 8,” I told him. The conversation remained on hold during the newborn phase, when wake windows were limited.

When she was about two months old, Lucy’s sleep began to lengthen. Being able to sleep for more than two or three hours in a row was amazing. A few weeks later, she began to sleep for eight hours consecutively. We felt like we broke through the cycle of sleeplessness and could breathe again. I could put Lucy down at 10 pm, have her wake up between 5 to 6 am, nurse her back to sleep and then have a few hours to myself before Pat went to work. This was perfect timing, as I was getting ready to go back to work remotely as an advising dean at Georgetown University.

That was August 2020. Our daughter is turning four soon, we are still on that schedule and she naps for almost 2 hours at school. When I tell friends that I have to wake Lucy up every morning for school at 8, they are stunned. “It’s like she’s a teenager!” they exclaim. This schedule means that Pat and I are actually up much earlier than she is. It allows us to have coffee and conversation together, often fitting in a few late-night clips from the previous evening to make us laugh and start our day in a good mood. Lucy sleeps upstairs, oblivious. Getting her dressed and out the door is the final step of our morning routine.

What does our end of the day usually look like? Lucy and I leave campus and walk home. In warmer weather, we go to the playground on the way home for 30 to 45 minutes. Once we get home, Lucy plays while I get dinner started (or convince her that it’s fun to help me by letting her throw stuff in the Instant Pot). By 7:30, I get my habitual text from Pat, “OTWLU” (On the Way, Love You). As soon as the door opens, Lucy throws down her toys and makes a beeline to him: “DAD!!!!” hugging his legs. 

With this routine, we don’t do two dinners; we have one family dinner. It’s the one time of day when we’re all together. It sounds too straightforward to describe the routine dinner, bath, book, bed (like all of the parenting books present it—as if it could be that easy). There are nights when Lucy is wound up and goes to sleep even later than usual. “Lucy, go to bed! There are 10 year olds who have been in bed for hours,” I chide her, my voice full of exasperation. I am cognizant that it’s a major contrast to our friends who put their kids to bed and have multiple hours of adult time together to relax, watch something or have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around Bluey. 

But the later bedtime gives us both enough time at work to fully wrap up our days (I maximize the hours our daycare is open), so we aren’t bringing work home. When we are with Lucy, she gets 100% of our attention.

It makes other days more enjoyable too. Since Lucy prefers to sleep late, we all get to sleep in on the weekend. Saturday mornings are so relaxing because we haven’t been up since the crack of dawn. If we decide to go out to dinner on the weekend, we’re not racing for the early bird special. When we are on vacation, we aren’t trying to race back to the hotel room to put her to bed (and then quietly sit in the dark at 8 pm). And it means that on Christmas Day, a day when most of our parent friends are awoken in the pre-dawn hours by hyperactive children waiting to see Santa (or the one 3-year-old who opened all of the presents at 3 am), we are the ones to wake up Lucy. We quietly sip coffee, sitting by the tree, enjoying the magic of Christmas Day, before all of the excitement ensues. 

According to our pediatrician, she gets enough sleep (she still takes a 2 hour nap at school). I’m sure when she eventually drops that nap, things will shift to an earlier bedtime—but I’m not ready for that moment yet.

Our unconventional sleep schedule has been beneficial for our family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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