Dr. Anthony Wolf - Books on Parenting Dr. Anthony Wolf - Books on Parenting Dr. Anthony Wolf - Books on Parenting
Dr. Anthony Wolf - Books on Parenting

BedtimeBedtime

There's that noise again. It’s the thing in the wall. Mommy says it’s nothing, but it's not nothing. It’s going to get out and kill me. Do you think your body can feel anything when you're dead?

Bedtime is perhaps the number one problem time for the baby self because it requires what the baby self hates above all else, being alone and separated from its parents. Bedtime is not only being alone, but having to be alone in the dark with robbers, monsters, and ghosts.

"And then the giant butterfly flew off to its home in the faraway hills of Nevermore. 'Good-bye,' it called. 'Good-bye, everyone. Good-bye, Silly Billy.' Good night, Becky darling, darlingest. See you in the morning."

"Good night, Mommy. I love you."
"I love you, too, my Becky darling."
"One more hug?"
"One more hug."
"Just one more hug, just one more"
"Okay, but this is the last hug."
"Please, just one more!"
"No, Becky. It's time to go to sleep."
"Just one more? I won't sleep unless I get another hug."
"All right, but this is the last hug."
"Don't leave yet. Sit with me."

Becky's mother finally gets away but not before missing the first five minutes of her favorite show, "Intensive Caring." But still, peace at last.

Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle.
"Mommy, I think my eye hurts." "What do you mean you think your eye hurts!"
"I know it does. It hurts. Look at my eye."
"Becky, go to bed."
"But it hurts. I think there's something in it."
"Becky, there's nothing in your eye."
"Ooh! It hurts when I blink."
"If it's still a problem in the morning, I'11 look at it."
"But I can't sleep. My eye hurts."
"Becky, why can't you just stay in bed for once like a normal child?"
"I'm not a normal child. I'm a Becky."
"Go to bed, Becky."
"But I'm not a normal child,"

How did I get into this?!

A common complaint: "I want them in bed at eight
o'clock, but sometimes it's almost nine before they're finally
in bed for good."

Most people's definition of bedtime is that time when the
children are in bed, the lights are out, and all is quiet. Let me
propose a different, more useful definition of bedtime that takes into account the reality of the baby self.

Bedtime is the end of all meaningful contact with parents.

"Good night, Mommy. I love you." "I love you, too, my Becky darling." "One more hug!" "One more hug."

And let's say Becky's mother always gives her daughter three one-more-hugs but the third is the last. The third one-more-hug is the end of meaningful contact with her mother.

"Just another hug? Just one more?"
"One more hug." (This is now the third.)
"Please, one more, one more."
"Good night, my Becky."
"Please, just one more."

But Becky's mother has already turned to leave and is now walking out of the room. She does not turn back.

"Just one more. Please, one more."

But Becky is talking to air. Her mother is gone.

"Mommy! MOMMY! I still need another hug so I can go to sleep. MOMMY!"

But Becky's pleas should go unanswered. And if Becky gets out of bed -

"I think my eye hurts."

Or:

"I need a drink of water." (She can't get it herself!)

Or:

"I have to go to the bathroom." (She has to announce it!)

Or:

"I'm worried about what Kimmy is going to say to me tomorrow in school." (Should have thought of that earlier.)

Regardless, what Becky now needs to see is that nurturing Mommy has been replaced by Robot Mommy. She is benign and watchful and there for true emergencies such as significant quantities of blood, or thick black smoke, or a robber whom Becky can actually produce. But otherwise, Mommy is completely unresponsive except for an occasional flat-toned, unemotional:

"Good night, Becky."
"But it hurts. I can't sleep."
"Good night, Becky."

Children have the ability to fall asleep on their own, although not all kid have the same sleep patterns. Some fall asleep quickly. Some fidget and stay awake longer or may need to read or play quietly on their own before they finally fall asleep. Those who take longer should be allowed to do that, as long as they do it quietly, on their own separate from parents and not bothering anybody. Parents should only intervene if children are playing too loudly or are disturbing siblings.

Ultimately, parents have to make a decision. Do I want my child to learn to fall asleep on her own or do I want her to depend on my being there in order to fall asleep?

Of course, parents want to be available when worries and fears out of the ordinary come up, such as a particularly scary movie, a big kid threatening to beat up their child in school, the family dog loose on the streets and almost hit by a car. You want to reassure children about about monsters, witches, and robbers.

If I lie real still maybe the monster won't know I'm here so then it won't kill me

"There are no monsters. No witches, No ghosts. Just us here to protect you."

But over time, beyond anything parents might say, there is only one true reassurance. They fall asleep and they wake up the next morning and the monster didn't kill them after all.

I was lucky. But tonight - he's probably mad because I fooled him last night - he really will kill me.

But nights go by and the monster never comes. The nighttime anxieties never do really leave - even into adult life - but children can learn, if their parents will just stay out of the way, that sleep does come. The worries may be there, but they are part of life, no big deal. If bedtime is defined as the end of meaningful interaction with parents, then that's what it means. "Evelyn, turn out you light" is not in the picture. Bedtime" must remain the time after which they're alone - all alone.