It may feel futile to try to agree with your co-parent on strategies and routines for your children, and you might not be able to, but there is ONE area where I urge all the parents I work with to try to come to agreement – and that’s sleep.
Especially for young children, sleep is everything!! (And who are we kidding – for ALL of us, good sleep and enough sleep can be the difference between good health and success!!)
I always tell parents that their houses are not going to be matching, and there will be differences between homes no matter what because every home has different people in it and therefore different cultures.
But in terms of rules and routines, the more consistency people have between homes, the healthier and happier your children will be. And isn’t that the shared goal?
To feel secure, to do well in school, and to build confidence, children need structure, routine and enough good sleep. That means a consistent bedtime and a prime sleep setting that encourages full and complete rest.
This means the same bedtime at both homes as well as on weeknights and weekends, with few exceptions!!
My litmus test for a co-parent disagreement is: is it worth fighting over and will the outcome harm or help the children?
A disagreement over technology usage or screen time may not be as life-changing as wildly varying bedtimes. So pick your battles.
In my book, sleep is non-negotiable. It’s very hard to function if you’re not well-rested, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following sleep schedules for children:
|Ages 1-2||11-14 hours (including naps)|
|Ages 3-5||10-13 hours (including naps)|
|Ages 6-12||9-12 hours|
|Ages 13-18||8-10 hours|
My mom always said, Good sleep begets good sleep. Once you’re off track, it’s difficult to catchup.
Plus, so many kids are misdiagnosed with ADD and behavioral issues because they’re tired, they don’t get enough sleep, and some kids get more wound up and difficult when they are exhausted. This plays out in school, and teachers identify the problem as behavioral rather than structural.
Honestly, kids can be missing educational and growth milestones because they don’t get enough sleep!!
Co-parents should talk about bedtime and sleep routines, and if one wants to make a change, they should bring it up for discussion. Involve a specialist if you need to, such as your children’s pediatrician, a co-parenting counselor, a child or family therapist or someone else with expertise on what children need.
And while I know this can be hard, weekends should not be a free-for-all. Our bodies crave schedules, and especially at those ages, it’s important for development.
Even the weekend time needs to be agreed upon, and don’t stretch weekend time more than an hour past the weekday bedtime, especially for kids younger than 14.
When it comes to sleep, this is about your children; it’s not about you! Bad decisions in this arena can be harmful to your children. CPS isn’t going to come calling, but your co-parent could possibly bring it into the court arena if it’s bad. It’s that important.
Now I’ve shared how I feel about this and what I believe, but I do want to add one caveat. There are cultural and communal influences that can make sticking to a set bedtime and sleep routine difficult, and I want to recognize this.
Different communities treat sleep and children’s bedtimes differently based on the culture of the people and the events. Obviously, expectations, standards and norms can vary according to your traditions and the people around you.
But honestly, the science tells a different story. Perhaps there are ways to be flexible on special occasion or holidays or summer. But for the most part, if you can keep your children on a regular sleep routine, they – and you – will benefit in the long-run. Even if doing so puts you out of public favor.
Create traditions that honor what children need. Prioritize their wellbeing even if it means missing out on something you want to do. Because if your kid is falling apart, you have a responsibility as a parent to help them, and even wonderful, loving parents can miss this piece.