I sometimes think that people parenting kids with lower than average sleep needs and people parenting kids with average (or, wonder of wonders, above average) sleep needs are occupying parallel universes. Our experiences are familiar to each other, but not quite the same.
For instance, I was talking to someone the other day who casually mentioned how she gets so much done in the evenings, after her kids are in bed at 7:30, since she can go to bed as late as 11 and still get a full night's sleep- the kids don't wake up until 7 a.m.
I just nodded and smiled, because what could I say? My toddler doesn't go to bed until 8:30, on a very good night (on a bad night it is after 9 before she is asleep). My preschooler's light goes out at about 9, and our bedtime routine is done at about 9:15... but sometimes, particularly during the week, when she naps at day care, it is close to 10 p.m. before I am sure she won't be calling me back in. At least she sleeps through the night- the toddler is usually up once. And they both wake up at about 6:30 or sometimes 7 in the morning.
(And before anyone lectures me about how much sleep they need, and how I'm depriving them of sleep... no, I'm not. They show absolutely no signs of sleep deprivation (which is more than I can say for the grown ups in the house), and they generally wake up on their own with no help from us. Actually, they generally wake us up.)
Anyway, to get anything close to a good night's sleep, I basically have to go to bed as soon as I'm done getting Pumpkin to sleep. Which doesn't really work, since there are also dishes to do, and every once and awhile I'd like to talk to my husband. (Blogging generally happens during the 15-30 minutes of "on call" time while I wait to see if Pumpkin's really down, or after everything's done, as way to unwind and "shut down" the day, usually with a beer, and usually only if Hubby has to do some work and is therefore not available for chit chat or The Daily Show.)
This means that we have started to find ways to grab some time to ourselves when the kids are still awake. For instance, tonight I did yoga while my husband put Petunia down for the night. I just had to do it with Pumpkin. She keeps up a running commentary for the entire DVD and doesn't really do the stretches, but she loves to do yoga with me. So I'm adding that into our weekly routine, because I really want to do more yoga.
I find it funny that I get a vestigial twinge of guilt about this, as if some part of me thinks that we should be doing a more enriching activity instead.
This is wrong on a couple of levels.
First, I find yoga to be an almost miraculous way to decrease stress and increase my sense of well-being. If my kids pick up a yoga habit from me, that is probably a good thing, as good as picking up a love for reading or an interest in science.
Second, when did we as a culture decide that our kids need so much of our attention and focus? Yeah, yeah- newborns do. But a 4 year old? It is probably good for her to start seeing her parents as separate people, with their own agendas. To start coming to the slow, and hopefully gentle, realization that no, she is not in fact the absolute center of the universe.
I alluded to the fact that I think modern kids get a lot more focus from their parents than kids did in the past in my weekend reading post about how mothers have always worked, and the comments on that post included some really interesting thoughts on that subject. I have some half-formed thoughts on this, which, if I had more time, I'd love to research and turn into a carefully crafted blog post. But that's not going to happen anytime soon, so instead, I'll just type them out in all of their half-formed glory, and y'all can tell me where I've gone off the tracks.
I look around me, and even the sanest of the other day care parents have filled their kids' schedules with at least as much stuff as we have. We're all discussing kindergartens as if we actually had a bad choice in front of us (for the most part, we don't- we almost all live in areas with schools that are at least decent, and frankly, some of the most worried parents I've talked to live in areas with downright awesome schools). When we go to someone's house on a play date, the toys on offer always include a fair number of educational/enriching options- and they would think the same about our toys. I know at least two parents who don't let their kids watch any TV at all, and we all limit screen time.
All of these things are fine, and even good. But I can't help but think that we've gone a bit off our collective rockers. It is like we all see our kids as having been born with almost infinite potential, and think that it is our job to try to keep as much of that from "leaking away" due to suboptimal activities as possible. Watching Yo Gabba Gabba instead of an educational DVD- or better, doing a science experiment in the backyard? There went some of that precious potential, gone forever.
Since I've clearly bought into this to a certain degree (hence the Chinese lessons, and our own ever-evolving rules about what constitutes acceptable screen time), I can't judge the other parents. And I don't want to.
But I do wish we could all give ourselves a big Moonstruck slap and snap out of it.
The way I see it (in my saner moments), the human brain is this amazing plastic thing. It is adapted to learn from experience, but also to give us second and third and even hundredth chances, and to learn the most from repetition, not from casual encounters. For centuries, humans have passed on the skills their offspring needed just by making those kids a part of their daily lives. My kids are going to live in a technologically rich world- so of course I should let them learn about technology the way human children have always learned: by using it. It makes no sense to try to pick and choose what things they need to know- how would I possibly be able to predict that? I can take my best guess, and that is what school and any enriching classes will cover. But I won't get it all right. And even if they learn some frivolous things, so what? If all Pumpkin learns from Yo Gabba Gabba is what "break it down" means, is that such a bad thing? Some day, that knowledge might smooth a social interaction and spare her a awkward moment of feeling like a clueless geek.
I'm not arguing at all that we should stop giving our kids lessons in various things, or just sit them down in front of the TV all day. But I am arguing that we should take this parenting thing a little less seriously. There are no guarantees, no matter how we do it. We rolled the genetic dice when we conceived our kids, and all we can do is try to give them a fair shot at living up to the potential set by the genes they received. It is not our job to shelter that potential and make sure that it is never harmed, because that is just not possible. It is our job to introduce them to our world, and try to give them the skills they need to go out and enjoy it. While also maybe giving them an obstacle or two to overcome, because we all have to have the story we tell at cocktail parties, about how we overcame such and such and went on to achieve so and so. We wouldn't want to deprive them of their chance to look noble and heroic by making things too easy for them.
And now my beer is gone, and it is past time for bed. I can already hear Petunia shuffling around in her crib. If I want some time in bed without a toddler bedmate, I should hurry. So I'll just ask you- what do you think? Should modern parents loosen up? Or is our current state of affairs a perfectly reasonable response to a society in which most families only have a few kids who mostly live into adulthood, and therefore we should invest more in our kids than our forefathers and mothers did?