The Bedtime Routine: This Mama’s Free For All


When my kids were little and I read all of the books that told me Very Important Things about Getting Children to Sleep, I tried to implement the recommended “Bath-Brush Teeth-Books-Bed”  routine. After all, it worked for all the other mamas.

It didn’t last long for us. 

Maybe it’s because we went through a lot of family and living adjustments when the kids were very young, maybe it’s because my mom always told me that babies could sleep anywhere and so mine did, or maybe I just decided that I didn’t want to rush out of activities or get togethers just so we had time to tackle the seemingly endless list of bedtime “B” words.

Did it include bottles and Baa Baa Black Sheep? Was I supposed to play Beethoven  or Beastie Boys for my baby? I never could remember. It doesn’t help that I can’t stick to a rigid routine to save my life. So rather than adding my own choice B words to the list, I broke out of the bedtime routine.

My girls are now 8 and 9, and they appear to be well-adjusted kids, so our Non-Routine Bedtime Routine seems to be holding up.

Here’s a glimpse:

1. “Oh crap, it’s already bedtime again.” 

If it’s a night we are at a friend’s house, a cup stacking tournament, soccer practice, or having dinner at grandma’s until 8 or later, it starts with the urgent instructions given in the car so that everyone is mentally prepared to race in the house and “get straight to bed.” 

If it’s a night we are at home, it starts with my frantic realization that I’ve lost track of time while playing Clue, doing laundry and dishes, creating in our makerspace, or watching tv. It is now somewhere between 7:30 and 10 and my kids should probably be heading to bed. I give them a warning that they need to wrap up whatever they are doing and head upstairs.

2. Other things happen.

The non-routine and follow through are vague after that. I always tell them to brush their teeth and get into bed with a book. I try to remind them to feed the lizards and get their clothes out for the next day. I definitely never tell them to start going though keepsake boxes or begin a new exercise regimen. Guess what I most often walk in to find …

Some nights the kids are very clean when they enter dreamland. Other nights I realize they never put on pajamas. I end up feeding the lizards a lot. Regardless, we move on to the most important part.

3. Goodnight kisses and I love yous.

No matter what *organized* chaos has occurred up to this point, my kids always make it into a bed and are ready for snuggles. If we did have a checklist for a bedtime routine, this is the one box that would get checked off every night. It is our family’s only non-negotiable.

4. Everyone ends up asleep.

Yep. Every night. Of course I love when my kids are asleep by 8 and I can get in a couple extra hours of Ozark. But there are many weeknights we are pushing 9. And if there’s a playoff game, it might even be *gasp* 10 o’clock. On a weekend, bedtime could be anywhere from 8:30 to midnight, depending on the fun we are having and how late we can sleep in the next day. 

If being able to finish watching The Voice together means they have to brush their teeth during commercials and dive right under the covers after to maximize sleep time, we’re good. If family roller skating night at school means the kids can’t shower until the next morning or even the next night, no big deal. And if the Trunk or Treat after party goes until midnight and nobody’s crying yet, we will stay.

We enjoy the freedom our non-routine bedtime routine allows and almost always get all the sleep we need. So bedtime at our house really is a free for all, because we are busy making memories.

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Katie Vondera
Katie is a St. Louis native, coffee lover, and difference maker. She has a passion for teaching at-risk high schoolers how to find joy in reading and writing. She is a divorced mother of two incredibly strong girls who can be found watching The Voice, eating ice cream, and staying up late reading. Katie and her girls love exploring St. Louis-hiking and playing at local parks, getting away to Pere Marquette, breakfasting at Strange Donuts or The Barn, and learning at all of the museums.


  1. While I started off as a mom dependent on routine, by the third baby, that went out the window. And my third and fourth were so much more able to adapt as a result. I see strengths in all four of my kids that I can directly tie to the way I parented them when they were little. It’s so true that there is not just one “right” way to parent.

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