Hello Malia. I have two children, a 3 year old girl and a an 18-month-old boy. We have found over the years that having a consistent nap and bedtime routine is extremely important to our children's wellbeing, happiness, behavior, and health.
But we have a large extended family that comes from a school of thought that children should be made to move their schedule around the needs of the family. We've recently been confronted by angry family members for leaving early, showing up after nap time, or not coming at all if the children need more rest because they are overtired or sick. They've actually told us that if kids are acting up because they're overtired, they should be spanked (instead of put to bed).
In the past year, I think we’ve only missed one birthday party and had to leave a family holiday around 8 p.m., which doesn't seem unreasonable to us. However, the family is actually very upset about this. I would welcome any words of encouragement or advice on how to stand our ground. Thank you very much.
Thanks for this excellent question. I was very happy to get your email and hear how you're prioritizing your children's sleep and health! Way to go!
You're definitely not alone. I've also had to leave family gatherings early and miss out on things because of my children's naps and bedtimes. When people balk at that, I say "Oh, she's a complete bear if she misses her naptime. Trust me, you don't WANT to be around her if she's overtired—she'll just scream and ruin the party for everyone else."
Playing the magnanimous card—"I'm doing this so you, my friends and family, don't have to be around a crying, overtired child"—usually works well.
But if that doesn't work, you can also hit them with some science. New studies are showing that naps actually help babies learn and retain new information. And that missed naps put toddlers are risk for mood disorders. As I mentioned in my last blog post, proper sleep also supports kids' immune systems and keeps them from getting sick. This is all new science that your parents and older relatives didn't have access to as parents, so these are things they may not be aware of.
If your family places a lot of faith in medical experts, you can say that your pediatrician is big on naps and bedtimes for health reasons and leave it at that: "Oh, there are some nasty bugs going around and their doctor says one of the worst things I could do right now is keep them up too late."
But ultimately, what it often comes down to is a clash of values. When you prioritize your child's sleep routine over parties or socializing, others may interpret your actions as a judgment of their parenting style (even if they raised their kids 30 years ago). It’s a shame. As if parenting weren’t difficult enough—sometimes doing the right things for your kids rubs other people the wrong way. Keeping the tone light and staying firm yet friendly about your parenting decisions goes a long way toward communicating that your parenting decisions aren’t a critique of anyone else’s; you’ve simply figured out how to keep your kids happy and healthy. You can say something like, "Yes, your style worked great for your kids, but these are my kids and we’ve figured out what works best for them."
Or take a cue from my friend S., who just cuts off difficult family members criticizing her parenting decisions with “Really, this conversation, again?” It takes guts to be that bold—but it works every time.
Hope this is helpful! I applaud your willingness to stand up for your kids' best interests. You are doing a great job. Eventually, your relatives will see the concrete results of your parenting decisions in your kids' demeanor and well-being. (Wow, they don't melt down over the slightest thing! They aren't constantly sick! They're actually...good natured!) Over time, they might (grudgingly) start to see things your way. Even if they don't admit it. So keep it up. You're doing the right thing, and don't let anyone tell you differently. After all, you've got the happy, healthy kids to prove it.