You may have seen the chart floating around on Facebook from Wilson Elementary School. It's the one that tells you what time your child should be going to bed based on what time they need to wake up. If not, you can find it here.
Now, I'm a Virgo and love me a good spreadsheet, so when I first looked at this meme, I thought "Wow, that's PERFECT! Every age and time is laid out so easily that I can pinpoint to the minute what is the best time for my child!"
But then, I got all sweaty and irritated, because this chart?
It made me feel like a loser parent. Sure, this chart is meant to be helpful, but it feels more like a scolding. Guess what, Mom? You are depriving your child of precious sleep. SHAME ON YOU!
Like many families, I'm sure, there is NO WAY IN HELL I could meet this finger-wagging spreadsheet. My kids have an erratic after-school schedule. Sometimes we aren't getting home from practices until 8:45, a good HOUR AND A HALF past when my six-year-old should be getting to bed, according to Wilson Elementary. My kids wake up at 6:45 every morning during the school week, so by this chart's calculation, two out of the five nights of the school week we're going to bed way so late that I fear I'd get called by Child Protective Services.
Because I think the last time my daughter went to bed before 7:30 was when she contracted the flu. Before that? When she was a toddler.
Perhaps what would be more helpful is a chart about how much hand-wringing, screaming and real tears you'll need to get your kids in bed an hour or so earlier.
Even with a semi-strict 8:30 bedtime, I already have the Bedtime Nazi vibe going. The task of watching the clock is exhausting and turns me in to a Tasmanian devil at bedtime, rushing through the routine and speed-reading Dr. Seuss as if I'm on crack.
"HURRY UP AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH! WE NEED TO GET TO BED!! IT'S ALREADY 8:03!!!"
But here's the thing: I know that my kids sleep well. They fall asleep right after we close their doors, they wake up refreshed and happy in the morning, and we have no complaints from teachers about their behavior. They don't fall asleep in the car on the way home from school They're getting at least 10 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep at night, and I feel like that's a win in the parenting column.
What irks me about this chart is that it doesn't factor in many variables that cement sleep issues into reality. Some parents work until 6:00pm and want, no, need time with their children before bedtime. Don't even get me started on school-aged children who are involved in activities where practice is scheduled so that it makes an early bedtime nearly impossible.
And if you have an older sibling who has practice, or one parent doing the bedtime routine on his or her own, this chart makes bedtime drag on for eons. At the end of the day, I don't want to perform an hour and a half long bedtime routine when I could allow the younger child to stay up a few minutes later and let the older child go to bed a tad earlier to simplify the process.
The bedtimes in this chart are too narrow and hard fast. Nowhere in this graphic does it say it's a guideline. It makes the assumption that 11 hours of sleep is the norm and the need for every school-aged child.
I've been working for a sleep consultant for a few years, and at the heart of our company's foundation we believe that each child, and each family, is unique. Reducing bedtime down to an Excel spreadsheet with just ONE exact bedtime for an entire age seems like a disservice to parents.
I took to my Facebook page to get a sample of how other parents handle bedtime, and while there were a couple of kids my daughter's age who are going to bed at 7:30, the majority of children her age are going to bed later than that. I'm not alone, and there are enough of us to confirm that every family is different.
So, like with everything else that social media tells you about parenting, you have to do what's right for your family. If that rigid chart shines light on the reason little Sally is so cranky all the time, and you have the wiggle room in your schedule to up her bedtime so that she's getting a solid 11 hours of sleep every night, then by all means have at it.
But for me, I'm going to take my cues of my children and not a spreadsheet to determine if they're getting enough sleep.
This post originally appeared on Full Of It.