Bedtime is that magical hour when all kiddos peacefully head off to dreamland and you get to sit back, sip Pinot, and catch up on whatever you’ve been binge-watching. Hmm… nope. The fantasy of shuffling your tot off to their room and watching them fall asleep at 6pm on the dot just doesn’t happen in real life. But that isn’t stopping everyone around you from weighing in on when your child “should” go to bed (this suggested bedtime chart is making the rounds with mixed parent reviews, to say the least). Before you pledge to stick to some sort of totally unrealistic schedule, check out the realities you need to recognize when setting bedtimes.

A mother puts her baby into the car

1. Your family’s schedule matters. It’s 6pm when your workday finally ends, and you still have to pick up your toddler from daycare. By the time the two of you get home, it’s 6:45. Then you wait for your S.O. to bring home dinner. That’s before the three of you have some family cuddle time. Oops: You just missed the 7pm bedtime your BFF claims is “absolutely essential” for every two-year-old. Instead of following someone else’s rule, do what’s right for your family and your schedule.

2. There’s a routine here. You fantasize about one thing and one thing only: Your child going to sleep without 45 stories, 27 songs, and 11 sips of water. But that’s not happening anytime soon. Even though the whole bedtime process seems ridiculously long, it’s your kiddo’s groove. Sticking to a routine — even if it’s crazy-long — gives your child a sense of comfort. They know what to expect, and that can make bedtime easier. Yes, technically you could push the routine up an hour, but that could throw your child off. Stay with their regularly scheduled routine, and avoid ditching it just to meet some magical bedtime number.

3. Kids aren’t all the same. Someone told you that all two-year-olds need to go to sleep at 7:30. Sure, some do, but that doesn’t mean your child needs this bedtime. Every child is an individual. With this in mind, your child’s bedtime may not be the same as your BFF’s, your cousin’s, the neighbor’s, or anyone else’s. Children aren’t robots, alarm clocks, or clones. You wouldn’t expect your child to eat the exact same thing as their daycare classmates. So don’t expect them to go to bed at the same time either.

A young girl dozes at the breakfast table

4. Getting enough sleep is crucial. Whether your child goes to bed at 6pm, 7pm, or 10pm, the important thing is that they get enough sleep. If they need to get up early for preschool, you may need to move their bedtime up an hour or two so that they get an acceptable amount of sleep. Children ages 4-12 months need 12-16 hours, 1-2 years need 11-14 hours, 3-5 years need 10-13 hours, 6-12 years need 9-12 hours, and 13-18 years need 8-10 hours, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

5. Sometimes sleep is measured in more than night hours. When you’re calculating how much sleep your child gets and figuring out what their bedtime needs to be, consider when they’re sleeping. Younger children and babies take naps (hopefully). This means that your baby, who needs 12 to 16 hours of a sleep, may get 3-4 of those hours in during the day. That could take their nighttime needs down to 8 to 12 hours. A realistic bedtime takes into account the number of hours your child needs over a full 24-hour period of time. Don’t expect your baby to sleep during the day and then get 12-16 hours at night too.

6. Keep your expectations realistic. There are so many “should dos” and “needs to dos” in parenting that you don’t have time to follow all of them. You should feed your kids this, but not that. You need to do these activities with your kids, but not those. And you should put your child to bed at this time, but not at that other time. Following someone else’s version of “the best” bedtime may make you feel obligated to live up to expectations that are more fantasy than reality. Keep your expectations for bedtime realistic — for you and your child.

7. Allow time for yourself. Yes, you need to set your kiddo’s bedtime based on your family’s schedule. And yes, you need to make sure that they get enough sleep. But you also need to pick a realistic bedtime that gives you time for yourself (or time for you and your S.O.). Whether you’re home all day with the kids or you’re working outside the home, you need at least a little bit of me- or we-time before your own head hits the pillow.

How do you set your child’s bedtime? Tweet us your thoughts @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)