Playing the right cards at bedtime


uno-kids-vAlmost every night for the past few weeks, my two oldest kids and I have played a round of UNO right before bedtime. The baby is already asleep and my husband is gone many nights with church meetings, so it’s just the three of us. Luke usually deals, then Millie announces all the wild cards she has in her hand. Luke rubbernecks to see what he’s up against, and Millie randomly calls out UNO because she wants to pick two more cards — “Just so I have more choices.” She usually wins, despite her unnecessary card draws and her brother’s attempts at cheating.

The games don’t last very long; they take around five minutes, maybe 10 minutes on a particularly competitive night. There are times when the five extra minutes added to the already drawn-out bedtime routine is too much, and we skip the game. But I’m always happy when we make time for it, because I’ve discovered there is something magical about ending the day on a good note.

For a long time, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with bedtime. Love when my kids are finally in bed. Hate the process of getting them there. Maybe your kids are a dream to put to sleep, but at my house bedtime can be the most frustrating time of day.

Despite the fact that bedtime happens every single night, my kids are usually surprised when I announce that it’s time to get ready for bed. It reminds me of that part in comedian Jim Gaffigan’s “Mr. Universe” routine. “Bedtime? What’s that? Well I don’t wanna do that.”

because-I-said-so-REDEvery night is the same: pajamas, bathroom, vitamins, teeth. Scriptures, prayer, stories. I’ve tried my best to make our bedtime routine consistent and concise, but honestly it’s still a chore. I’m tired and my kids are tired, too — even when they think they aren’t. Some nights they whine and I warn. They ask for multiple bathroom breaks or make numerous requests for another drink of water or a snack. My young kids don’t yet appreciate the beauty of a good night’s sleep, and they are experts at employing stall tactics. I’m a good sport about it until I’m not.

One of my sisters-in-law is the bedtime whisperer. Putting her three kids to bed takes her 15 minutes tops. I am in awe of her skills. On a good night, I double that time. On a bad night, bedtime drags on for an hour or more. One of the main reasons I look forward to a Friday night babysitter is so that I can have a night off from putting my kids to bed. More than once, bedtime has ended in tears. Both mine and theirs. Although my children ultimately end up asleep, it’s hard to rest easy when we all go to bed upset.

But bedtime has been much better recently, and I’m convinced UNO is the key. I am trying harder to enjoy the processes in life, rather than just the end results. (I’m at the stage of parenting where process is all I’ve got.)

Instead of letting my Type A personality view bedtime as a task to check off the ever-present to-do list in my head, I’m focusing more on how to make it more enjoyable for everyone.

For us, right now, that means we play UNO. It’s quick. It’s easy. And I can use it as leverage to speed up the getting ready for bed process. After the last card is laid, into bed the children go. No matter how the day has gone, we end it together, happy. And that’s a feeling that won’t keep me up at night.



Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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