This week on the podcast, we’re diving into another Bringing It Home episode. We’re looking deeper at our last Unschooling “Rules” topic, that unschoolers don’t have bedtimes, and exploring what it can look like to navigate staying up late with our unschooling families.
Unsurprisingly, there is no one right approach. It’s so much about seeing through our children’s eyes and making choices that feel good to them. A world of possibilities exists when we are open and curious!
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So much of what we talk about on this podcast and in the Living Joyfully Network isn’t actually about unschooling. It’s about life. On The Living Joyfully Podcast, Anna Brown and Pam Laricchia talk about life, relationships, and parenting. Listen to The Living Joyfully Podcast here, or find it in your your favorite podcast player.
ANNA: Hi, everyone! I’m Anna Brown from Living Joyfully, and this is episode 347 of the Exploring Unschooling Podcast. And I’m joined today by my co-hosts, Pam Laricchia and Erika Ellis. Welcome!
ANNA: On our last Unschooling Rules episode, we talked about the idea that unschoolers have no bedtimes, what that actually looks like and how in practice, it’s a lot different than that blanket statement might indicate. In this Bringing It home episode, we will continue the conversation talking about how it looks when kids stay up late and how we can navigate it in a way that works for all members of the family.
But before we get started, I wanted to remind everyone about the Living Joyfully Podcast. It’s our podcast that focuses on building strong, connected relationships in all areas of our life. You’ll find that the themes are similar to what you hear on this podcast, but without the unschooling lens, making it easier to share with people in your lives, and also as a framework of how to apply the principles to all of your relationships. We keep them in short, easy-to-digest bites, and end with some questions to contemplate. It’s been so much fun putting it out there, and we’d love it if you could check it out and share it with anyone you think might enjoy it. It’s available on your favorite podcast players, and you can also find it specifically at podcast.show/livingjoyfully.
Okay. Erika, do you wanna get us started talking about late nights and how we can navigate them?
ERIKA: I would love to. And I actually think it’s kind of perfect that I get to start us off on this episode entitled Staying Up Late because late bedtimes are very much a part of life and a part of our family discussions these days. We’re right in the middle of a season of sleep exploration.
I think one of the fun things about this topic is that there are just so many ways that bedtime plays out in different families, but I do think it’s so common to have certain phases of life or certain children who have that strong interest in staying up late. And what’s late to one person just feels like a great time to get some things done for someone else, or a great time to hang out with some friends. So, this is of course, so individual. Everyone is so different. And so for this episode, I thought it might be helpful to go through some of the big sticking points and issues that can come up when kids are wanting to stay up late, starting with, “But nighttime is time for grownups to finally relax and be together.”
And so, this was me at one point in what now feels like the distant past. The kids had been falling asleep much earlier than Josh and I for a long time. And then that natural bedtime and their sleepy cues gradually became later and later until it no longer made sense for Josh to try to stay up later than them if he had work in the morning.
And, for me, the biggest part of navigating that new reality was just realizing that these are all seasons. We had a season where he went to bed without me, and then a season where we both went to bed before the kids, but I knew that I couldn’t expect them to go to bed early forever. And so, just releasing that thought was so helpful. In particular, I think the teenage brain seems geared to late nights and late mornings.
And so, instead of fighting with what was happening or clinging to that vision of an early bedtime, I shifted my focus to figuring out a new way, new ways and new times of connecting with Josh instead. And it also helped to start doing my nighttime routine and my self-care earlier in the evening, which was a definite shift from waiting to take care of myself until the kids were asleep. That just wasn’t working anymore. And I really don’t like that feeling of getting so tired that I can’t even drag myself to the bathroom. And so, I guess it was really just being aware of the stories that I was telling about the situation and being open to shifting my routine as it became clear that they were needing something different from me and from their schedule.
ANNA: I think it is one of the biggest sticking points. We get this idea, this picture in our mind, of how nights are supposed to look, and we can spend a lot of energy and try to move everyone into that vision. Ultimately, it was realizing that part of the stress of the evenings was my own creation by trying to force or even ever so gently nudge people towards participating in my vision of the night.
But when we opened things up and let go of any preconceived notions of the solution and started turning to the needs, that’s when things started to feel easier. At that point, we could be creative. You know, both David and I were finding time in the evenings, and thinking about how the evenings were playing out in general. Thinking about food and teeth brushing, wind downs, who needed to get up early the next day? Where were we all going to sleep?
Keeping an abundance mindset about time and solutions helped us find creative ways for David and I to have time together, even when the kids were staying up later than we were. Opening everything up, I feel, allowed us to flow with the needs and find solutions that worked for everyone, and it was always evolving. The seasons that you talked about, always evolving.
PAM: Always evolving. And that opening up to possibilities beyond how I was envisioning them going to sleep was definitely key for me, too. I remember noticing that if I went into conversations about going to bed with even just the energy of getting them to commit to a plan just for that night, they were resistant. Even when they did say something like, “I just wanna finish this game or this level, or this book, or whatever, and then I’ll go to bed,” there was a good chance it wouldn’t actually happen that way anyway, because they were in their flow.
I came to see that I was actually trying to get them to predict their future flow, and that’s when it started to seem a little ridiculous. So, with that, I was able to shift to supporting them in their actual flow. So, I could share plans that were on tap for the next day without the energy of, so therefore you should go to bed soon. And they could just add that info to the mix as their evening played out.
And we’d also chat about how they’d like to be woken up if need be, or what other things that they wanted to have happen in anticipation of the plans for the next day. And eventually, I remember getting to that point where I enjoyed waking up in the morning while the kids were still all asleep.
And I’d just walk through the house to see evidence of the fun they’d gotten up to the night before, after I’d gone to bed, after Rocco and I had both gone to bed. So, sometimes it was like some dishes in the kitchen or an old game console pulled out and plugged into the TV, or blankets piled up on the couch.
I just came to see those little vignettes as lovely reminders that we are all individuals living our unique, both together and apart. It’s so interesting to get to that stage where your kids are awake and living and doing things while you’re sleeping. It’s beautiful how they weave together, right?
ERIKA: Mm-hmm. And I love seeing that evidence of fun, like you described it, too, especially like elaborate scenes with all the characters and the plushies. I just have so many good memories of that. And I love what you both emphasized about not getting stuck on the vision or that set outcome that we always talk about, like releasing that there’s this one right way. And getting creative and curious about the possibilities just helps me so much, especially in these kind of charged areas like sleep.
So, I thought maybe next we could dive into what happens when a child wants to be up late, but also doesn’t want to be alone. And this is one of those challenges that I find leads to all kinds of interesting conversations and problem-solving opportunities.
And so, as far as my experience goes, it felt like the kids and I gradually shifted later and later together as they were more interested in playing with friends online and had just more going on in their social lives. We had many nights where I would say, “I’m getting tired,” and one of them, or both of them would say, “Just a little bit longer, we’re still playing.” And so, because they weren’t comfortable with being up alone at night, I did my best to support them while still trying to be honest about my own capacity. And so, I ended up having a season of really late nights with them, which worked out pretty well. We had a lot of fun together, and I was there to hear all the things that they were exploring and talking about with their friends, and we just had late nights and late mornings together.
Well, one night, I had reached my personal point of exhaustion and I let them know that I needed to go to bed, and this time, they were really right in the middle of something super exciting. And so, rather than join me and go to bed, they agreed together that they would stay up longer than me. And so that was the beginning of a new phase of our lives. The experience that they’ve gained from listening to their bodies and figuring out about what time they need or want to wake up for the next day’s activities, what their bodies feel like when they’re tired, regular tired, or overtired. All of that I think is just so valuable and we all get to do what feels best to us as individuals, which really suits our family since we’re all so different.
ANNA: It was a lot like that for us, too. I feel like it was this gradual moving back of when they were tired and I’m a big proponent of listening to our bodies, eat when we’re hungry, sleep when we’re tired, and so, it really tested my commitment to that as we each figured out when we really wanted to sleep and even how much sleep we needed, which was different for all of us. And all of those kind of related bits that then became late mornings, early mornings, late nights, middle of the night.
But part of the conversation for me was to be honest about my capacity and narrating to show my process in the evenings. So, how my brain was feeling, and if I was getting frustrated or just too tired to play or move or think. I could talk about what was going on for me without putting anything on them, because it was different, but it was still giving them information and some language. And when they were still at an age of not wanting to be alone, that’s where we’d start the creativity again and find ways for them to maybe play quietly in the family bed or in the room if I was really needing to go to sleep. I’d put on a sleep mask and some earplugs sometimes.
I was thinking about this and it’s just so funny what a small blip of time it feels like now, but I remember how long those moments felt on those nights where it was being pushed and pushed and I was figuring out, where is my capacity? There were times early on that we had to think about David needing to get up early, so we would strategize about quieter play, being in another part of the house, doing that prep work before bed earlier so there was less commotion in that bathroom when we needed to go to bed.
And so, I was a night owl way back then. And so, staying up with them was really not hard for me. We would just all sleep in the next day. I’d get up a little bit earlier and so then I had to adjust having my quiet time, a little bit of quiet time for me, in the morning instead of late at night, which would’ve been probably my preference back then. But like you said, it is a season. And so, I just did my best to embrace that and just figure out, where is this going to take us next? What are we learning? And I love the things that you mentioned, like we’re learning so many things.
We never had the super, super late nights for anyone until my youngest was a teen and started gaming with night owls on the west coast. So, midnight for them was 3:00 AM for us. But by the time this was happening, she was in her own room and on headphones and every once in a while, we’d hear the shrieks from something happening in the game. But for the most part it really wasn’t that disruptive. And I’d just make a point to check in with her before I was going to bed and we’d have a chat and does she need any food? What does she need for her night? We also had conversations about what was happening the next day and if she felt like she would get enough sleep, or was fine pushing through and going to bed earlier the next night?
It was just this ongoing dialogue about what was going on and a process of her learning how her body worked and how it functioned best. I remember she would not agree to sleepovers with friends unless there was a cushion day afterwards, because she knew what a toll those all-nighters with the big sleepovers took for her body to catch up.
PAM: I just want to emphasize that point too, because them making choices, like pushing through tiredness, that’s all good. That’s not a bad choice. That’s not a wrong choice. That’s like, ooh, I can play around. I know I can stay up extra late. I can do it for two, maybe three nights in a row, but then yes, I need some catch up time, some extra rest time. So, things that might look like wrong decisions that our kids make, no, they’re just choices. And to let them explore. I remember how many times I was surprised in those first couple of years when they would stay up late anyway and we would go to the thing. And they’d be great. They’d have fun and they would just enjoy themselves and then they’d come and maybe crash earlier that night or whatever. It doesn’t have to be like clockwork how things unfold.
Anyway, I did want to mention that I remember being sent to my bed in my room all by myself. And it was uncomfortable for me over different seasons growing up. So, when my kids were young, there were seasons where I’d go from bedroom to bedroom, hanging out with each as they wound down and fell asleep, reading books, chatting, whatever we were into at the time.
And then there were other seasons when we’d all hang out in our bedroom watching TV and chatting, them eventually falling asleep and Rocco and I carrying them to their rooms. If they got up during the night, maybe they’d come join us or I’d go join them. Or they found me sleeping in like their brother or sister’s bedroom, and then they’d just wake me up and I’d move to their bedroom. It might be two or three different bedrooms during the night. And that worked fine for me, because I can sleep just about anywhere now.
Once we began unschooling though, and moved beyond the bedtimes, there were times when someone wanted me to stay up with them and we would just chat about it as you were both mentioning. Mostly it was that they wanted me in the same room and I’d hang out as they were doing their thing, and maybe I’d be napping here and there. They’d wake me up if they needed something or they wanted to share something exciting that had happened. Or I’d wake up when I heard the loud little noise and say, “Hey, what happened?”
And alongside that, there were times that we all found ourselves up later than usual for something fun. And as you were mentioning narrating, Anna, I’d just share how I was feeling along the way. So when I’m getting tired, I get giggly and laugh longer and at sillier things. And that was known for years as the Sleepy Giggles as we talked about it, and they thought it was pretty hilarious. They could definitely tell my behavior changed as I got tired. If I continued to stay up, I started feeling nauseated and needed to lie down.
Their bodies absolutely were different, but they understood mine pretty easily. It was unfolding right in front of them, and I was telling them what was going on. So, if things were still popping and they wanted me to be around, or I didn’t want to miss the fun of what was going on, I would just lie on the couch quietly. I started to feel better. Maybe I might fall asleep, but I was definitely still around to catch the highlights. And then as they got older, I’d say goodnight, check in, see if they needed anything and off to bed I went. Different seasons. And over time, it really was just all about the conversations, how we were feeling, what we needed, what was going on, and goodnight, have a great night!
ERIKA: I love that so much. We have experienced so much of that late night giggly time, too. Maya and I have had so much fun making each other laugh late at night. We even coined a term belirious to describe that feeling, and Oliver doesn’t quite get it. He prefers to go to sleep before he gets silly, which totally fits with his personality. And because everyone is so different, there are just so many ways that this can work in practice, the possibilities are really endless.
And so, I think it could be fun to mention some of those logistical pieces of late nights. Things like noise, light, different people having different schedules, and what can those sleeping arrangements look like? And for this, I just think the key is staying open and curious and including everyone in that problem solving process. I know sometimes as the parent, I come to my kids with the solution I think is going to work because I’m the parent, but the kids have really great ideas and thoughts about these situations, too, and so I lose out on a lot if I think my one answer is the right answer.
And there are so many things we’ve talked about in the Network that can help with creating a sleeping atmosphere for some people in the family while other people are still awake. So, things like closing doors, using blackout curtains, using earplugs or white noise machines, putting rugs under furniture and noisy chairs if the kids are scooting around in the night, using headphones for gaming, moving that activity, the gaming activity or whatever it is, to a room that’s farther away from the sleeping room, or moving the sleeping room to another room that you might not have even considered for sleeping, but it’s a little more out of the way , so now that seems perfect. And that’s just to name a few ideas.
ANNA: It just really is so amazing what bubbles up when we remain open and curious and involve all the parties. There are so many options and they’re just there if we start looking and just recognizing any resistance we might have and noticing, is that helping us find solutions or is it kind of shutting down the conversations, like you said, maybe narrowing in on one solution? Then we just have this tunnel vision. I wanted to actively set aside any resistance just to feel how it felt to be open, because my resistance comes from a place that I’m tired or I want it to be a certain way. It’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it’s just kind of checking in to understand, hey, if I set that aside, what actually opens up? And what I found was a lot.
And just remembering it’s not about one person acting in a vacuum. We talk about everyone’s needs and trust that we will keep at it until we find something that feels good. And we just get there a lot faster if we bring that open, curious mindset and everyone’s participating. From that place, I felt like we could get at the needs. So, that might be light or a need of quiet or food or the need of company. Whatever was bubbling up for the people involved, when we understand that need, that’s when the options opened up. It’s really this creative process to think about how to address noise or too much light. We miss those if we’re focused on the answer being that everyone just needs to be in bed asleep by X time.
We had friends that put up acoustic tile in their gamer’s room and it made a huge difference. I don’t mind earplugs, so that helped me, because I’m a very light sleeper. I’ve found that when kids know that we’re open to finding solutions and not trying to stop them from doing what they’re wanting to do, and they’re not trying to stop me from sleeping, we know that we’re all working in this together, then we can find these solutions that feel good.
And I know if families are newer to this, everyone may not be participating yet. They’re still a little unsure of what this process looks like, and can we trust it? But as the trust builds and all the ideas are considered and valued, that is going to change. And sometimes in the beginning, just making it fun and starting with some off-the-wall, silly ideas can just make people laugh and get them excited and they start throwing out ideas and it just sets the stage of, there’s no bad idea. We’re just here talking and trying to figure things out.
And you’re right. There have been so many great sleep conversations and breakthroughs on the Network. It is so unique to each family. And it’s definitely not a rule that all unschoolers stay up late, but hopefully, it’s about each person in the family really tuning into their body and finding rhythms that work with the life that each family is creating.
PAM: Oh, I know. I love that. And it really does just go such a long way to validate someone’s wish to stay up later. When they just feel seen and heard and trust that you’re going keep going to figure out ways to make it work for everyone, they often feel less defensive and resistant, feel like we’re on the same team. But as you mentioned, Anna, that process takes time, too, right? It takes time for that trust to build. So, maybe if sleep is your first one that you’re going into this kind of conversation with, because I knew where I wanted to get and with that understanding that, I can’t say, “Hey, you can fully trust me now. I changed my mind! We’re just gonna figure this out together.”
That is hard to trust. I can know that in my head and know that I want to get there, but I can also take my time and I can be extra giving upfront so that they can see through experience that they can really trust me. So, I think that is such an important point to help people get there if this is their first experience, that it can take some time. But it is so worth it and that’s where the relationships and the trust and the connection grow deeper and deeper over time.
And, as you both mentioned, kids really can come up with some great ideas. So, my being extra open to things, I got to start to hear, when they realize that they can share ideas, even silly ones, and I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s cool! That would be so funny.” Rather than, “Oh my gosh, that would never work,” the energy changes and then over time they feel more and more open to share things without fear that they’re going to be shut down or told that was a silly idea, or, “I don’t agree with you.” We come to see how capable kids really are and they really are open to considering the needs of others when they feel like their needs are respected too. It gets us to that team level where all our needs, all the things, our constraints, our quirks of personality, all those pieces are going to be respected and heard and woven into the mix of the ways we move forward.
And it’s not about like, let’s brainstorm and come up with one solution. It’s like, Ooh, what about this? Let’s go try this. Oh, what about this? Let’s go try this. Oh, that kind of worked, and just working through it, through the conversations. And it really became so much fun over the years to brainstorm unconventional possibilities, using the rooms in unconventional ways, setting up different environments and different spaces. For us, it was just so fun. We’re still moving our house around.
ERIKA: I just think like not getting stuck thinking we need to solve everything in some perfect way that’s just going to stay the perfect way forever. Especially with something like sleep, that’s just not going to happen. Things are going to change and we could just try different things. Even just for one night, we could try something and just see how it goes. And so, just being playful with it makes things feel so much lighter.
ANNA: So much lighter. But actually something bubbled up for me that’s not as light from Pam’s, but I do want to mention it, because it’s this idea we’ve seen in the Network and a lot of places over the years, it’s an older child that maybe wants to stay up later and maybe there’s younger siblings around.
And so, the focus is on what we’ve been talking about solving for these pieces. But really again, it’s about getting to that underlying need and maybe that older child is needing some quiet. It’s a bit more chaotic environment during the day with younger siblings. And then sometimes, as parents, we can get defensive about that, that wait a minute, but you know, this environment, whatever. But it’s like, so even things like that, just checking in. Like, hey, okay, is it that? What do they love about the late nights? Is it friends that are available? Is it quiet to think and it’s a creative time for them? And okay, how can we create that in other ways, maybe, during the day? Or how can we just honor it in the night?
But that’s that piece of just understanding each other, really being open, really looking for that underlying need. So, something you said, Pam just made me think of that piece.
ERIKA: Okay, so that brought something up for me too, which is I’ve heard the kids say things like, “I just want independence,” like, “I’m in charge of what happens right now. I’m gonna be getting food for myself and deciding what to do for myself.” So, sometimes it’s that, like a great opportunity to just do their own thing.
PAM: Yeah. And sometimes what those conversations are so useful, because the staying up late can be the solution that they’ve come to. And like you were saying, getting to that need underneath helps. It helps them recognize it. It helps us understand them better and also helps us maybe come up with like three or four different ways. So, if for a time or a week or whatever staying up late doesn’t work, maybe we can get them some quiet time on their own if that is the issue or whatever that underlying need is. Staying up late can definitely be one way, but maybe we can come up with an abundant three or four ways to meet that need, and staying up late is a choice on the platter rather than the one solution, as you were talking about, Erika.
ANNA: But we miss it if we’re just kind of tunneled in, even on this specific situation. It’s so much about just getting to know each other, having those conversations. What do you love about it? What’s fun about it? Because I think we can get so focused on even finding the solution, even when we’re doing it in this way, like being creative and we’re gonna find a solution. We’re kind of focused on that versus the learning, the learning that can happen when we’re finding out these nuances of each other and living in the family together.
PAM: Yeah. And it’s a season, right?
ANNA: I hate to say that, because I think people are like, gosh, Anna, we’ve heard it before, but it’s like, when you’re telling the things Pam, and I’m just thinking, oh, it was so long ago! It’s so quiet here now! And so, I know that sounds terrible because I really do remember how long those nights felt like. I remember just thinking, this is never going to end. I’m never going to sleep again. But you really do. It really changes so, so fast.
Oh my goodness. It has been so much fun to dive into this rich late night topic with you both, and we’d love it if you would join us on the Living Joyfully Network where we talk about this topic and many more that impact our unschooling lives. It’s such a great space to connect with other families navigating the same challenges, to feel support around that and experience all the joy of the connection as well. So, you can learn more about that at living joyfully.ca/network. So, thanks again for joining us here, and we hope to see you next time.
PAM: I hope you found this episode helpful on your unschooling journey. And be sure to check out the growing podcast archive. The conversations never go out of date. You can find more information about my books, the Living Joyfully Network online community, and the Childhood Redefined Unschooling Summit online course at my website, living joyfully.ca.