Family Life

Our Family’s Evening Routine

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This post is sponsored by the American Dental Association as part of National Children’s Dental Health Month. With a dentist dad, I’ve had a lifetime of dental instruction and you better believe that when my dad comes to visit, I make him brush all my children’s teeth 

Isn’t that dinner-to-lights-out time one of the craziest times of day? (I accidentally just typed “easiest” instead of “craziest.” It’s definitely not the easiest.)

I love a good routine, because I don’t want to have to think about all the steps every night, and it hasn’t changed much over the past seven years, even with the addition of new children.

About two years ago, though, we did push our goal time of everyone being in bed to 7:30 instead of 7:00 because we just could not get dinner on the table, eat, dishes done, and everybody ready for bed by 7:00 and the rush was just making every night so unpleasant for me (and I’m sure the girls too).

That extra thirty minutes has made all the difference, plus I’ve learned to be a little less rigid about that 7:30 and not to be overly bothered if it ends up being 7:45 instead.

Our family's bedtime routine, starting with dinner and then going through dishes and toothbrushing and bedtime reading together

Here’s what our evening generally looks like:

I start thinking about dinner around 5 p.m. I’m not in full dinner mode yet, but I might pop some chicken in the oven or do a few basic things. It’s also usually the time I have the girls clean up a little or start to warn friends that it’s time to head home.

By 5:30, I really try to have dinner underway. I’m fully in kitchen mode, banging pots and pans around, whipping things in and out of the oven and trying to keep the dishes from getting out of control. The girls usually do a pretty good job of playing with toys or reading books together while I prep and as we get close, I have them set the table.

Bart’s usually home from work about 6 p.m. and he helps keep the children happy or fills up the cups with water as we get ready to sit down.

Somewhere between 6:00 and 6:15, we start eating. The girls ALWAYS want to play games during dinner, so we play some improv games like “185” or tell riddles and jokes or ask trivia questions. Sometimes we go around and talk about our favorite parts of the day or I ask everyone to answer the same question like what their favorite gift they got for Christmas was.

Once dinner is done, everyone clears their plates, I put the food away, Bart does the dishes, and the girls pack their lunches for the next day.

By this time (around 6:45), Tally has usually hit her limit, so while the girls take their vitamins and Bart finishes the dishes, I put her to bed.

Our family's bedtime routine, starting with dinner and then going through dishes and toothbrushing and bedtime reading together

When I get back, I help Bart finish cleaning up the kitchen or the girls put away their toys and books and then we send them all to get on their pajamas (it’s only been in the last few weeks that even Star can get herself dressed for bed, which feels like a massive parenting milestone).

The two big girls brush their own teeth and have one of us check after they’re finished, while I usually brush Star’s teeth.

Our family's bedtime routine, starting with dinner and then going through dishes and toothbrushing and bedtime reading together

With a dad for a dentist, I’ve always been hyper-aware of the importance of tooth brushing and now I feel a great responsibility to keep my girls’ teeth healthy so I don’t let him down (and, you know, so that they have healthy teeth).

In fact, one of the first things I remember him telling me after Ella was born was not to let her take a bottle to bed. I’ve done a lot of things wrong as a parent, but I don’t think any of my children have ever once gone to bed with a bottle.

Baby teeth are just as important to care for as adult teeth right from the get-go, since babies are born with teeth under their gums, and early childhood is the time to start healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Our family's bedtime routine, starting with dinner and then going through dishes and toothbrushing and bedtime reading together

I started taking the girls to the dentist for regular check-ups last year (to my surprise, they LOVE going and ask every time we pass the dental office “How long until our next check-up?”) and happily, none of them have had any cavities and I feel highly motivated to keep that going.

I took a glance at these ten quick tips about protecting your child’s teeth from birth through childhood from the American Dental Association (an organization I’ve known about for as long as I’ve known my own name, thanks to my dad) and it was super helpful – from when to schedule your child’s first cleaning to how much toothpaste to use.

And Bart is a religious teeth brusher (he was the first person I’d ever met who kept a toothbrush and toothpaste in his backpack and brushed his teeth at least once a day on campus), so we’re both on duty to make sure everyone keeps their teeth clean.

Plus, who wants a child with stinky breath?

Once everyone is ready for bed, we have family scripture reading and a prayer and it’s between 7:00 and 7:15.

After that, I either put Star to bed if she’s falling apart (I tuck her in and read her one book) and then read to the big girls, or if Star seems pretty happy, she comes downstairs and reads with us too. Bart often joins us, but not always.

Our family's bedtime routine, starting with dinner and then going through dishes and toothbrushing and bedtime reading together

I usually read to them for between 10-20 minutes, depending on how late it is and how long the chapters are, then tuck everyone in and turn down the lights.

Sometimes the big girls play together for a while or read in their beds and, more often than I’d like, they come back upstairs for “one more” hug and kiss or desperately need a drink of water.

A couple of hours later, just before Bart and I go to bed, we turn off their lamps, pull their blankets over them and close the doors.

And marvel how sweet a sleeping child is. There’s just nothing better, is there?

Our family's bedtime routine, starting with dinner and then going through dishes and toothbrushing and bedtime reading together

Photos by Christie Knight Photography

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of the American Dental Association. 

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  • Reply Jessica February 8, 2018 at 5:29 am

    Could you do a post on dinner time games and how to play? We have three little kids and we’ve reached the point where adult conversation is a no go. We’ve been trying to figure out what to do instead with very tired children and I love your idea but it doesn’t come naturally to me. More details would be welcome!

    • Reply Emily R Juergens February 9, 2018 at 1:45 pm

      I second this request! It doesn’t come naturally to me either.

  • Reply April February 8, 2018 at 6:18 am

    My two kids are a touch older than yours so they go to bed a little later (7 and newly minted 10), but we’ve never really had an issue with evening craziness. It does help that the kids don’t take nightly bath/showers, so that gets cut; I can’t imagine getting that together every night too. I get home from work about 4:45, start dinner around 6. It gets dark here about 6:30 right now so the kids usually play outside until dark and then we all eat. The kids clean up their spaces after dinner and then I or my husband cleans the kitchen while they play a bit longer, and at 7:45 they start getting ready for bed. Teeth and pjs, and in bed by 8pm. They get to read for 30 minutes (although the 7yo usually reads for 20 and then comes to snuggle with me in my room for 10). 8:30 is kisses and bed and they play jazz music on the Echo Dot and are asleep in minutes!

  • Reply M February 8, 2018 at 6:45 am

    My dad is a dentist too! When is bath time?

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw February 9, 2018 at 10:31 am

      They take a bath usually twice a week, usually Sunday mornings before church and usually another morning. But we don’t have a regular routine for it and it’s almost never before bed because I just can’t squeeze it in.

  • Reply Brianna February 8, 2018 at 8:44 am

    What do you do in the summer when it stays light later? I had a friend who spent part of her growing up years in Alaska, where it pretty much doesn’t get dark until midnight/later, if at all, and she said she hated the summer as a kid because she and her siblings would have to go to bed so early and there were still hours of daylight ahead.

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw February 9, 2018 at 10:33 am

      We might push it back a little bit (maybe 30 minutes), but generally we stay pretty much the same.

  • Reply Kathleen February 8, 2018 at 9:20 am

    I’ve had a really tough year personally, so double checking my daughter’s tooth-brushing hasn’t been my #1 priority (or even my #10 priority…). And at her last checkup, she needed almost $1000 worth of work done on her teeth. She is only 6! Face palm. Tooth brushing has definitely jumped up my list now.

  • Reply Grace hennessey February 9, 2018 at 6:37 am

    Maybe I’m nosy but I love reading about people’s routines. After dinner is crazy for us, the kids all get so hyper! We usually play outside or wrestle for a while to wear them out!

  • Reply Jodi February 28, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    It is so crazy! I’m the same with that 7:00, I stress over it so much, and my husband’s like Why are you fretting so much over this imaginary deadline? So I’ve tried to make myself relax about it. We started reading scriptures together in the morning while the kids eat breakfast and that has worked so well for us. I’ve loved getting to bedtime and not feeling the pressure to squeeze that in. Also, once I became an adult I was like Nobody get cavities because I don’t want to pay to fix them!

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