A Little Is Almost Always Better Than Nothing

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably tempted to go big or go home. If I can’t run 5 km, why bother running 2 km? If we can’t go sledding for an hour, why bother bundling the kids up for 10 minutes?

Sometimes it does make sense to conserve our energy and wait until we can invest significant time or resources into an activity or project.

But I think, more often than not, we short-sell the impact of doing “just” a little.

A few minutes of planking each day is better than no planking.

Writing a few sentences a day is better than the 2,000-word tome that never gets written.

Spending 5 minutes at bedtime with the kids is better than skipping it altogether because I don’t have the bandwidth to dedicate 30 minutes to the activity.


This last one really hits home. Because I’m a work-from-home mom (and fit that work in and around being a stay-at-home mom; we have virtually no external childcare aside from public schooling), I’m in a bit of an unusual situation. To my kids, I’m largely there for them at all times. And I see them. A lot. Sometimes too much. When bedtime rolls around, I am usually ready to be done seeing them. But I also feel like they need that time, especially as they get older and have so much to discuss.

There is something sacred about that bedtime ritual, especially when each child gets dedicated one-on-one time.

But long bedtimes – like the ones we used to do when they were little with the baths and the songs and the reading and the rocking – just feel beyond my reach. The kids stay up later, the discussions can be more emotionally exhausting, and I have the accumulated fatigue of almost a decade of health issues.

My solution: I’ve been setting the timer on my watch for 3- or 5-minute increments. Usually I end up staying longer, but that’s the minimum and gives me a set point of escape.

So when the kids ask for a snuggle, I can say yes without feeling like it’s an open-ended, crushing commitment. (I know some parents love bedtime – and it is a magical time of connection – but I’m going to raise my hand real high and say that sometimes bedtime is the absolute hardest time of the day for me because all I want is someone to help me get dressed in cozy jammies, help me brush my teeth, and then tuck me in and sing lullabies while stroking my forehead and telling me that I’m safe and loved and everything is going to be okay.)

Over the last month, I’ve enjoyed the bedtime process more than I have in years. No fighting or whining (mostly). Just short, high-quality bursts of time spent cuddling or listening – making these moments of connection feel extra special and leave us wanting more the next night. In this case, a little has been so much better than nothing and, quite honestly, probably better than a lot.

In fact, a little can be just right.

Anyone else find bedtime with small(ish) kiddos to be exhausting? Any current examples of where you’re committed to doing a “little” and being content with that?

P.S. I wrote a few months back about how watching my kids sleep can be one of the best mood resets when I’ve had a tough day. It’s one of my favourite posts.

Header photo by Beazy on Unsplash

25 thoughts on “A Little Is Almost Always Better Than Nothing”

  1. Having boundaries around things (especially in relationships) is empowering and makes them more pleasant. You are choosing to spend the time, but setting conctrete parameters around it, with the option of spending more time as needed, is intentional rather than reactive and puts you in the driver’s seat. Gold star! šŸŒŸ

    1. Doesn’t Gretchen Rubin say something about giving ourselves limits to give ourselves freedom? It’s so true how having limits/boundaries can feel very liberating.

      The bedtime is going well…now I just need them to stay in school for more than one consecutive day!!

  2. I don’t love bedtime on week nights. Weekends are better because Paul does not nap anymore so he is tired and the bedtime process is so much easier. My husband and I take turns and the process is to read 4 books, tuck him in and then come check on him in 10 minutes. He naps at school, although we’ve asked them to shorten his nap and they sometimes do, but when he is especially energetic, I wonder if he had a shortened nap or not… But pushing bedtime back isn’t a great option because he needs to be up by 6:15 so we can leave for school drop off around 7. Bedtime has gotten a bit better lately but a month or 2 ago it was terrible as he was also adjusting to his big boy bed.

    I do Will’s bedtime 100% of the time but it’s so easy. He nurses, we read 1-2 books depending on how tired he is, I sing “you are my sunshine” and put him in my crib. Phil did bedtime once in December when I went to a light show with Paul and it was AWFUL! Probably because he is just so used to me nursing him before bedtime. So eventually we will have to get him to used to being put to bed by someone else so I can be away at bedtime but we aren’t do much these days so I don’t feel motivated to make that change yet.

    From talking to the moms in my 2 moms groups, my sense is that no one enjoys bedtime – especially for our 4yos! But hopefully it gets a bit easier? When bedtime goes well, I do enjoy it and it’s about a 20 minute process. But I never know when it’s going to be a good bedtime!

    1. I think bedtimes do get “easier” but honestly – as with so much of parenting – it’s more of a “different” than “better.”
      I now have the option to not do any bedtime. As in, my kids can fully dress, brush their own teeth and get settled to bed by themselves. In that way it is so much easier than navigating diaper changes and bedtime bottles and babies crying because they can’t settle. Bedtime is also a lot more flexible. They can stay up later, or entertain themselves by reading/playing quietly in their rooms in a way they couldn’t when they were infants and toddlers.
      But on the other hand, it’s not unusual for me to go in exhausted to say goodnight and have a child open up about how one of their classmates was bullied during recess, or worrying about their friend with COVID or asking big existential questions about life and death. And those can be really hard because I want to be “there” for those moments and have to fight through fatigue and readiness to be done with the day.
      Overall, though, bedtime IS easier now because I have a lot more flexibility and other than reminding them to brush their teeth (though they’re getting better at doing this proactively too), they can do things independently which is very, very nice!

  3. Ha, timely post for me as I felt like I totally rushed the bedtime thing last night and was feeling a little guilty. My boys are plenty old enough to put themselves to sleep, but once they are in there, they ALWAYS still call for us to go “tuck them in”. Which is very sweet. But yeah, sometimes I’m like, “ughhhhh I just sat down….I’m watching the olympics right now….just a minute….”. šŸ™‚ Last night I was in fact watching the figure skating and didn’t really want to miss it, so I sort of trotted down the hall, popped in each room with a quick “Night!!” and a hug and kiss and then was basically on my way. I know they like it when I linger more though. So then I felt a little guilty. They didn’t say anything- it was getting later and I think they were tired, anyway- but still. I know the days they even want me to “tuck them in” are extremely short lived, probably, at this point! So I do try to really cherish these moments. In fact, this age is probably the best ever for bedtime- none of that “stay in your bed!” stuff or even having to read a certain number of stories or anything. It’s so low key, easy- just usually a little chat and a kiss. Gosh, I sort of just realized this though. It used to be a lot more stressful to get kids to bed, and now it’s definitely NOT. Wonder when that change happened. I guess it evolved right before my eyes.

    1. Oh, and I forgot to answer your other question- I think my current favorite “do a little” activity is with reading. I’ve really just been trying to focus on reading even a few pages or few minutes every day. Sometimes it feels like “what’s the point?” but those pages add up, eventually! I know I don’t read nearly as much, not even close, as some of your other readers, but doing at least “just a little” keeps me feeling like I am, indeed, still a “reader” too. šŸ™‚

      1. Such a great one! I go through cycles where I don’t read much at all and don’t “bother” since I don’t have much spare time. But those few pages at a time really DO add up (Laura Vanderkam read through War and Peace in one year by reading a few pages a day).

    2. Bedtimes are definitely more low-key these days and I feel like I have a “choice” about how involved I am with their routines. You’re right; that transition does happen without us really noticing it.
      That said, I’m closer to the little years, still, and do try to carve out some time for lingering. But my kids are all-or-nothing sort of kids, so having a timeline in place just really helps me with boundaries.
      And there is the 7-year old asking to be tucked in. That’s my cue <3

  4. Bedtime is the absolute hardest time of the day for me. My kids are 6 and 3 and Iā€™m always on the verge of losing it, though I pride myself on my patience with kids most of the time! One hack that has really helped is doing the whole bedtime routine (pjs, teeth, potty) about 30 minutes before bedtime and then doing a special activity after that is done, like one round of Uno. This has helped SO much and made the whole process much faster and less fraught.

    1. I’m stealing this idea – I stand by 3-4 year olds having THE WORST bedtimes. Like hours long. They are young enough to want you around but never will let you leave and keep coming up with a million excuses.

      1. At 7 and 11 I’ve never met two kids who have such wild fluctuations in bladder response; they go from having bladders of steel during movie nights and bike trips, to needing to trek – loudly and with great pomp and circumstance – to the bathroom every 10 minutes at bedtime, making sure to cross paths with each other on each trip.

    2. Yes to the getting dressed first. I usually have them change into jammies and brush teeth immediately after supper. Then it can be anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours before it’s actually bedtime, but having those tasks out of the way makes the whole evening feel lighter.
      On a related note, I try to treat myself like a child and try to brush my teeth, shower, take our my earrings, get dressed for bed etc as early as possible. If we’re not going out/no one is coming over, I’m generally ready for bed by 7:30 so when the time ACTUALLY comes for bed, all I have to do is crawl between the covers and turn out the light.
      I don’t wear makeup much these days, but whenever I wear mascara this can legit keep me up past my bedtime because I loathe washing my face so much that I keep putting it off and then I get more and more tired, so I want to do it less. So forcing myself to do all the bedtime prep early is just a way to make life easier for me at bedtime…

  5. Well, I don’t have kids and can’t speak to the bed time ritual, but I have a husband – who is at home with me all day – but for a very strange reason always gets very chatty when it’s time for ME to go to bed LOL (he stays up later than I do). Sometimes, it turns into great conversations, and sometimes I really have to tell him that I need to go to sleep now.
    I feel like you could ask if one of your kids would stroke your forehead for a change when you had a particularly long day. I am sure they’d happily oblige! šŸ™‚

    I agree with you on your blog title though – I tend to put things off if I don’t have “X amount of free time” in front of me and then often don’t get around to doing things that I enjoy, because I feel like I didn’t have a long enough stretch of time to dedicate to it. I should definitely try to fit in shorter periods of time to do the things I enjoy.

    1. I HAVE had the kids do this actually. And just tonight my 7-year old came out in his jammies and asked if there was anything I needed help with, which felt similarly lovely. Occasionally when I’ve been solo parenting, the kids will literally tuck me into bed and it is a wonderful feeling.

      1. Awww, I really love that šŸ™‚ Your kids are definitely very kind and caring (and they probably enjoy the role play of being the ‘grown up’) šŸ˜‰

  6. Bedtime is definitely precious around here. The three of us always snuggle up in the kid’s bed, talk about what we’re grateful for and what we’re looking forward to the next day, and then we read a chapter or two of whatever book we’re in the middle of.

    But… sometimes even though I love it, I feel DONE by the time bedtime rolls around, and it’s all I can do to muster up the fortitude to get through it. It’s not even HARD. It’s just LYING THERE. But by that time of night, I want to be off duty, eyes glazed in front of the TV or deep into my book. Or asleep!

    Oh well. I try to tell myself that these days are fleeting, and one day I will cherish the memories of our little bedtime routine. Doesn’t always change my attitude, but at least it encourages me to go through with it more often than not.

    1. That sounds like a great bedtime routine!
      For me, at this point, it’s more like my head hurts from overuse from the day. It’s not “hard”…but it takes a different sort of energy. I call it “wanting to be off duty” a lot. There are so many things to juggle with parenting and it is like a full-time job, so extending that into a late bedtime can feel like too much!
      The days are fleeting. Sometimes I say “no” to their requests for a snuggle; I know it’s okay to prioritize my own needs. But these short bedtime stints feel like just the right balance. Lately at least. If I’ve learned anything from parenting over the last decade is that you’re constantly shifting from one “phase” into another.

  7. I agree that some is better than nothing but it doesn’t feel like that when starting/deciding to do or not. I’ve totally giving up bedtime routine because I”m so sleepy by the time kids go to bed, so usually it’s the other way around, they prep for bedtime (getting all their stuff toys in bed, prepare water, wash face/teeth), and then come to my room for a final hug. I like it and I prefer morning snuggle as I’m more patient. šŸ™‚

    1. I love the morning idea. We often do this on weekends (it’s one of the reasons I wanted a king-sized bed!).
      We have a pretty tight turnaround for weekday mornings and I like to sleep until the last possible minute…

  8. Bedtime usually ends up with me fast asleep next to the two year old. Then I wake up again around 10pm and start my evening. I don’t particularly relish being a night owl, but the little one refuses to sleep without me, so this is where I am right now. I vaguely recall the older kids being similar, so I know that this phase won’t last forever.
    I remember one time, the Husband and I were just so exhausted – I might have been pregnant at the time – and our oldest, who must have been 8 or 9 said, “Do you want me to put you guys to bed?” And she tucked us in, read us a story and turned out the light. It was kind of amazing and magical – I completely get why kids need/want that routine to go to sleep. (And then I’m pretty sure she did the same with her little brother since we were already asleep.)
    I think your idea of “3-5 minutes” is good to remember. I feel like no matter how tired I am with the kids, I can reach deep down and pull out 3-5 minutes.
    The concept of “a little” seems to me to also be a good way to avoid filling “little” times with brainless phone scrolling. Like instead of pulling out my phone, I could spend a little time playing music, I don’t need to practice for an hour. Or I can spend a little time drafting a blog post or jotting down ideas, rather than waiting until I have a chunk of time to write. Or I can sort the towels, not the whole linen closet. Maybe I should have a list of “little” activities to do when I am in between activities or feeling listless….

    1. You had me at sorting towels in the linen closet! Ha.

      I haven’t made a list like this in a while, but for months last year I had a running list of little tasks (under 10 minutes) that I could do. Change the furnace filters, start a laundry, empty garbage cans, order library books, rest for 10 minutes. It was nice when I had spare time and wanted to not fall into scrolling to have some easy tasks to latch on to.

      I appreciated that @GratefulKae mentioned reading in small batches of time, too. I tend to fall into the trap of thinking that if I can’t read a whole chapter there’s no point, but even a page or two feels great!

  9. Just wanted to say thank you for writing this – it resonates with me so so much: no matter how many times I tell myself that it is true, I still more often than not find myself thinking things like, eh, I only have 20 minutes, it’s totally not worth getting up off the couch to exercise… which is ridiculous, because imagine if I actually used those 20 minutes even just 3-4 days a week?! It would be far better than nothing! I’m going to put this on my goals list for this year, in some form, because it really merits getting it through my head one way or another. I think I shall bookmark your post to refer back to when I get discouraged, because it is a really lovely and encouraging analysis of this type of mental trap.

    1. Awww. Thanks, Christine.

      I have to tell myself this sort of thing…everyday. But a little can definitely add up to alot!

  10. Loved this for so many things…
    Tasks (just clean out a few emails/downloads, you don’t have to do them all!)
    Calling friends (you do have the time, and you’ll enjoy it, even if it’s short)
    Going on a walk (I only have 10 min, what’s the point?)
    Writing comments on blog posts (I can’t write a soliloquy so why bother?)
    No bedtimes for kids here, but wow, in so many areas of life, this is so relevant… Thank you!

    1. Anne, I love your ideas/comments and how you’ve structured this response.

      It can be hard to convince ourselves that a little is better than nothing (or that a little might be better than a lot!)…

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