Nobody would ever accuse me of being a strict mom.

At our house, kids can jump on the couch. They are free to grab snacks when they feel the hunger pain coming on. My children are encouraged to express themselves stylistically—and have been known to give themselves Sharpie manicures when left unsupervised for too long. Their pants are often on backwards, we are always running 5 minutes late somewhere.

Most days it seems like I’m just winging motherhood, making up the rules as I go along.

Except for bedtime.

When it comes to getting to bed on time, I am an unrelenting, can’t-be-stopped drill sergeant.

I do not mess around with bedtime.

Almost every night since my son was born 5 years ago, bedtime is the one thing I take the most seriously of all.

I do it to help our kids unwind and feel calm and safe and ready to sleep.

I do it because leading the bedtime rituals make me feel so motherly and like I am providing an innocent, secure childhood for my kids.

I do it because snuggling with my freshly-bathed babes is the best feeling in the world.

But most of all I put my kids to bed on time (early) for my own mental health.

The magic hours after my kids are asleep are what give me the time to regroup and prepare myself mentally and physically for the next day.

We all need a break—my kids and I, both.

Bedtime is what keeps me going.

In our house, bedtime basically starts at 5 p.m.—when we start the dinner process. (Getting a 1, 3 and 5-year-old to sit in their seats and eat food is a process and the struggle is SO real.)

Once they’ve gotten some of the food into their mouths (but honestly, much of it on the floor) it’s time for step 2: getting clean.

The shower time is always followed by a phone call with daddy, pajamas, calming music, quiet time and bedtime stories.

In fact, every night for the last few years at our house it’s groundhogs day.

You can barely tell the passage of time except for the extra child who seems to show up every year or two. It’s dinner, bath, shower, pj’s, books, prayers, tuck in, songs and kisses—and lights out. Every night. At 7 p.m. Since 2012.

7:30 p.m. every. single. night.—you are my happy place.

I don’t need the studies that show that kids who have an earlier bedtime tend to do better in school—I can see it in my own trio when they don’t get enough rest.

I don’t need proof that moms whose kids sleep better at night tend to have better mental health—I know how I feel if I don’t get my downtime to clean up, rest my mind and not have to ask someone to stop poking their sister’s eye for at least a few hours.

They need an early bedtime. I need it, too.

Post-bedtime nights are full of possibility for me. I can catch up on work, drink a glass of wine, watch Netflix, chat with my husband or clean up the kitchen. Or I can just lay on the couch and scroll through Facebook without moving for 3 hours. ANY OF THESE ARE OPTIONS. The latter is *probably* more likely. But it’s only possible because: bedtime.

I’ve tried moving bedtime later. But my kids still pop up at the exact same time in the morning—just on fewer hours of sleep.

I’ve even tried moving bedtime earlier. But my almost-five-year old gave me a stern talking to about the sun still being awake and it not yet being time to sleep, so I decided not to mess too much with a good thing.

So it’s 7:30 bedtime until further notice. Because not only is the sweet sound of alone time awaiting me, but so too are the happy hearts of my well-rested children who wake up every morning with smiles on their faces and big hugs for mama. I can tell that getting so much rest is just good for them, too.

Then it’s time for another day of totally winging it.