The Mariano Rivera of Bedtime – by Sean O’Neil

In my house, I proudly refer to myself as the Kid Closer. As long as I was home at kiddie bedtime, my role was to put my four kids away. I became the Mariano Rivera of bedtime. My wife, Erin, would argue that Mariano was a more visible bullpen presence than I ever was in our house around bedtime, but I’ll leave that debate to her blog…should she ever start one.

One day, after a particularly brutal business travel stint, I was immediately ushered back into closer duties to assist with my daughter Julia, who was 4 at the time. Closing Julia was no small task, as she was notoriously clingy and afraid of the dark–it had been a growing problem for Erin. I was exhausted from travel, but Julia needed someone to close her. Erin made a call to the bullpen. Enter Sandman.

After reading Julia one of the many dreadful children’s books parents are forced to read their children, we chatted, as was custom, and then had the following exchange:

Me: Ok kid, 2 minutes, 30 seconds until lights out.
Julia: Wait, Dad, didn’t you hear the new rules?
Me: Rules? Mom made rules for the Closer?
Julia: No, not Mom’s rules… My rules.
Me: Oh. You made rules for the closer? No, I haven’t heard. What are they?
Julia: One, no minutes, no seconds. Two, tell me when you’re leaving—don’t just kiss me—tell me AND kiss me. And three, hold my hand so I know when you’re leaving.

Let’s breakdown each of Julia’s rules and their intended message:

Julia’s Rule Julia’s Message to the Closer
1. No minutes, no seconds. Guy, enough with the countdown. I can see what you’re doing. When you need to leave, just let me know. The countdown only adds to the stress of your leaving, and I can’t take it.
2. Tell me when you’re leaving—don’t just kiss me—tell me AND kiss me. You think I’m asleep, and then you slip out of the bed hoping not to wake me. Honestly. How cowardly of you. I want you to man up and tell me when you’re leaving. You at least owe me that, dammit.
3. Hold my hand so I know when you’re leaving. You’re my father. It would be nice if you acted like it sometimes. Hold my hand, for God’s sake. Would that kill you? (Oh, and it also let’s me know if you’re leaving in case you mess up Rule #2.)

I was taken aback by Julia’s boldness, but I vowed to give the new rules a try. And, what do you know…they worked!

It’s nice when people tell you exactly how they plan to solve a problem and what they need from you to participate in the solution. First, it arms you with direct-from-the-source information about what will make them happy. You can use it to sculpt a winning strategy for dealing with them–for this problem and others. Second, and perhaps more important, they take ownership over the solution, so if it fails, they’re not pointing at you and telling you how much you screwed it up!

With Julia, we more or less follow her rules to this day, and bedtime has become infinitely more pleasant. Sure, we have made some tweaks (for example, I have to open and shut her closet doors each night), but by and large, the bedtime routine runs like clockwork.

It’s been nice for Julia, as bedtime isn’t as tortured as it once was. But it’s been nice for the Kid Closer too, as he’s getting on in years, and can’t be relied upon to get out of the same jams he once did.


About Sean O’Neil

Sean O’Neil is a workplace and team dynamics expert. He is also Principal and CEO of Bare Knuckle People Management (, a sales and management training firm with clients that include the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, News Corporation, First Data, ADP, Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Oakland Raiders. Sean and John Kulisek co-authored Bare Knuckle People Management: Creating Success with the Team You Have – Winners, Losers, Misfits and All, which was published in May 2011. Sean has contributed to or been featured in, among others, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Selling Power Magazine, CNBC.comLeadership Excellence Magazine, Training Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, the Sports Business Journal, and Incentive Magazine. Sean appears regularly on radio and television programs, including Fox Business Network and Imus in the Morning, mostly about workplace communications and management issues. Sean is a nationally-recognized speaker on everything concerning people and the way they interact with each other. He can also frequently be seen pacing the sidelines of a youth team he’s coaching.