Remember sleep? Let me refresh your memory. It’s that thing where you lay in a bed and you don’t wake up until morning. Remember that?
Even if you have kids who are great sleepers, it’s likely you still wake up to check on them. And everyone knows that when you become a mom, you morph into this superhuman who is weirdly 100 % alert and awake at the sound of an irregularly timed suck of the pacifier (In other words, your sleep can now be described as lighter-than-light). There is no known tranquilizer-like method I know of to ensure healthy sleep habits for your family when you’re smack dab in the midst of the parenting years. But, I can tell you that there is hope…for the future. Moms of newborns, hang in there. We’re all counting on you.
Avoid Bad Habits
If you have a newborn or infant, you are tired. You are so tired that I’m amazed you have the mental capacity to read this article right now. Go you! Also, there are two very passionate groups of mothers who have opposing opinions. Some will say that for healthy family sleep, you need to let your kids cry it out. Lock their doors and don’t let them out until 7. Others will say you need to have a family bed and meet their every need in order to build their confidence and feelings of security. Most moms are probably in-betweeners, somewhere on the spectrum. You need to decide where you stand on that, but one thing you can decide to do is build some good habits and try to avoid bad ones.
Here is a bad habit – caffeine before bed! Don’t do it and DEFINITELY don’t let your kids do it. “Can I have this Coke before bed, Mom?” No. no. no. Always no. Here is another bad habit – let’s buy a puppy…at 8 p.m. tonight. The last hour of the day should be calm and quiet. Don’t make trampoline time the activity you hope will lull your kids into dreamland. These might sound obvious, but let me leave you with one more no-no – putting your kids to bed on an empty stomach. Maybe you eat later, maybe earlier, but don’t let your people go to bed hungry.
Develop Good Habits
Although every family is different and there will be unpredictable days, try to establish a nighttime ritual early on. Here’s a funny little exercise to try. Look back on your pre-mom years and the ridiculous things you told yourself. Here’s one of mine – I’m laid back and flexible, so I’m going to raise my kids that way. They’ll work around what I want to do. They won’t run the house.
Ha! There is wisdom in not letting your child be the center of your household, but you have to be realistic about seasons. During the baby/toddler season, you’ve got to meet your little’s demands and yes that means putting your easy breezy laid-back tendencies on hold for a while. It only took me about one or two missed naps to realize that we ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY WOULD ALWAYS BE HOME FROM 11:00 A.M. TO 2:00 P.M. EVERY DAY UNTIL THE END OF TIME. I’m exaggerating (a smidge), but my point is, kids need routines. They thrive with routines. No matter what your family style is, set a routine. In my house, our routine with the biggest little looks like this.
7 p.m. Brush teeth
7:05 p.m. Tuck in bed
7:06-7:10 p.m. Pray, Sing
7:11 p.m. Kiss goodnight
7:12 p.m. Answer the following question: Can I have a sip of my night-time water?
7:13 p.m. Get the nighttime water that I forgot.
7:15 p.m. Give the sip of night time water.
7:16 p.m. Re-kiss and re-tuck in
7:19 p.m. Big one exits her bed and enters my room to ask one of the following questions, “Can you tell me about a time you got hurt?” “In the morning, can I wear the super girl shirt I wear every morning?” “Can I kiss my baby sister who I haven’t been interested in kissing all day that I’ve been with her, but I need to kiss her right now in this moment for a very long time?”
8:30ish p.m. Bed time
Most nights, bedtime is enforced with a “We’ll talk about all that in the morning.” But, sometimes I indulge her and we have some deep talks about things like the meaning of life and/or mysterious scabs. It’s a little long, but it’s pretty predictable. Kids feel secure when they do predictable things. If you make bedtime predictable, it will be something peaceful and soothing, rather than something stressful and scary.
If you want one quick take away from this article, here it is: make bedtime a predictable, comfortable, soothing time for all members of your family. If your bedtime ritual regularly involves screaming and crying, something needs to change. Take the trial-and-error approach. Try some different nighttime rituals and see what works for your people.