If you’ve ever asked an expert about bedtime, they all usually have a common theme – routine, routine, routine. The details vary but the content tends to be similar. Bath time, pajamas, story time, feed, snuggle, et cetera.
But what if you’re like my husband and I, who never managed to make a solid routine a priority and fly by the seat of your new-parent pants?
You wing it. You adjust. You do what needs to be done, with flexibility. Our goal has always been to get all family members to sleep peacefully and get as much rest as possible. Sometimes a bath happens before bed. Sometimes pajamas are forgotten and the little rugrats sleep in their clothes. As long as the outcome is sleep, we’re good.
When expecting our first baby, co-sleeping was recommended in our birthing class. I’d never heard of people having their babies sleep in bed with them, and it sounded like a bad idea for many reasons. Lo and behold, my opinion did a 180 and our little bundle of joy was in our bed, all the time, from her first night of life and beyond. Bedtime routines varied with my work schedule but always ended with a nice nursing session – at bedtime and at every wake-up overnight. Naps tended to happen while wrapped in a Moby Wrap on either me or her dad.
People close to us asked how we managed to have sex. Yes, they actually asked that. As if a couple can only do the horizontal mambo in their marital bed! The questions stopped when we mysteriously managed to get pregnant again when our baby was about 15 months old.
Realizing we’d soon have someone else to snuggle all night, my husband got to work getting our toddler out of our bed. We started with a crib mattress on our bedroom floor, and the transition wasn’t easy but her daddy provided some calming cuddles. After moving out of state, she was back in our bed for a few weeks until we got her a full-size bed in her own room.
Getting a roomy bed for our kiddo was one of our best parenting decisions to date. Unless you’re a pint-size petite person, fake sleeping in a toddler bed until the toddler believes you and passes out just isn’t comfortable. And having some room to sleep when they just can’t bear the thought of you leaving the room is essential.
Our bedtime routine with her changed often. Just when we thought something was working well, it stopped, and we’d be back at square one. I remember a few months where she would only fall asleep on my lap in an armchair in the living room while we bored her with meaningless adult conversation. I’d waddle my pregnant self down the hall with her, lay her in bed and sneak away.
Our second baby came, and with him came the diagnosis of unilateral clubfoot. Clubfoot is a rare birth defect in which one or both feet are turned in due to the muscle tissue forming incorrectly. Correction includes casting the baby’s leg up to the thigh for several weeks, and wearing braces on their feet that look like a baby snowboard. Very hip and cool, but not really conducive to a good night’s sleep.
However, our boy slept surprisingly well. He didn’t need his mommy all night. He actually started out the night in a separate space and would sleep for 7 or so hours. I thought we won the baby lottery, until he
got a little older and all of that peaceful rest was traded for fidgeting and fighting his braces. Introducing solids was hard on his gut and some nights were absolute cry fests. On nights like those, I was happy to be an experienced co-sleeper, who felt safe and secure with our baby in the bed, and I also wasn’t running down the hallway every time he woke up. Nighttime parenting wasn’t about doing what other people said was right; it was about providing the most amount of rest for all involved using the least amount of effort.
Naps were especially challenging with him, thanks to a big sis who would stalk him like prey and poke his little baby eyeballs. Having a second baby showed me how much babywearing helps parents juggle all of their responsibilities – it just worked too well to quit. Fast forward 3 years, and my big boy is now finally choosing to nap without being worn. But if a method isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Last year, baby number three joined us. Our “winging it” methods turned into “let’s do anything we can to survive being outnumbered.”
Our eldest, now 5, is super easy at bedtime. She doesn’t always stay in her bed while we’re busy with the little kids, but she also doesn’t get into trouble. Win-win.
Usually I nurse the baby to sleep while my husband begs the now 3-year-old to sleep using books, pictures of family members, or YouTube videos. They often both fall asleep at bedtime, only for my husband to stumble downstairs an hour or more later and say, “Little stinker got me again.” And that little stinker often requires daddy snuggles in the middle of the night – his full-size bed was a wise investment. We’re considering getting him a DockATot Grand in hopes that the walls of the bed can replace his dad’s body. Fingers crossed!
Sometimes the baby doesn’t want what I’m offering, or my son decides his daddy is yucky and he needs me, and we trade. Meanwhile, the 5-year-old puts each and every toy she owns down for bed until one of us is free, or she succumbs to sleep before we get there.
It’s not always easy, and it’s not picture perfect, but every single night, without fail, our children have slept. Our track record is amazing. One hundred percent of the nights our children have existed, they’ve gotten rest, and we get some, too. Not too shabby.
Kelsey Saintz is a mom of three, wife of one and an all-around mom cheerleader. She’s a breastfeeding, babywearing, bedsharing, coffee-drinking go-getter who’s worked at Mother’s Haven for several years.