A friend who recently had her first child asked fellow mamas for tips on getting her new baby to sleep at night.
The suggestions ranged from co-sleeping in the family bed to tucking the baby in her own darkened room; establishing a routine of bathing, feeding and massage to quickly and quietly depositing the baby in her crib without a backward glance.
I caution new parents: Whatever you do to put your baby to sleep at night will continue for years. So plot carefully.
Getting our 6-year-old Emma and 3-year-old Benny to bed is a process that has been tweaked through the years, with some steps abandoned only after tears and whining. Sometimes, the children get upset, too.
But now it’s something we actually enjoy (most nights, anyway).
The kids brush their teeth, then Jon gives Benny his asthma treatment and reads him a book while I read a poem to Emma. Jon tucks Benny into bed with a prayer and a story, while Emma and I read a chapter of a children’s book and say a prayer in her bed. Finally, he tells Emma a quick story while I fetch both kids a cup of water (and give kisses and hugs, of course).
The whole process stretches about 20 minutes, a quick sprint compared to the marathon 12-step program with which we indulged Emma when she was a baby.
Our biggest timesaver boils down to this rule: Once you’re tucked in, you’re tucked in. Unless you are sick, going to the potty or in danger, you better be in your bed.
But that’s not to say Emma and Benny don’t try to add to the routine. Benny’s been known to suddenly appear beside the couch an hour past tuck-in, looking disheveled and adorable as he casually asks, “What are you guys doing?”
It’s nearly impossible to resist pulling him onto my lap and covering his sleepy face with kisses, but we (usually) resist.
That being said, if Emma and Benny had free reign (which they do not), bedtime rules would go something like this:
Rule 1: There will be no attempt to put children to bed when the sun is still up. We don’t care what time it is; if it’s light out, it’s daytime. (Unless, of course, we wake up before the sun, in which case it is also daytime.)
Rule 2: A minimum of three books and/or chapters of books will be read nightly. For those so inclined, such as Benny, that might be back-to-back readings of the same book (“No, David, No,” and the page of David running naked down the street will be just as hysterical on every reading). Any attempt to skip pages or words will be dealt with swiftly and severely.
Rule 3: Bathing is optional, as is tooth-brushing. Dispensing of bedtime snacks is not optional.
Rule 4: Candy, ice cream and fudge constitute proper bedtime snacks. Vegetables and/or bread do not.
Rule 5: If you sing a song, give an extra cuddle, tell us a story, or entertain us with a silly face, this will be part of bedtime henceforth.
Rule 6: Lights may be dimmed but not put out at any time.
Rule 7: Shadows must be investigated until we are satisfied with their explanation. Don’t even try to fool us with “the monster spray.” Six-year-olds can read, and L-Y-S-O-L does not spell monster.
Rule 8: Parents who pretend to be asleep when we appear bedside in the middle of the night will be poked in the nose. By accident.
Rule 9: We reserve the right to sleep horizontally in your bed, with our heads in one parent’s stomach and feet in the other’s face, should nightmares or bad thoughts pop into our heads. And, no, you may not sneak out to the couch. We will follow you, and sleep on your face.
Rule 10: Requests for one more kiss/hug/glass of water must be honored, even if we have asked 12 times.
Rule 11: All rules may be altered and expanded at any time.