For the first 3 years of my daughter’s life, my husband and I felt that we had lucked out with a little one that was a good sleeper. Our baby, June, quickly started waking up just once per night for most of her infancy (something I could totally deal with after hearing other parents’ horror stories of babies who would wake up countless times or refuse to sleep at all). Right after she turned one, she started sleeping through the night. She slept soundly though the night for the next two years. Bedtime went smoothly most nights. We would do bathtime, read two books, then bed without much fuss. In our heads, we were living the dream.
That is, until this past summer when we transitioned June out of a crib and into a regular bed. That’s when everything changed. This little one was suddenly loving her newfound freedom and refusing to go to bed every night! We tried to continue our bedtime routine of bath, two books, and bed, but every time that we would put her in bed, she would immediately get back up… over and over and over again.
Bedtime started to become a huge ordeal and something that we dreaded each night. We tried everything: walking her back to bed each time she got up. Laying next to her until she fell asleep. Sitting outside her bedroom door. Letting her sleep in our bed. Nothing worked and it became a long drawn out affair where my husband and I felt like we were losing a battle each night.
From day one as a mom, I have been a very attachment based parent, and things like crying it out never worked for me. The flip side of that is that disciplining is one of the areas in which I need the most work as a parent. And bedtime was becoming a constant reminder of that as for the life of me I could not get my child to go to sleep!
Then, I listened to a podcast featuring a sleep expert who said something that got me thinking of this whole thing differently. She said that she works with all different types of families, and that even if a family co-sleeps, they can still have a plan for bedtime.
This made me realize that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I had been thinking that the only two options were to let my child miserably cry herself to sleep each night, or to give in to her every whim. But now, I realized that there were a lot of options in between that I hadn’t even considered.
In the last month or so, I’ve started implementing some changes and creating my own bedtime plan with June, and things have gotten so much better! I want to share what I’ve been doing in case it might help you too!
Here are 4 steps you can take to create a smoother experience of bedtime:
1) Decide the parameters – I realized that even if I didn’t want to let my daughter cry herself to sleep, or lock her in her bedroom at night, we had to have some boundaries as to what is acceptable.
When I first started making these changes, we were to the point where we were reading almost every book on the bookshelf, and making up countless stories each night. Bedtime had turned into such a struggle that I often just gave up and let her crawl into bed with me until she fell asleep. The problem with that was that she goes to sleep by 8pm, and I was getting so tired laying in bed that I then didn’t want to get back up again after she went down. I realized that this wasn’t working for me, so I set my parameters: two books, one story, and no more sleeping in my bed. I decided that no matter what, June has to stay in her room when it’s time to go to sleep (even if I stay in there with her).
2) Make it as special as possible within those parameters – Once I decided that we were staying in June’s bedroom each night no matter what, I went about making sure that her room felt as special as possible. I make sure that we diffuse lavender essential oils next to her bed, snuggle with cozy knit blankets, and sit in silence.
I remembered that…
Bedtime is a spiritual practice.
When June was an infant I would often use bedtime as a special quiet time of day for the two of us. I would sit in stillness and meditate as I nursed and rocked her to sleep and those are some of my sweetest memories with her as a baby.
Just because she is getting older, does not mean that bedtime has to stop being a spiritual practice. Quite the contrary. I am more aware than ever that my daughter is growing faster than ever, and that she won’t want to lay with me forever. By making the most of our nights together, I am creating more special memories that we’ll always have to hold onto. I am showing her how to create a sacred space to rest in. And, I am making the experience more pleasurable for myself as well.
3) Ditch your own agenda – Part of this process includes surrendering. I realized that a lot of what I was dreading about bedtime is that I wanted to be doing something else. At the end of a long day, I look forward to having some alone time to read or snuggle on the couch with my husband. With bedtime taking so long each night, I was becoming aggravated that I couldn’t do the other things I would rather be doing.
Now, I’ve surrendered to the fact that bedtime might take a bit longer than I would like it to most nights. I’ve stopped fighting it and surrendered to doing my best to enjoy the present moment instead of counting down the minutes until my little one falls asleep.
4) Detach from the outcome – By this point, you have done all you can. You have set and enforced limits that you are comfortable with. You’ve made bedtime feel special. You’ve let go of your own agenda in wishing things were different. Now it’s time to let go of the outcome.
Even if your little one wants to keep reading 10 books, you stay firm to your limit of 2 stories. If he or she wants to keep talking, you stop responding. If they try to leave the room, you stay put and they will make their way back.
Things won’t go perfectly each night, but by sticking to this 4 step process, you’ll ensure that bedtime becomes a more pleasant experience for both you and your little one.
Do you have a little one that doesn’t like to go to sleep?! What are your bedtime tips? Please share with us in the comments below.
Wishing you a restful week!