(This post in response to a reader's comment on getting everyone to bed without dad around.)
Bedtime can be a mad dash to the finish line after a long day of negotiating schedules. The clock can tick away slowly until 7 or 7:30 p.m. and you may find yourself counting the minutes until the entire clan is tucked into bed with vision of sugarplums in their heads.
A few weeks into your new Baby Bunching gig, as you dash downstairs to grab your daughter’s lovey and your baby starts to wail in the upstairs bouncy seat, you may return to find your oldest pouring the last remains of the soapy bath water on your baby’s head, you’ll wonder how you got into this mess in the first place. Bedtime can be a bit messy with bottles, pacifiers, lovies, blankets, books, bath, songs, drinks of water, diapers and the last effort attempt to make a statement for the day by someone. There are nights that someone in your house will have to go this route alone, it’s inevitable that someone is working late or traveling at some point, but for the most part if you can enlist your husband to take a very active role in bedtime, your sprint time to the end will go much smoother for everyone.
Here are a few things you need to remember.
1. First and MOST IMPORTANTLY, get the easiest one to bed first. If your toddler tends to call out a million times for one thing or another and your baby literally will sleep the minute he hits the mattress, then by all means get your baby to bed first. If baby needs 30 minutes of cuddle time prior to the final bottle/nursing session, then get your toddler to bed first. With this neverfail soution, you'll only have the one left to manage and believe us, one is so much easier than the two at the same time. Do note, you might have to switch this around as kids grow. Toddler may be a breeze to get to bed today, but next week things can change. Be flexible.
2. Stagger their bedtimes. There’s nothing worse at the end of a long day than having everyone meltdown the last 30 minutes before bed. That does not set the correct tone for your upcoming happy hour, right?! Shuffle bedtimes a bit by 15 to 30 minutes so you’re not having to do the last minute things for both kids at the same time.
3. Be firm about bedtime and shorten the routine. In the early Baby Bunching months, bedtime is not the forum for lackadaisical parenting. You have a busy day ahead of you tomorrow. Nighttime, at this stage in your kids’ life, can be unpredictable—waking up due to illness, teething, night terrors, bad dreams, etc—is very common and you need a break from it all as well. If bedtime for the last child is at 8 p.m. and at 9 p.m. you’re still battling someone to bed, you need to reassess somewhere and get your routine back on schedule.
Even with the above mentioned items, bedtime can require some fancy footwork. Bathtime for two little ones can be tricky, the last feeding might take longer than expected and many times you may have to call out a search party for the lost lovey—yet again. As with everything else in Baby Bunching, you need to have the right supplies and get organized.
Let’s start with bath. If bathtime is part of your child’s bedtime ritual—as it was for Linda’s kids—keep bath at night. For both her kids, bath signaled the end of the day. Every once in a while she'd forgo a bath due to the lack of another set of hands. But for some kids, bathtime can be anytime. Consider bathing one child during the other’s naptime, having one parent bath each child separately, bathing them together to cut down on the mess/water. Both our husbands travelled quite a bit and we found ourselves doing this solo.
Here is our number 1 tip: bathe both kids together. This could mean puting the baby bathtub in the big tub with toddler sitting next to baby in bath or it could mean skidproof mats to keep baby upright. Bring all necessary items to dress both kids into the bathroom (diapers, PJs, lotion, etc.); get the younger one out first (diapered and dressed) and then let her sit in the bouncy seat or play on the bathroom floor while finishing with the older one. With this recipe, most kids are contained and generally happy until it's time to transport from point A to B.
When you move onto the bedtime ritual, there may be a few things you need to simplify getting everyone to bed, especially when you’re down a parent. We strongly recommend your older child be “contained” somehow in his room. This means he’s either in a crib or in his room, with a gate or some similar item to keep him from getting into trouble while you’re putting the other child to bed. As Linda’s oldest son grew, his bedtime warranted a later time—even though he was the easier one to get to bed. She would put him in his room, with the baby gate up and let him play while she dealt with her younger one. Otherwise, he would run in every few minutes asking if she was done feeding the baby. It would just drag out the bedtime process that much more.
The last thing we will mention regarding bedtime are the things that soothe your children. If your oldest still has a pacifier, needs a bottle, has a lovey or sucks his thumb, we suggest assessing the severity of the situation before you give into making him give it up. A pediatrician will tell you the bottles and pacifier need to go around age one. Linda will be the first to admit that both her children went well into the second year—her daughter until age two—getting a bottle before bedtime. It was a ritual she just wasn’t ready to deal with. If you have a newborn baby and your toddler still wants his pacifier and it means peace for you and him, by all means don’t make this the moment to force the issue. When he’s a little older and you can rationalize/bribe him out of his habit and you’re getting more sleep, then you might tackle these harder issues. Comfort items in the long run help them get the sleep they need, and you as well.