There are few things more unpredictable than a newborn, especially their sleep schedule. My daughter was a notoriously bad sleeper through the first year of her life. Every night she'd wake at least two times to either nurse or require soothing. There were a few breakdowns where I whispered to my husband "I can't take it anymore!" Even though I knew I'd be right back to being woken up the next night, I never actually dreaded the bedtime process.
Now, clearly that sounds insane, but I promise, I'm not a secret masochist. I knew the middle of the night could be rough, but putting my daughter to bed has always been surprisingly easy. We've never had to do much coddling to get her to sleep. Even now, as an almost three-year-old, she easily occupies herself in her bedroom until she's ready to fall asleep, only coming downstairs if she needs to use the bathroom. How did we manage to make this happen?
Well, I definitely think it's a little bit of karma because overnight was so rough and thankfully it's no longer that hard. However, I think the real secret is we started Tess on a bedtime routine when she was one week old. I know that sounds more than a little crazy, but we firmly believed if we could establish a nighttime routine early enough, we'd have fewer issues down the line. So far, it seems to be paying off in spades.
I'm sure your first question is, "How do you put a one-week-old on a bedtime routine?" Well, it was actually pretty easy. We started by eating dinner at roughly the same time every night, mostly so we knew when to get started on our nighttime routine. Next, we'd give Tess a bath, rub her down with some lotion, put her in her pajamas, read her a book (because it's never too early to start), nurse and then go right into her crib. All this would be done so she'd be in her crib and we'd be exiting the room each night by 7 p.m.
Timing was crucial for us, because as Tess got use to her routine, failing to get her into bed at 7 could mean a cranky kid. We were very upfront with friends and family that any evening activities had to end with us at home by 6:30 p.m. so we could meet our 7 p.m. bedtime schedule. Truly, everyone was more than accommodating, with friends even routinely coming to our house for dinner so it would be easier.
Crankiness was not the only reason timing was so important to us. To be completely honest, a dependable bed time was really always about routine for Jordan and I. Regardless of when Tess would wake up again, some nights earlier than others, we always knew we had a couple of hours to be child free. This was so crucial for us and something we're so glad we started from the beginning of our parenting journey.
Those few hours each night were completely ours. We could use them to have an at-home date night to reconnect or get some much-needed alone time. Even more crucial, we could use those hours to study, because yes, we were super insane and both working our way towards a Masters degree not even a month after our daughter was born. Regardless of what we used the time for, it felt good to have dedicated space to not be a parent for a little while.
That first year is a wild ride. As much as you are in love with your new child, little sleep and lack of hours for yourself can really take their toll. Being a parent is my favorite job, but I still prioritize and relish in the hours that I get to have with just my husband or completely by myself. I crave those hours because they make the time I spend with my daughter seem even more special. And sometimes, I need them because being a parent is hard work and you just need a little break!
Having that time to refresh each night made dealing with middle-of-the-night nursing sessions, teething, sleep regressions, developmental leaps and growths spurts much more tolerable. Even during the worst nights I was able to remind myself it was only temporary, tomorrow night would be different, but I'd still have a few glorious hours tomorrow to be myself again, not just a parent, and help me regain some sanity.