Ah, bedtime. Depending on your kid, your household and your energy levels, it can be a great relaxing time or an absolute nightmare. Whether you have one baby or more, bedtime can be a juggle and sometimes a fight. And when you're tired, it's doubly, no, triply hard. So, let's get into it. How to make bedtime work better so you're less exhausted.
You can start this when your baby is a few months old, and keep it as long as you need it. But make sure your routine is serving you. What do we mean by that? Well, if your bedtime routine involves 3 hours and takes both parents, plus a supporting cast of stuffed toys, bottles and blankets, it's going to make things harder.
Keep your bedtime routine as simple as you can, and make sure there are things you can drop if you need to. A good bedtime routine can involve a few of these popular elements: a bath, brushing teeth, a short massage for little babies, reading, singing, a bottle or breastfeed, a cuddly toy or lovey. Choose a few of these, and if you're late to get to bed, or under pressure, drop a book or the bath and carry on. Keep it fun, flexible and as quick as possible. Oh, and if your kid is older and this isn't what bedtime looks like, you can change it. You can either explain yourself (to older kids) or just start doing things differently. There might be some push back in the beginning, but after a while, they'll adjust.
Consistency helps babies but it also helps as kids get older. Toddlers love to negotiate, but as we all know, it is pointless. If you negotiate one night, you'll repeat the exercise every night. Once toddlers know that you won't budge (kindly and gently) it will give them a sense of security, and they'll gradually stop fighting you every step of the way. Waver and change your mind every night, and it's likely that your toddler will sense the weakness and exploit it. Stay strong, and stay on the same side. It doesn't help if dad gives in and mom holds the boundary. You have to both be on the same page, holding the same boundaries.
What often happens is that parents get into the habit of each taking on certain roles during bedtime. Maybe mom puts the baby to bed while dad walks the dogs; or dad does his singing and dancing bedtime routine while mom finishes off making dinner.
We'd argue that you should keep the routine simple, and ensure that baby responds (falls asleep) as easily with one parent as with the other. Whether that means persuading baby to take a bottle at bedtime - instead of breastfeeding - or trading off so that baby doesn't get into the habit of just one parent doing the routine, do what you need to do to ensure that your child doesn't get too attached to one person.
If only mom can put baby to bed, or the whole process takes too long (and far, far too much energy) it's unsustainable and guaranteed to wear you out. Bedtime can be a sweet, enjoyable time to spend with your kids, but it's got to be easy. And remember, some nights will be hard no matter what you do. For those nights, make sure you have a bottle of wine handy for afterwards!