Can Your Baby’s Bedtime Routine Be Too Rigid?
I have a question that has been weighing on me for awhile and hoping you can help with. I have an 11 month old little boy, my first. He is such a great baby. Everywhere we go, people comment on what a happy guy he is. Part of this, I know, is just sheer luck. But I’d like to think part of it is the fact that he is well rested. He sleeps through the night and takes two regular naps a day. His longest nap is usually 2 hours in the morning and a cat nap of 30-45 minutes in the afternoon. He goes to bed every night around 7-7:30pm and usually sleeps until 6:30-7:30am, with the occasional bad spell when he’s going through a new development/teething etc.
Here’s where I need help. My family and my in-laws often make comments about our routine. We are pretty solid that come 6 pm, we are out. Getting him through bath, bottle, reading, and then bed. I feel like they’re all rolling their eyes every time we say we have to go. And of course, we have babies on both sides of our family just months apart and THEY keep their babies up way later and have more of a go with the flow attitude about things, so why can’t we? We have made exceptions for holidays and always paid the price the next day with a Grumpy Gus. But, I don’t always want to be the wet blanket. We don’t ever go out at night unless we have a sitter and we are never those people that have the sleeping baby in the restaurant at 9 o’clock at night. Sometimes I wish we were a little more flexible, but I am just trying to do what is best for my son. He’s happy when he gets his routine and I figure if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That being said, is there such a thing as TOO much routine? I know you have three boys. And everyone says once we have number two, all this routine stuff will go out the window.
Do you think our families have a point? Or am I right to keep the bedtime routine a top priority? I really feel lost on this one because I feel like I need an outside perspective. Thanks!
Rigid Routine Mama
Ooooohhhh, good question. Though it’s 100% a matter of opinion and what works for some people and what works better for others, I think. So let me just ramble on about our experiences. (Like always, right?)
Establishing good bedtime routine is very, very important, especially in the first year. And extra especially for babies who aren’t naturally good sleepers. The point of the step-by-step routine (bath, book, bottle or boob, etc.) is to teach your baby cues for sleep, so by the time they hit the crib mattress they know what’s coming and (in theory) are settled and ready to put themselves to sleep.
That said, once we’ve personally had the routine established and achieve consistent sleeping-through-the-night status, we do mess with it occasionally. It’s not something we live and die by, and I prefer my children to not get too dependent on everything being “just so” all time, every night.
Mostly because, with three children, you just honestly…can’t. I probably didn’t manage your level of dedication with one, actually, as my husband and I are established night owls with a wicked restaurant habit. Six pm is awfully early to call it a night, every night, no matter what. BUT THAT’S JUST US. And we’re not you. If you guys are all happy (including your husband) with your abbreviated social life and Early Bird eating habits, that’s fine.
But if you’re not…well, it doesn’t make you bad parents if you occasionally treat bedtime as something less-than-sacred. We aren’t the family with the sleeping baby and tired preschoolers out at 9 pm either…but sometimes we’re getting home from the restaurant at 7:45 and send everybody straight to bed. When we visit friends and plan to stay “late” (which is still early, because we are all Old), we bring PJs and change everybody into them before hitting the road. I’ve doled out bottles to babies in carseats, knowing they’ll fall asleep in the car and get carried right to bed at home.
We don’t do this on school nights, or for more than one night in a row. We usually enforce a nap or quiet time the next afternoon for the older boys, and/or bump the next night’s bedtime up an hour to compensate. It all balances out, everyone is fine, etc. And Baby Ike is a super happy baby, just like he was a supper happy baby even during the EIGHT SOLID MONTHS of sleeping like total crap most of the time.
There was a brief phase during those eight months, when we had some success with putting Ike to bed early. REALLY early. Like done with the routine and in his crib by 6pm or 6:30pm at the latest. At first, we were so desperate for sleep at night that we had no problem with this. Anything that works! Do it!
And I know the 6/6:30pm bedtime does work for a lot of families. It did not work for us. At all. After a week or two, it was driving us all collectively crazy. Sometimes Ike was in bed before Jason even got home from work, which he hated. It meant the end of our once-a-week family routine of taking Noah to his karate class at 6:30pm and grabbing dinner at Chipotle beforehand, which the boys hated. (He also has a standing one-hour OT appointment at 5 pm once a week, 20 minutes away from home, so…then what?) It meant I had to feed Ike his dinner at 4:30 alone while the boys milled around and whined for snacks, then make a second meal for everyone, and sometimes even a third because the sight of Ike eating sent them into Fake Hunger Hysterics and they refused to wait for Jason to get home, which I hated. It completely sucked on the weekends, which we all hated. Cutting just two or three hours off the evening so Ike could be in bed before the sun went down was a massive pain in the ass.
So we went back to the drawing board on trying to figure out a nap/nighttime schedule that worked better for us. For all of us.
I personally tend to lean towards the opinion that a baby needs to eventually acclimate into your existing life and schedule, rather than the other way around. Not that you don’t make allowances and changes for their benefit, of course. And certain parts of the day’s schedule are obviously more important than others. (My in-laws used to drive. us. insane. because they don’t follow any kind of mealtime schedule [they juice all day and then eat like, a salad at 10 pm at night] and would completely forget that our kids turn into blood sugar gremlins if they don’t eat real, solid food at regular, set intervals.) You know your son. If futzing with his bedtime — even occasionally — has a seriously detrimental effect on him, you do what you have to do because it’s your family.
That said, yes, I do have to concede that your family does have a point about the difficulty in keeping SO MUCH ROUTINE so very sacred once you have another baby. I once got a letter from someone who was absolutely insistently rigid on naps only happening in cribs. Naps were super important, so no napping in the car or stroller or anywhere “on the go.” And then she had another baby and realized it wasn’t so easy to keep up with that policy: Making the baby nap in his crib twice a day, every day, meant her older child had to just…sit around the house and wait for the baby to wake up. He wanted to go to the playground and his Gymboree classes and such. And again, with the weekend problem. How was it fair to the whole family to spend their days together sitting at home while the baby napped instead of being out and going to the zoo or mall or wherever? But then didn’t baby #2 deserve to have his naps taken seriously?
I accidentally deleted the question before answering it, unfortunately. I didn’t answer it right away because I needed to make sure I was approaching it with the right level of sensitivity: This mom was really proud of her approach to her first baby’s naps. She’d clearly invested years in setting up a routine that revolved around naps and probably sacrificed a lot of outings and social activities to make it happen. And the last thing I wanted to say to her was that it didn’t matter. Whatever! Let the baby nap in a stroller in the shade at the playground. If he falls asleep in his carseat, just carry it in and stick it in his room when you get back, no biggie. If you’re home, let him nap in his crib. If you’re out with your older son, well…do what you have to do.
But that is kind of the answer I’d have to give. But also that just because you can’t do XZY for Baby B doesn’t undermine what you did for Baby A, or shortchange Baby B. It’s just a fact of life in a multiple child family. We’re pretty flexible on routines in our house because we all have to be pretty flexible. Because no single one of us is “in charge” of the entire family’s schedule.
If Ezra is napping but it’s time to take someone else to something (sports, an appointment, a party we’ve RSVP’d to, etc.)…well, sorry little guy, I’m waking you up and putting you in the car. Yes. I know you’re grumpy. I understand you’re grumpy. No, you don’t get to take it out on your family, because tomorrow we’ve all made accommodations for something on YOUR calendar. And then the day after that, Mommy and Daddy want to see some grown-up friends because we LOVE YOU BOYS, but holy crap. I need some non-Lego-centric conversations already.
Anyway. That’s life in our house. Obviously you guys don’t have to live that way, and that’s fine. That’s probably where your relatives are coming from, though, with their annoyance or assvice (or whatever it is) about your nightly 6 pm dash home. You can absolutely ignore them. Your son is 11 months old and his need for the routine will naturally diminish with age, and you may find you’re more comfortable abbreviating it down from an hour-and-a-half affair in a few months. Maybe you could try shortening it a bit, here and there (my kids don’t bathe every night; their skin can’t handle it). Take a short trip and let him try sleeping somewhere new. Routines are wonderful…but flexibility is also a super-important life skill that you’ll eventually be grateful you instilled in him, you know?
(Or hey! Leave him in the care one weekend of one of your judge-y relatives and let THEM witness the bedtime fall-out the next day. MWA HA HA. )