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Advice Smackdown Archives

The Bedtime Efficiency Ballet

By Amalah

Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Amalah,

I hope you can help me with the bedtime logistics in our house. I have two boys, a two and a half year-old and a four month old. Both are great sleepers (unless I just ruined it by saying it out loud to the Internet) and go to bed at 7 each night.

Right now my husband and I do the tag team approach to bedtime, one does teeth brushing, pjs and books with the toddler while the other one does pjs and bottle with the baby. It is a whirlwind of activity (especially if it is a bath night), but it gets the job done.

The way we do things now is fine, BUT, I may go awhile without doing bedtime with the toddler, or it may be several nights before I get bedtime snuggles with the baby. And a few times a month my husband has to work late in which case the baby gets his bottle in the living room while the toddler watches Sprout and I end up spending a lot of time getting little boys in bed because I do it separately.

Is there an easy way to integrate the two bedtimes? When the baby was very little I tried adding him to story time and then feeding him after I tucked the toddler into bed. My older son was very aware that baby brother was getting a solo bedtime and he was not. I have also tried feeding the baby during story time but it takes more coordination than I have and then I still have the issue of who gets put in bed first.

Maybe this will work better in a few months? Or maybe I should stick with what is working since it IS working?

Lost at Bedtime

Oh, dear. This question is requiring me to think back on a VERRRRY hazy period of parenting — Ezra was not yet sleeping through the night consistently at four months, and I was pretty much in a damn daze by that point. It wasn’t until four-and-a-half months that I believe we started including him in the bedtime routine at all, which was when we began transitioning him from bed-sharing to his crib.

Before that point, Jason and I had continued our pre-Ezra tradition of taking turns each night for handling the bedtime business. One of us took care of the whole routine start to finish while the other held Ezra, who tended to go to bed for “good” a little later than Noah (and whose bedtime routine was totally my job, because I was breastfeeding). The next night, we’d swap roles.

So basically, you’re way ahead of where we were at, with two good sleepers with their own established routines. So I honestly wouldn’t worry too hard about how not completely “integrated” they are right now. It’ll happen, and nobody is going to be emotionally scarred if bedtime routines are occasionally hectic or rushed or heavily one-sided with a specific parent for a few nights in a row. Basically: go with what’s working for you. Because if it’s working for you, IT’S PROBABLY NOT WRONG.

We didn’t truly and seamlessly integrate bedtime — all the way from bath until tuck-in time — until Ezra was weaned from the boob AND the evening bottle (around a year). Before then we integrated what we could — joint bathtime when necessary, then everybody got PJs on/diaper changed, and then Noah brushed his teeth and Daddy read him a story while Ezra and I headed down the hall to the rocker for milk and a lullaby.

I missed reading stories for sure, but I was lucky enough to be home with Noah during the day and felt okay viewing that as a special thing for Jason to do, even if it was just for a few months. I would usually be able to time it so I could get Ezra down in his crib before Noah had actually fallen asleep, so on these nights I went in for one last extra goodnight hug and kiss or song request. During the brief window of time between Ezra weaning from the boob but still getting a bedtime bottle, I THINK Jason and I may have traded off kids every other night, but maybe not, because Ezra’s sudden pre-12-month weaning left me a tad overly emotional so I may have continued to keep our routine in place.

(Yes, now that I think about it, I did continue to be in charge of getting Ezra to sleep, since we figured that might be a better step-down to eliminating the bottle eventually. Mommy/rocking/boob/song became Mommy/rocking/bottle/song, and then slowly just Mommy/rocking/song. And then at some point after THAT we eliminated the rocking and brought him into Noah’s room for bedtime stories like a “big boy.” That switch was surprisingly easy thanks to his lovey/Taggies blanket. Handing that to him was like, an instant signal that it was bedtime, routine or no routine. Blanket went up to his face, fingers entwined in a tag, thumb in mouth, eyes immediately sleepy. SO AWESOME LIKE MAGIC.)

So basically, you can probably tell that bedtime is not really a regimented show of perfect efficiency around here. We’ve changed it up a lot as the boys have gotten older, depending on what seemed to work best at the time. Before Ike, we had it pretty much down, and even when doing it solo I could keep things moving along at the same time — bath together, Noah got his PJs on by himself while I helped Ezra, everyone brushed teeth and then we read a book in Ezra’s bottom bunk and then lights off.

Now we have a two-month old and it’s all pretty much gone to hit-or-miss hell all over again.

Sometimes Jason does the boys’ bedtime while I nurse the baby and sometimes it’s several nights before Ike ISN’T nursing or crying right at bedtime and I can take over or participate. Sometimes Ezra wants to indulge in a little new-baby regression and asks to sit on my lap in the rocking chair after we read a story, which I of course oblige. Sometimes we bathe Ike at the same time as the boys and get him all ready for bed along with his brothers…even if he doesn’t actually go to sleep for another hour or even two. And sometimes Jason works late and I’m bouncing a crying baby in a sling and barking orders like a drill sergeant while SOMEONE “misses” the potty and SOMEONE does laps up and down the hallway while not wearing any pants and then BOTH SOMEONES get into a fight over identical Cars toothbrushes before I can finally get everybody tucked in. Before that point, I just try to close my eyes, take a deep breath and tell myself that this is just the kind of unavoidable, messy and glorious chaos that I signed up for by having more than one child.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Trish

    I’ll be checking back for comments from others. I have one on the way and an almost 2 year old. We’ve been trying to simplify the bedtime routine for Kid 1 so that the baby’s arrival isn’t so bad. From sept-may, I’m solo on bedtime about half the time. It’s not a problem with one kid, but I expect I’ll have to either plop kid 2 in a bouncy chair a lot, and/or plop kid 1 in front of Baby Einstein a lot.

  • Sara M

    My husband works nights, so I’ve always had the night routine to myself. I integrated my boys night routines when my youngest could sit unsupported in the bath, so around (trying to remember) 7 or 8ish months.? I would bathe both, then drain the water but keep toys in for the oldest and he would play while I got the baby dried off and dressed and put him in his crib to play. Then I got the oldest out, dressed and we would all rock together. My oldest would go to bed, then I would breastfeed or give a bottle (if he was done with the boob)to the baby and then he went down. I then had about an hour to myself! Now that they are 4 and 2, everything is done together (bath, dressed, brush teeth, books, rock) then the youngest goes down first and the oldest gets one more book before he goes to bed. Now I have 2 hours of free time! We’ll see how that routine goes to hell next spring when #3 gets here.

  • professormama

    Our kids are 6 and 2, and at first the infant went to bed later, and we explained that babies are kind of crazy and don’t understand bedtime yet.  As soon as we got the baby settled into a bedtime routine we always put her to bed first, because she was the baby, and then put the (then) 4 year old to bed. When the younger one hit 18 months we got bunk beds for the kids and she moved out of mama and dadd’s room and into the bottom bunk. This ushered in the era of bedtime at the same time, and oh is it easier! We read books to them together, then teeth brushing together and then into bed. They’re tucked in by 8 (no later than 8:30 usually) and it has been great for the last 6 months. They sleep until 7 or so, and don’t wake each other up, yet.

  • Em

    I’m so glad someone asked this question! I have a 2.5 y.o. and 10 month old, and my husband and I still do their bedtimes separately. My older child occasionally demands to go to bed in the same room as the baby, and while we’ve tried it to see if it works, usually both kids end up too excited by the novelty of it to settle down…and then we have to drag the older one back to his bedroom for the usual separate bedtime. I’m very interested to hear how others have handled this…

  • JCF

    I think the original questioner’s bedtime routine sounds good, considering the ages of the kids. My guess is that when they baby is around a year, it will start getting easier to streamline bedtime, at least based on my experience.

    We have a 3.5yo, a 2.5yo, and a 12mo. We do baths and jammies all together, and then the older two use the potty and brush teeth. Up until last week, I took the baby in our room to nurse him and then put him down in a Pack and Play (in our room). My husband would tell the older two stories in their room, and then after lights out, sit in the chair in there while they fall asleep. We only sit in the room because they tend to get wild and jump around together if they’re alone in there. We hope that before too long, we won’t need to do this for them to settle down in a reasonable amount of time. It usually takes about 30 minutes, which is sometimes annoying, but we will read or play games on our phones/Kindle/iPad.

    Our new bedtime routine is attempting to have the baby join the big-kid bedtime (we have a two bedroom place, so all three kids have beds in that room). Now, after I nurse the baby, he goes in the crib awake and falls asleep in the room with everyone else. He is fighting it, mostly because he’s always had a hard time falling asleep, but it seems to be getting better.

    We have an alarm clock for the kids’ room called the Onaroo (we bought it from Amazon). It glows with a soft yellow light all night (about the brightness of a night light), and at a designated (by us) time in the morning, the light turns green to let the kids know they can get out of bed. Before we got it a month or so ago, they were getting up around 5am. Now that we’ve told them they can’t get out of bed until the green light goes off, they stay in bed until 6:45 (hallelujah!). I highly recommend it, especially if you have siblings sharing a room and waking each other up too early. The only reason they’re allowed to get up earlier is to go potty, since they’re in underwear at night, but then they have to go back to bed.

    On nights when my husband works late (fairly frequently), I would let the older two watch an episode of “Wonder Pets” or something while I put the baby down, and then I would put them down after he’s asleep. When we only had two kids, I felt like I could handle bedtime without TV, but once we went to three I needed to keep the older two from getting into trouble together while I’m occupied with the baby.

  • Julie

    I have a 2.5 yo and a 5 month old, and am solo about half the evenings lately. On solo nights, 2 yo gets a bath and 5mo either gets a bath at the same time or sits in the infant/toddler rocker/bouncer while I bathe oldest, brush teeth, get PJs on. Then we all sit in bed for bedtime stories – I may end up nursing while doing this if the little one is really cranky, but generally try to avoid it. Then if 2yo wants a lullaby, they both sit on my lap in the rocking chair while we rock and sing songs or listen to the lullabye CD. Then I tuck 2 yo in and take 5 mo downstairs to rock and nurse until he falls alseep. 2yo has no problem with me saying “I’m taking baby brother to put him to bed now.” Infant is still kind of crazy on sleep routine – he may fall asleep and stay down for a while, or may be restless. If he falls asleep he goes in the downstairs bassinet or swing until I go upstais, then into the cosleeper, and generally ends up getting a dream feed before I fall asleep.

    I have no idea what I’m going to do in a month or two when I try to transition 5 mo to at least starting the night out solo in the crib.

  • Megan

    I have a 7 year old and a 15 month old and my husband works nights.  Neither of my boys really ‘got’ bedtime til about 6 months.  That was when i could put them down drowsy, awake, or all the way asleep, and they would pretty much go to sleep and stay asleep in their cribs.  Up until then my older son’s bedtime routine consisted of a lot of baby fussing/crying/bouncing along with his big kid stuff.  It was tough, but luckily my big boy is amazing and patient and understanding.  By about 6 months i was putting baby down around 7, and big kid down around 8.  Having a 6 year difference though makes it much easier.  I can leave 7 y.o. in shower while i get baby dressed.  7 y.o. gets his own jammies on and goes downstairs to start his night time show.  Etc.  NO IDEA how i could  have done it with a toddler.  EVERY NIGHT.  Go Mammas!    
    Now that #2 is more of a toddler, they actually take showers together!  They play naked in big brothers room and get their jammies on, but then when big kid starts his show, I take little kid upstairs for his story and bottle.  Then big kid gets his books and snuggles. So each one gets a little Mamma Love on their own, which i like a lot!  Makes for a busy night, but by 8:30 i have the night to myself.  Big fan of early bedtimes!

  • Allie

    We have a 3 year old girl and 6 month old boy and have a pretty decent routine, for now. We get our daughter ready for bed (brush teeth and hair, potty, jammies) and then she starts winding down time. She has to stay in her room but she can do whatever she wants . She has three tickets she can use in case she needs to come out, but for the most part, she stays in her room. Once she’s settled, I nurse my son, get him ready for bed then put him down. Usually, I have 20-30 minutes to do anything I want before, I do bedtime with my daughter. We read a few books and I sit with her until she falls asleep. We started this a few months ago and it works really well to help juggle bedtime, whether I’m home alone, or not.

  • hyzen

    We have a 3 year old and a 10 month old. I often have to do bedtime alone, so I generally ask my 3 year old to go potty and get her jammies on by herself (though I do help a bit if needed) while I get the baby changed for bed. Then I let my daughter pick 1 – 3 books (the number of books depends on how quickly she did her jammies and potty, which translates into how much time we have left for reading before bed). We all do story time together in her room, then her lights go off, I tuck her in, and I take the baby to nurse one last time before putting him to bed in his crib. Pretty easy, although we’ve been through some rough patches where it was harder. We also do showers in the morning instead of a bath at night, so that doesn’t factor into the equation here.