It may surprise you that as a Sleep Educator, I do not suggest “routine” or “bedtime routine” as the be-all-end-all for a peaceful life with littles.
And, to be fair, I’m not anti-routine at all. I think we all - babies, kiddos, and grownups, too - benefit from predictability and cuing our bodies that it is sleep time with restful, relaxing steps.
But, at the same time, if your routine is so ironclad that it doesn’t make space for adaptability and flexibility when competing needs for various members of the family come up - then does that routine truly serve you?
Often on social media, I see responses to posts about infant or toddler sleep struggles that follow along the lines of “we’ve had a routine from day one and bedtime has never been an issue.” While those individuals do have a routine that works for them, more than likely it is a combo of parent and kiddo personality or sleep inclination - not the specifics of the routine - that result in this situation.
And, if you have a routine that you love and serves you - that’s awesome.
But, comments like these always make bedtime routines take on a vaguely mystical quality - as though with the right recipe for lotion/books/jammies/bath/song/what have you, children no longer wake at night or need parental support to fall asleep. When, as recent research tells us, it is more than likely that your child will need you at night.
So, if I don’t advocate for rigid routine, what do I suggest?
I’m a big fan of looking at sleep - and life, in general - in terms of a family rhythm. That means taking into account the ebb and flow of everyone’s day, everyone’s needs, and the things that bring you joy - together.
It may mean little one is napping on the go while you enjoy time with your older children at the park.
It may mean after a day of fun outside, you all come home and nap together - and then stay up late enough to see the fireflies.
It may mean that even though “they” suggest an early bedtime, a late afternoon catnap such that littlest can see the parent who gets home latest at night works better for your family.
And, here’s the thing, it is YOUR family. Therefore, the rhythm has to work for you- to serve your needs, rather than keep you locked into only one possible way of being day and night.
Sometimes implementing a rhythm that works for your family is hard to do. I get that, and in my one-on-one consultations I’m thrilled to help you sort out what kind of rhythm can work best - how to balance everyone’s needs and find rest and peace.
But, I’m also not going to tell you there is only one way to be - one schedule to have, one rhythm to find. Because then, you’re looking at MY rhythm, not yours.
And, in many ways, that’s the best part of this work - helping you follow your intuition and letting it guide you in your choices.
Because at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters.
Looking for sleep support for your infant or toddler? Check out Nested Mama's infant and toddler parent workshops and one-on-one consultations.
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.