“I’m the only one who can put her to bed.”
“I can’t go anywhere because she won’t sleep for anyone else.”
“We have to choose between having friends over and an overtired baby, or missing out on time with friends because he’ll only sleep if I lay with him.”
Sound familiar? The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way!
When I work with two-parent families and both parents’ schedules allow them to be available for naps and/or bedtime, we talk about making sure both parents take part in the sleep plan. Some take turns each night/nap, others split the bedtime routine in half, and others simply share sleep duties based on who’s available that night.
We want to avoid a little one thinking only one person can put them to sleep. And we also want to avoid one parent feeling trapped when it comes to their child’s sleep, or oppositely, the other one feeling helpless!
So here are a few ways you can share nap time, bedtime, and overnight responsibilities with your spouse:
For Kids of All Ages
Like in any relationship, communication is KEY! We need to communicate our needs, wants, and expectations with our partner to avoid further frustration or confusion.
When it comes to your little one’s sleep, here are a few things that would be helpful to communicate:
- “I have a lot of work to do tonight, is it okay if you do bedtime?”
- “I missed my snuggles at work today, I’d really love to do bedtime tonight.”
- “Bedtime was really tough for me last night and it would be really helpful if you could do it tonight.”
- “Could you start the bath and brush her teeth while I clean up dinner? I’ll be there in 10 minutes and then we can switch!”
- “I’ve found that he calms more quickly when I pat his belly rather than rub his head.”
- “I’m feeling good right now, so why don’t I take the first half of the night, you sleep, and we can switch the second half?” (This is how we survived the first few weeks with both girls!)
One reason nap time and bedtime routines are so important is so that your little one knows that no matter who is doing the routine, the same result will follow…sleep!
When I work with families one-on-one, the goal is independent sleep; that parents will eventually be able to lay their babies down awake and tuck their big kids in, walk out, and know they’ll fall asleep.
However, if mom always feeds me to sleep, dad always bounces on a yoga ball with me, grandma has me cry for a bit and then eventually gives me a pacifier, mom reads three books, dad lays with me, I sleep in grandma’s bed, etc, your little one is going to have a tough time connecting the dots to sleep and that confidence that comes with consistency will be a challenge.
This might sound silly, but sit down with your spouse, talk through what kind of bedtime routine you think will work for your family and do your best to stick to it! (Check out this post if you don’t know where to start.)
And if a caregiver comes over and will be in charge of bedtime, walk them through the same routine. That consistency is key!
Share Routine/Take Turns
Rather than one parent always doing the entire bedtime routine, consider sharing! Maybe mom does the bath, jammies, and teeth, and dad does stories and goodnight. And then switch the next night!
Or one parent does bedtime tonight, and the other parent does bedtime tomorrow.
You certainly don’t have to have a system set up, and one parent might even enjoy bedtime more than the other, but knowing that both parents are able to confidently do the bedtime routine is so freeing.
In those early newborn days, especially, a big part of night time sleep is just survival! Your newborn WILL wake up in the night, and she’ll probably wake up A LOT those first few weeks. Whether you are breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or a mix of both, having all hands on deck throughout the night is key.
When our girls were born and I was breastfeeding what seemed like ’round the clock, I was healing, I was sleeping, etc., so diaper changes were all Jason, especially in the middle of the night. When our babe woke up, he’d get up, change her diaper, and then hand her to me.
Then I’d nurse her and get her back to sleep. And if she was having a tough time getting back to sleep, I’d often pass her back off so I could go back to sleep. The act of simply not having to get out of bed each time was huge for me.
If you’re breastfeeding, ask your spouse to refill your water bottle and get you a little snack. Or get you some fresh Bamboobies. Or one more pillow to prop up your elbow so you don’t have to get out of bed.
If you’re bottle feeding, you and your spouse can divide and conquer! One person can get up to mix the formula or heat up the breastmilk, and the other could do the actual feed.
Or if you need to pump, have your partner feed while you pump, or they can feed the baby when you’re done pumping, so you can get back to sleep more quickly.
For families whose goal is independent sleep, we work on disconnecting feeding from sleeping, especially in the bedtime routine.
So a few tips for you to share bedtime routine responsibilities:
- Mom nurses, then dad does the rest of the routine.
- One parent bottle feeds, then the other does the rest of the routine.
- Dad does all of bedtime tonight, his partner does all of bedtime tomorrow.
For families who nurse or bottle feed their babies to sleep and enjoy it and it works, great!
A few tips for you to still share responsibilities around sleep:
- Have dad do the bath, lotion, and jammies, and mom nurse to sleep.
- Have one parent do the first half of the routine, and the other parent bottle feed to sleep.
- Have mom do all of bedtime tonight, her partner can do all of bedtime tomorrow.
For Toddlers/Older Kids
Make a Schedule
This might sound crazy, but I’ve worked with some families who make a visual schedule of which parent will do bedtime each night. Some parents take turns each night, while others base the schedule on who is more free that night.
Because it’s easy for older kids to get “stuck” in a certain pattern, sometimes it can be tough to adjust to another parent doing bedtime. And if the parent in charge of bedtime is always based on what the child wants that night, it makes it tough to do anything differently.
Want to give your child some choice? Have them help you build the schedule! Cut out 4 D’s for Dad and 3 M’s for Mom and at the beginning of the week, have your child choose who will be in charge each night. That way they feel some ownership over the schedule, but at the end of the day rather than a tantrum or plea determining bedtime, or someone being the “bad guy,” the pre-made schedule has the final say!
With any child, a consistent bedtime routine is key to confidence when it comes to sleep. With older kiddos, especially, that consistency is key to maintaining bedtime boundaries and expectations!
If you include books in your routine, make sure both parents always read just two books. If you end with a song, sing the same song and stick to just one verse rather than singing 2 or 3 or 4 songs, depending on the night. If one parent kisses goodnight and leaves, make sure the other parents kisses goodnight and leaves rather than sitting in bed a few more minutes.
Bedtime battles can be tough at this age, and a big way to minimize them is to establish bedtime rules and expectations and stick to them!
Checkout this post about how to help your older child through the bedtime routine.
When it comes to your baby’s day and night, I don’t want anyone to feel alone. If you have a spouse, ask for help! Share some ways they can help serve you and your little one in this season. Ask how you can serve them! Brainstorm ways you can best love one another and your child.
If you don’t have a partner to help, I don’t want you to feel alone, either! Call up a trusted friend and ask her to hold your baby so you can take a long, uninterrupted shower. Ask a family member to stay with you for a week and help with overnight duties. Go stay with your parents for a few days so you don’t have to worry about laundry and dishes on top of caring for your little one.
We are all human and need help navigating the messy and beautiful world that is parenting.
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