Let me start by saying I low-key hate routine. Well, what I should say is that I hate having to do something because “that’s what we do.” It makes me feel closed in, confined, like my agency is stolen. So there are many instances where I would fight a routine tooth and nail. But, let me tell ya’ll: We have a bedtime routine for our kid that I started.
The reason we have a bedtime routine is because it signals to the child that it’s time to go to sleep. This is key; it’s like the bell with Pavlov’s dogs. I kid you not, we did his routine at my brother’s house during the super bowl and he fell asleep in the middle of the living room (10 months old). It also gives baby and caregiver(s) a special time every night that everyone can count on. It was nice, especially when we’ve had a really social day, to have one-on-one time, even if it’s just 15 minutes in the bathroom at grandma’s house.
We started our routine when L was about 2 months old. The beginning of it involved us just changing his diaper, washing his face and putting coconut oil on it (he had baby acne), putting on pjs, and reading a book. Then, we gave him a bottle, swaddled him, laid him down, turned on a sound machine, turned off the light, and cracked the door. In the beginning, he was in a bassinet in our room.
I make it sound like serious business, but some of our silliest moments happened when we were getting ready for bed. We would improvise songs and the first time he ever laughed out loud was during our bedtime routine. Just tonight he and I were laughing together because he was saying “Bookem! Bookem! Bookem!!!” It’s a great time all around.
Anyway, as he’s gotten older, the routine kept the same skeleton, but got more elaborate. We added teeth brushing, a bath every other night, and eventually switched out his bottle for a cup of milk, but it’s pretty much the same thing that’s been happening since he was 2 months old. We usually don’t have to in there again until he’s up in the morning.
If you want to know the specifics of what we do:
- On a non-bath night, around 7:45, we let him know it’s time to get ready for bed. If he’s playing with toys, we’ll ask him to help clean up just so he’s not blindsided. (On a bath night, this starts around 7:30 and I specifically let him know it’s time for a bath because he likes them now)
- Then, he and Momma sit together on the kitchen floor, for some reason that started long ago and continues, and enjoy some time together while he drinks his milk
- Next, I take him to the bathroom where I wash his hands and face (or give him a bath) and brush his teeth (For a few weeks, we were doing a dance party before this part, but we’ve recently started doing them right after dinner)
- While I do this, B is picking up the rest of the toys in the living room and his bedroom, picking out his clothes for the next day, adding diapers/wipes to the changing table if need be, etc.
- Next, L and I go to his room and I change his diaper and put on PJs along with any other necessary grooming (e.g. nail clipping, hair combing, etc).
- Then, he finds me a book (or two) to read and brings it to me in the rocking chair
- After I read, he slides off of my lap and turns on the sound machine himself (a Skip Hop Moonlight & Melodies Nightlight Baby Sleep Soother)
- Then, he asks me to pick him up so he can turn the light off
- Finally, I lay him in his crib (after a kiss), say I love you, and walk out
You will notice two things: B and I do it together and nothing in our routine has ever involved rocking him to sleep or holding him until he falls asleep. We love him so very much and there probably is no better feeling than a sleeping baby on your body, but we also knew that it wouldn’t have been sustainable over time, so we never had it in our routine. While I’m sure there are probably plenty of times where folks wished their kid would just go to sleep without all the rocking and patting, the only time that us not holding him while he sleeps backfired has been on the two flights he’s been on.
So, why would I, someone who hates routines, do the same thing every night? Simple: It works. Maybe not every time, but most of the time. We do abridged versions of this even when we travel and it means we have a baby who actually sleeps during travel. For example, this summer, we traveled to Wisconsin to visit family and L’s grandparents had a crib set up for him in the basement. We were able to do our routine and leave him in the basement, with the monitor, while we continued to hangout upstairs for all of the four nights we were there. We did it in Montreal when he was 8 months old and, even with a three-hours difference, he slept in a crib in our hotel room.
Sometimes all you hear is routine, routine, routine when it comes to kids. And there are lot of people who start routines and refuse to budge from them. I’d say what we have is more along the lines of “Routineflexible.” On average nights, we do this as is; however, if we’re out visiting family or friends, we don’t rush home so we can start his routine at 8. He still sleeps fine without it and we don’t beat ourselves up about it. Ultimately, it’s a fun way to ease into bedtime and spend some quality time together after our long days.