It’s become the Wild Wild West in a lot of households these days. And for good reason – we are in the middle of a global Pandemic! As working moms, we have two jobs to cram into one “workday,” so getting our little kids to sleep (and off of our hands!) is paramount. If your pre-sleep routine has doubled in length, if getting them to sleep is a battle of the wills, or if you need to carve out a little more time to get some work done, read on for some precious wisdom and a validating parenting perspective from Amanda Jewson of Baby’s Best Sleep.
“Get rid of the guilt – you’re giving extra books and songs because you feel bad. But instead, you can give the gift of sleep and structure and predictability.”
Amanda Jewson, Sleep Consultant
What To Do (Bites)
You CAN come back from a boundary f*ckup
When this all started we felt badly that many of our children’s small pleasures had been taken away, so we said, “sure I’ll read you 5 books!” The issue is, kids thrive on boundaries. And, when those boundaries are relaxed, kids feel they have to take charge and they’ll keep pushing until parents define a new boundary. If bedtime has gotten out of control and it’s getting to you, it’s not too late. You can do a gentle reset. Be explicit that things are changing and tell your child what that change will look like. “We are going back to 2 books so you can have a healthy sleep.” Expect protesting – it’s normal for kids to have big feelings. Validate them but don’t bend: “I know you don’t like it, but we only have time for two books.” Humans have a thing about separations – we want them to go well. But there are plenty of things that are healthy for them they may not like (e.g. veggies, bath time, not running into the street) – those things we take a hardline on. Sleep should be no different.
Tire ‘em out, calm ‘em down, in that order
To protect sleep, make sure to avoid outdoor/sun exposure or high intensity play for the hour before bed. If you are going to do a daytime “recess,” I suggest doing it before lunch, then have a quiet wind-down activity before nap/quiet time. As a former educator, I’m a big proponent of a routine. It’s critical to controlling a classroom and 100% as important at home and to facilitate sleep. It’s also incredibly freeing for parents and kids to know what’s next. But, we don’t need to Pinterest that shit – it can be as loose as: color, bubbles, iPad so I can accomplish something, lunch, nap/quiet time, etc. and should include breaks.
Your family’s wellbeing depends on your kid’s sleep
I wish that people knew how much their personal wellbeing impacts their child. It took me a long time to figure that out personally and it’s become my mission to share it with families. The idea of self-care sounds like bullshit propaganda. It gets thrown around willy-nilly without explanation or context. But you can’t be at your best until you prioritize your own wellbeing – that means doing things that make you feel whole, that bring you calm, that speak to your identity. Everyone is experiencing a level of stress right now that will impact everything about your child’s moods, sleep patterns, eating. This is a crisis. Now more than ever, we need to have kids going to bed at a reasonable hour, so that we as adults can go be grownups. This is not selfish. This is for the whole family, and needs to be prioritized. Remember – healthy sleep is like washing your hands right now: non-negotiable.
The whole bedtime routine from start to finish should be 20-30 mins (40 mins if it includes a bath). It should be a calming experience. Routines that are too long can be stimulating and give kids a second wind. 2 books, a song and out the door.
The multiple kid conundrum. For those who now have more than one kid at home, who may be sleeping at different times throughout the day, it can feel like another full time job just putting them down and getting them up. When both need to sleep at the same time, prioritize the younger child’s sleep as best you can as they are less tolerant of over-tiredness. In the spirit of maintaining healthy sleep habits, don’t worry about one child waking the other due to protesting a routine change (Bite 2 above) – it’ll be worth it in the long run. The good news: most kids can sleep through the other kid’s noise.
Naptime is sacred for moms working from home, so if it has slipped away, consider instituting “quiet time.” It can be in any place that’s safe (their room or a play area) and should include quiet activities they like such as books, stickers, playing with cars. The only rule is they stay there for the duration of quiet time – 45 to 90 minutes depending on the child’s age. A great aid is the Hatch Baby Rest which has a blue light that is set indicate that quiet time is done. This is also great for transitioning to big kid beds or for early risers. It’s totally programmable and can be reset from your phone if you need extra time or if you see they’re having a great sleep!
MY CHOICES. MY WISDOM.
What does career do for you that you’d miss if you suddenly retired?
I was a teacher forever and I found that work very rewarding. But there is something very satisfying about helping families sleep. For many clients I’m their step 1 in getting help. I love my job so much – it’s giving people a gift every day. There isn’t anything else I could do that would make me feel as satisfied.
What is the most important piece of wisdom you’ve learned as a working mom?
I think we are all really killing ourselves to be the best mom and best employee and the best at cooking and pureés. In fact, your kids just need you to be there in whatever capacity that looks like for you. If you love your job – great, carve out that hour with your kids because that’s enough. There’s just no way that we can be all things to all people at all times at full capacity – and that’s totally okay. How our caregiver plays with our kids is unbelievable and not my strong suit. As my kids get older, I’ll be a great ‘older kid’ mom. We’re not meant for all facets of parenting. This idea of ‘perfect mom’ is such horse sh*t.
How has being a working mom affected your parenting?
I got this amazing teaching job in all-girls education and I went back to work when Winnie was 4 months. The whole time I was working, I dealt with so much judgment about going back to work – “you poor thing, I could never do what you’re doing.” My husband was back in the office 2 weeks later, no one said anything to him about being with the baby. That whole experience has really informed my work now. Just do parenting however you can do it best. That’s all your kid needs.
What is your most medal-worthy moment?
When my girls were 2 and 7 months, my husband had to go to Ukraine for work and the mother’s helper I had hired called in sick. I had bought tickets to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) for Family Day Art Fest – I decided I could do this, just me and the kids. We got there, and suddenly my daughter peed all through her pants, through the stroller, and it was leaking onto the ground. I had the baby on me in a carrier, so I had to put her in the pee stroller to clean off the other one so then she was covered in pee. I basically walked in, gave the AGO 75 dollars, changed my children, then walked out, with only a trail of pee to show for it.
When your kids become adults, what’s the one thing you want them to say about you?
That I tried my best. Because I’m gonna f*ck it up for sure, I just want them to know that I didn’t mean to. They need to see me make mistakes and recover and say sorry and be a human.