I know we all have seen graphics of the perfect bedtime routine on Facebook, goodness knows I have made posts on it myself! It often includes aspects like “30 minutes long, one-on-one time, lots of cuddles, snuggles, have the whole routine take place in their room, and no screens!” The last time I posted something like this, I was immediately brought back down to earth by a kind mama who commented that she had multiple children, and all these steps can feel so unrealistic with different ages.
I’ve been a bit spoiled. I DO have multiple children, but they were both born at the same time! Our boys also share a room, so checking all of these boxes was easy because we could do it side-by-side. I never had to distract a toddler while swaddling a newborn for bed!
I never want to feel like you are set up for failure with my limited experience. You absolutely CAN still have a quality and effective bedtime routine with multiple children, but it may look a little different from what you see on social media!
Divide and Conquer (or not!):
Your family’s personal bedtime routine is going to depend a lot on the makeup of your family and who’s available at bedtime! Start by considering the ratio of caregivers to children on a typical night.
Two Adults on Call
· Families with 2 adults and 2 children: If we normally have two parents in the home at bedtime and two children to put down, then I would argue that you can do the bedtime routine I shared above with each child! I would encourage you to divvy up the work and assign one child to each parent. There are a few factors I want you to keep in mind if you go this route:
a. Rotate which parent works with which child. It can be easy to get into a routine of one parent working with only one child, but this can lead to some concerns when a parent is out of town one night! Instead, consistently rotate which parent is putting which child down so that your children are used to each caregiver.
b. Write down each child’s bedtime routine so that both caregivers are doing the same routine every night. This helps your child know that expectations and boundaries look the same around bedtime no matter who is putting them to bed.
c. If you are a breastfeeding mama, you may feel like this is impossible because you have to be with your breastfed child as opposed to your older child! In this case, I suggest swapping out in the middle of the bedtime routine! Let your partner change the baby’s diaper, dress the baby, and read stories to the baby while you dress your older child, play with them, and help brush their teeth; then you can switch rooms while you breastfeed your baby and your partner reads a story to your older child and puts them to bed.
·Families with 2 adults and 3 or more children: If you are outnumbered but have at least two caregivers, your tactics will look a little bit different:
a. Tactic One: If you have a larger age gap between your oldest child and the younger ones, then you will put the younger ones down before starting your bedtime routine for the oldest. You can consider either giving your older child(ren) a quiet time activity to complete or if they cannot be unsupervised, get them involved in the younger children’s bedtime routine.
Need some quiet time activity ideas? Look at the graphics below!
b. Tactic Two: If your children need to go to bed around the same time, have one caregiver work with your youngest child, and have another caregiver complete bedtime for the older children. Afterwards, the latter parent can do a personalized tuck-in and goodnight with each child.
Single Parent Homes
First off, you are absolutely incredible in my books. Superhero status! That aside, we certainly have to make some alterations when it comes to a bedtime routine with multiple children when you only have one caregiver. I could probably devote an entire blog JUST to you, but I’ll do my best to summarize a few factors I want you to consider here:
· Consider who has the least flexible wake windows, and offer their bedtime first. Most typically this will be your youngest child! The older we get, the more flexible our wake windows are, so even if we go to bed a little late, it won’t have a big impact on our sleep! There are two exceptions to this:
a. If you just completed a nap transition with one of your older children, then they may no longer have the most flexible wake windows! For example, if your three-year-old is ready to drop their nap, then it may feel like you are barely coasting into a 7 PM bedtime. In this case, you may need to switch around the order of your bedtime routine! This would include Baby being present for your older child’s routine. Consider buying a little basket of toys that are ONLY brought out during this time so that your baby is very distracted during your older child’s bedtime.
b. If your baby is a newborn (3 months and under), then they likely have the least flexible wake windows, BUT they also tend to prefer a later bedtime. See if you can line up your baby’s last nap with your older child’s bedtime routine. This may mean that your older child’s bedtime might vary slightly from night to night, depending on the baby’s nap schedule. However, your newborn’s wake windows are still very short, so your older child’s bedtime will be within an hour of its typical time every night. Often times, this last nap works best as a contact nap, so it may also be helpful to baby wear during this nap while you are getting your older children ready for bed! Investing in a good baby carrier that you love is a game changer! My favorite is the baby carriers from Solly Baby (This is an affiliate link. You will receive a discount if you use this link and I will receive a small commission)
· If bedtime routines need to occur at the same time, have all of the necessary activities and supplies in one of the children’s bedrooms, wind everyone down together, and then offer a brief amount of one-on-one time as you do a personal tuck-in for each child. This one-on-one time is an important factor, but it can be as simple as tucking in each child and asking what the best part of their day was!
The Ingredients for a Perfect Bedtime Routine:
Individualized Attention: Individualized attention seems to be the most challenging for parents of mutliples to recieve. If you are feeling overwhelmed, here is some additional advice:
a. Ideally, we are working one-on-one time into the bedtime routine. If that’s not possible, take turns with each child after dinner instead!
b. Another opportunity for one-on-one time is when you’re tucking your child in. Offer them some snuggles and ask some questions about their day. Or, better yet, tell them about something they did that made you feel proud or happy. Our children LOVE to hear that we are paying attention.
c. If one-on-one time feels untenable, aim for quality time together as a group in one of your children’s rooms. This works well for children who cannot be left unsupervised! Try to find moments in this time to give each of your children a little bit of your time.
Let’s take a look at how one parent with 3 young children (a newborn, a 2-year-old, and a 5-year-old) might aim for timing, consistency, and individualized attention in their bedtime routine.
Step 1: 45 minutes before bed, do a bath all together. The newborn can go in a baby bath while the 2-year-old and 5-year-old soak in the rest of the tub.
Step 2: Everyone gets dressed for bed and puts on a night time diaper or sleep sack! Do this in the bathroom so that you don’t have to leave a child in the bath unsupervised! It’s a tight fit but it’s temporary.
Step 3: Everyone goes to the baby’s room for some quiet play. Your baby can do tummy time for 5-10 minutes while you get in some play time with your older children.
Step 4: Feed the baby while you read books. Your oldest is in charge of turning the pages.
Step 5: Everyone gives baby a kiss goodnight and Baby goes to bed (if you are currently supporting your baby to sleep, then baby can go in a sling or carrier!)
Step 6: Tell your five-year-old to go to their room to look at a book. Tuck your middle child into bed and spend a special moment with them.
Step 7: Tuck in your oldest child and spend a special moment with them.
To wrap it up…
Bedtime looks very different when you have multiple children to wrangle. Often, it can make parents feel like they are not doing enough. Please pause here. You ARE doing enough: It just may look different from when you had one child. Some of you are in an especially hard phase of life with children who are different ages. It will not always be this hard; and, until it gets easier, you are still a great parent!
Edited by the lovely Emily Schafer