What Would Daytime Mom Do?

Many of my clients are Type A personalities: badass mamas who need their sleep because they’re conquering the world during the day. One recently said to me, “I don’t understand. During the day, I have no problem setting and enforcing limits with my child. But at night, I really struggle to maintain boundaries when it comes to sleep. What gives?!”

You’re in good company, mama.

During the day, it’s easier to be a hardass: “Last episode of Daniel Tiger.” Your child turns to you with tears in their eyes, “But I want to see Katerina!”. You shake your head, “Nope, this is the last one.”. The tears start flowing, “But KATERIIIIIINNNNNAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!”. Your little stomps, pouts and storms out of the room. Sorry, kid.

But when it’s night? It’s a lot harder to lay down the rules. I wanted to investigate why this was as I think that my client isn’t the only one feeling this way. For starters, we’re exhausted. Whether you spent the day crunching numbers at a hedge fund, or hosting a raucous play date, there comes a point in the evening when you’re D-O-N-E. When your defenses are down, it’s more difficult to be a sleep sheriff. “One more song? Sure. Oh, you wanted me to lie down with you for a few hours while you fall asleep? Well, just this one time.” It happens.

Many of us also have feelings of guilt that pop up at bedtime. This especially affects working parents, as it’s often the only time they get to see their children. More than one mom has told me that she complies with every little demand her daughter makes at bedtime, which results in a two-hour routine that leads to her daughter being overtired and the mom feeling frustrated.

There has a be a better way, right?

Nighttime struggles happen to the best of us. A few weeks ago, my toddler was really fighting bedtime. I finally managed to wrestle him into bed, sang the usual songs and turned off the light. He asked for more kisses, which I happily gave him. He then asked me to kiss his lovey. And then his blanket, pillow, water bottle, stuffed animals, multiple books, the toy Jeep to which he has become irrationally attached, his hands, feet, nose, eyes and, finally, his stroller. I complied, thinking it would end and I could soon escape to watch the last episode of The Crown. But he sneakily looped back to the beginning of the list, with no intention of stopping.

I was too tired to resist. I stood there giving kisses to inanimate objects for five minutes before I thought, “Are you kidding me?!” And then it hit me, “I’m a sleep coach! I gotta walk my talk!” Would I put up with this during the day, say, if he kept asking for one more cookie? And then another? And another? Oh, hell no. Daytime mom doesn’t operate like that. Daytime mom enforces the rules as if her life depends on it.

So, taking daytime mom’s advice, I gave him one final kiss, said goodnight, and fled the room. He wasn’t happy with my strategy, but he quickly got over it and fell asleep. The next night, he started on his laundry list of objects to kiss and I cut him off. “Choose three items for me to kiss. MWAH! MWAH! MWAH! Goodnight!”

If you struggle with bedtime battles or overnight wakings, here’s what I suggest:

Embrace boundaries. Ninety-nine percent of toddlers thrive with clearly-defined boundaries. Yes, they will test them. Yes, they will push our buttons all. day. long. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t need limits; on the contrary, they’re testing them to be certain they exist. Laying down the law can seem harsh to us; but to them, it’s comforting to know that they don’t live in a world without rules.

Set sleep rules for your family. If you don’t establish limits around sleep, then don’t expect your child to take it seriously. Sleep rules help you to stay consistent and allow your child to anticipate what will happen at bedtime and overnight. Each family has different rules according to their parenting style. (Some examples include: We all sleep in our own beds. At bedtime, we read three stories and sing two songs and then turn the lights out). You do you, mama.

Stick to the sleep rules. If your child is older than 18 months, I highly recommend holding a family sleep meeting to explain the rules. If you’re the DIY type, make a colorful poster with the rules that you can refer back to as needed. Explain the benefits of more sleep in a way that appeals to them. For example, tell them they will be able to jump higher, run faster, draw more pictures. (And did you know that both Elsa and Peppa Pig need a lot of sleep too?!).

Follow your gut. Don’t hesitate to make exceptions to the rules when your child is sick or you’re traveling. If your baby had a fever when you put her down at bedtime and she wakes during the night, of course you should go check on her. If you’re on vacation and she refuses to sleep in her pack-n-play, do what’s needed to in order for everyone to get some sleep. But…

Always go back to your rules. If you’re consistent, your little one will understand that there are boundaries she must respect. If you break the rules every now and then for illness or travel, just explain to her that you’re making an exception. As soon as she’s better/you’re back home, go straight back to your usual routines.

When in doubt, ask yourself, “what would daytime mom do?” Always trust daytime mom. She’s way more level-headed and trustworthy than nighttime mom.

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