“What are you looking forward to?”
This is usually one of the first questions I ask parents when I start working with them. It helps them to visualise what life will be like in just a couple of weeks when their baby is sleeping soundly through the night and taking long, rejuvenating naps.
For most parents, the answer is right there in the question. They just want their baby to get the sleep they need to be happy and healthy, and, obviously, they want the same for themselves. But once they’ve moved past the first few blissful mornings when they wake up, realise that their baby has slept through the night, and is still sleeping, they start to discover that a well-rested baby brings some unexpected benefits. And number one among them is the ability to leave baby overnight with the grandparents.
There’s something absolutely magical about sleepovers. Spending the night somewhere outside of your home has a very intimate quality to it. Whether you’re a young kid spending the night at a friend’s house, the first time you and your partner sleep in the same bed, or the first time you stay in a hotel on your own, sleeping somewhere forges an emotional connection, and for grandparents, having their grandchild sleep in their home is beyond special. It’s a reminder of their days as new parents, a living, breathing testament to the family they’ve built together, and a chance to just wrap themselves up in all of that family love that’s so totally saturating when there’s a baby in the house.
For mom and dad, this is an opportunity to go out on a well-deserved date night! The majority of parents I work with haven’t enjoyed that luxury since the day they brought baby home from the hospital, whether that was 3 months ago or 3 years, so taking advantage of a reliable, enthusiastic, (and usually free!) overnight babysitter provides them with a chance to reconnect in a way they haven’t enjoyed for far too long.
OK, putting the sentiment aside for now, there is some groundwork to be done here before you drop your little one off at your parents’ place. You’ve completed stage one, coach your baby, so now it’s time for stage two. Coach your parents. Now obviously, some grandparents are going to be completely awesome, wonderful, and fully compliant with whatever you tell them to do vis-a-vis their grandchild. But not all of them. Some grandparents have very, shall we say, entrenched views on parenting. After all, you’re living proof of their expertise and experience. It can be a bit of a balancing act to insist that your parents respect your little one’s schedule and sleeping arrangements while still respecting their role as experienced and awesome caregivers, so today, I’d like to give you a few tips on how to do exactly that so your whole family, including those beloved members outside of your home, can benefit.
Respect Your Elders
Above all, remember that these are not rookies. They’re seasoned veterans who have been through everything you’re going through now, so even though you may need to establish some ground rules, don’t approach it the same way you would a teenage babysitter. Demonstrating confidence in their abilities will help ensure that, whatever rules you do lay down, they’ll be adhered to.
I see so many parents trying to play parenthood off as if they’ve got everything under control at all times, even with their own parents. I mean, if anyone knows how tough raising a child is, it’s grandparents, so don’t be shy to let them know how difficult it was to function when your baby was waking up every hour at night and how hard you’ve worked to remedy the situation. Understanding the emotional investment you’ve put into solving your little one’s sleep issues will help them feel a personal commitment to the routine.
Explain the Incentives
Grandparents crave interaction with their grandkids. I mean they absolutely crave it. They’re like baby-interaction vampires. Not that anyone can blame them, of course. Smiles and giggles and burps from a baby are wonderful to anyone, but to that baby’s grandparents, they’re positively life-affirming. As such, they tend to want to keep baby awake for longer than recommended. (This is especially true in the case of newborns, who can typically only handle about 45 minutes to 1 hour of awake time before they need to go back down for a nap.
My favourite approach to this situation is to explain the “long game” incentive of keeping baby on their schedule. In short, if every time you pick baby up from their place, she’s cranky and overtired, you’re going to be reluctant to leave them overnight. If, on the other hand, she’s happy and rested every time you pick her up, you’re going to hand that baby over to them pretty much any time they’re willing to watch her, resulting in much more time spent with her overall.
Share Your Experience
If you’ve already got your baby sleeping well at night and napping well during the day, then you know what a difference it makes to their personality. Personally, I could not believe the improvement in my baby’s mood once we had gotten the whole sleep situation figured out. Parenting was exponentially more enjoyable when my little one was basically always in a good mood. It may sound crazy, but I just liked being around my baby so much more.
So make sure you let your parents know how much more enjoyable their whole day and night with their grandchild will be if they just adhere to the schedule. Laying down the law and making ultimatums around bedtime and nap schedules is much less effective than appealing to their caring, nurturing tendencies.
Equate Sleeping With Feeding
If there’s one thing a grandmother won’t abide, it’s a hungry baby. The average grandmother won’t abide a hungry anything, come to think of it, but when it comes to babies, they’ll move heaven and earth to make sure that little one’s properly fed. Putting sleep on par with feeding priority-wise can help ensure that the same level of dedication gets devoted to getting baby down for naps and into bed on time. So when you’re going over the babysitting guidelines, try to avoid getting into the minutiae and just stress how important those two things are when they’re taking care of their grandchild.
One last thing before I’d like to mention here because I think it’s super important, there’s a good chance your parents might end up being guilty of a wee bit of sabotage. If baby wakes up at night and cries, for example, they might respond immediately and feed them back to sleep. Or they might allow your toddler to sleep in their bed with them. They may hold them and rock them to sleep at bedtime. That can cause some serious anxiety for a parent who’s invested a whole lot of time, effort, and emotional capital into breaking those sleep associations.
However, I want to reassure you that there’s typically no need to panic and call off any future sleepovers. Babies, even newborns, are surprisingly adept at recognising different sleeping environments and understanding the rules in them, so just because they get rocked to sleep at grandma’s place doesn’t mean that they’re going to revert back to that expectation when you get them home. If they’ve developed some strong independent sleep skills, they’ll be back to normal pretty much immediately. So don’t lose your mind if your mom tells you she let baby fall asleep on her chest. A gentle suggestion that she not do it all the time, combined with the concession that you know how hard it is to resist a baby falling asleep on you, should be all that’s needed.