Being a parent is the most rewarding job in the world. Also the most demanding, exhausting, messy, stressful, annoying and fun. It’s no wonder that moms and dads can sometimes get a little…crazy. Hey, we’re not here to judge.
But what we’re here to do is bring some insight (and a lot of levity) to these unique situations with a little help from the creator of The Ugly Volvo, Raquel D’Apice. We call this the parent brain. Take it as proof that you are not alone. Or crazy.
The only way to set your child’s sleep schedule
We all have the same parenting goal, and that is to raise happy, well-adjusted children who speak fluent Mandarin, can play Stravinsky̵7;s Three Pieces for Clarinet well enough to be considered for the New York Philharmonic, and land a job at Google before puberty.
Yes? All of us? Good. And the first step to achieving your dream child is to set a reliable sleep schedule.
Setting a sleep schedule for your baby is literally the easiest thing in the world. The second easiest thing in the world is to perform an appendectomy on a mouse (you’re blindfolded, not the mouse), and the third easiest thing in the world is to memorize every article on Wikipedia and recite them to the tune of The Mexican Hat Dance while you eat an avocado.
I don’t know what the fourth easiest thing in the world is, but I’m going to google it as soon as my baby is in bed and asleep, which I’m almost certain will happen very soon.
To get your child to go to bed, it’s good to have a plan, by which I mean a series of things you consistently do together that the child will then associate with bedtime.
It’s kind of like the classical conditioning of Pavlov’s dogs – only if I had the choice between getting two hysterical children under the age of seven to go to bed before 9pm or filling my house with a bunch of clock-fetishizing Russian dogs, of course I’d choose the dogs because the structure in a dog’s mouth renders it unable to utter the phrase “I need a glass of water.”
Also, when dogs get out of hand, you can totally let them sleep outside in a literal doghouse, which is a place you can only metaphorically put your kids.
When setting up a sleep routine for your children, start with activities that help them wind down.
Don’t mess with them or play a song designed to get the adrenaline going, like “Pump Up the Volume” or “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. At this time you want to limit stimulants, and by stimulants I mean literally anything they find stimulating.
This means that if part of your bedtime routine involves reading them a story, avoid an action/adventure story or anything with a cliffhanger or plot. If you can find something with a bunch of bunnies hopping around in a meadow without conflict, great. If you can find something super dry and unengaging – a Soda Stream instruction manual or one of those wordless IKEA booklets that tell you how to assemble a bed, even better.
The mental state you are trying to create is one where they are so bored that sleeping is more interesting than listening to you talk for another minute.
If part of their bedtime routine involves a bath, try to avoid giving them bath toys, which will only irritate them, and instead keep your voice in a soothing monotone when you explain to them the concept of water displacement. Be warned that the child may try to engage or tease you by splashing or spitting water in your eyes, but react with all the excitement of a stump doing a Tom Brokaw impersonation.
Let the water drip from your face as you stare them down like an unyielding bloodhound.
If you must brush your teeth, do it without words and brush in long, slow strokes while listening to sad Celtic harp music.
Even if your technique has worked so well that your child is moments away from slipping into REM sleep, they will still ask for a glass of water, which is easily remedied by having the child sleep on a water bed with a spout in the Nalgene- style attached to it. . They can drink as much as they need with the caveat that if they drink too much obviously the bed will be much less comfortable.
“But the bathroom,” you whisper to me over the void. “They keep telling me they have to use the bathroom.” (And they may actually need to, if they’ve drunk over 3/4 of a waterbed.)
Getting them to stop begging for the bathroom is the boss level in the video game of babysitting. My own kids used to get up and use it every fifteen minutes or so until we started paying unemployed actors in bone-chilling zombie makeup to walk the hallways while simultaneously saying, “Alexa: please play the song from The Walking Dead opening credits from 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.” :00 the following morning.”
And while everyone has to do what works best for them, the kids have been visibly shaken but incredibly well rested for the past six months.
On how to deal with the problem of children waking up in the middle of the night and crawling into bed with you – we all deal with it differently. Address what you are most comfortable with, as long as you know that what you allow is what will continue.
And if you ever hope to get a good night’s sleep yourself, you should get up straight away and march them back to their own beds, which would be so much easier to do (wouldn’t it?) if you weren’t watching your child’s little chests rise and fall as you run your fingers through their hair.
And to realize that they will never be this young again and that you are so lucky to have them and be around them and you can’t believe how much joy you get from their mere existence.
And that’s when you realize: sleep schedules are totally overrated.
Until, you know, the kicking starts.
Illustration by Mari Andrew