There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as an interrogation tactic or a torture method. People don’t really get this until they’ve experienced parental sleep deprivation.
I have one husband, two small children, one cat, and one king-sized bed. Here’s how it goes down:
We did not set out to be “co-sleeping people” when we adopted a 2-year-old. The family bed was not supposed to be for us. But because Zack’s first six months home were a sleep-deprived blur, I finally gave in to co-sleeping. We bought a king-sized bed and did what we had to do in the interest of getting more than 58 minutes of REM sleep at a time. Getting up every hour to put our little nighttime visitor back to bed very quickly lost its charm. And when I say “lost its charm,” I mean it was never in any way charming in the first place.
When we adopted a second child and planned to have them share a bedroom, I thought this might be a motivation for Zack to stay put at night. Maybe the presence of another child close in age would buy me some mattress space back.
My second son slept like a champ. And while sibling adjustment was going well, the nighttime shenanigans continued. Zack was up and down for this or that — water, hugs, to ask a question about nuclear theory — and he’d end up in our bed by midnight.
If we got up and put him back where he belonged, he’d crawl back in his own space with nary a murmur. And be wedged between us an hour later. Lather, rinse, repeat. Do not pass go. Do not sleep.
We’d eventually give in and let him stay. As uncomfortable as it was to share the bed with him, there came a point when the need to sleep, even a little, won.
Then they both started coming in.
I asked my second son why and his answer was simple: “Your bed is better.”
Yeah, kid. I like my bed, too, and I’d love to be able to enjoy more than four inches of mattress space. These regularly occurring nighttime fiestas were no good. Then I read an article about “the bedtime pass.”
The concept of the bedtime pass is ridiculously simple, so simple that you might doubt it.
Our bedtime pass is an index card with “bedtime pass” written on it.
You can Pinterest it up if you want, but since I routinely operate on reduced sleep rations, I went simple. The idea behind the pass is to hand it to your child at bedtime and explain that it’s good for one excused bedroom departure per night. They can use it at their discretion: to get a drink, go to the bathroom, or report a scary dream.
It sounds too easy, right? But it works!
The act of getting the kids to bed is less time-consuming. We’ve had almost no more up and down, no jumping out of bed to ask what flavor yogurt we were having for breakfast or to report their sibling was “breathing too much.” You know, the kind of thing that inevitably resulted in me losing my cool, yelling, and threatening.
I think this works so well because it gives the children control and choices while keeping some structure in our routine — and both things are important. The time I spent every evening getting my kids back to bed and losing it is now my time. Having that time back is huge. I’m not screeching “go the eff to sleep” and bedtime is much less of a negative experience for everyone.
We’re approaching three weeks and going strong. We’ve had a few slip-ups because old habits die hard, but I’m ready to call this a win.
We added a reward element, too — when the kids stay in their room all night they get a sticker on the back of their pass. Just the act of getting a sticker is pretty awesome when you’re 6, but we’ve promised them “a surprise” when they fill up their card. We haven’t decided on the specifics of the surprise, but it will probably be something simple like going out for ice cream or new crayons.
No doubt someone is judging me because I bribe my kids to go to sleep. There’s probably someone out there judging me for not being sensitive to my kids’ needs and sucking up the co-sleeping. I have this to say: where and how you go to sleep is something for the parent to decide. But. You have to go to sleep. If you’re having sleep issues at your house and your kids are old enough to understand basic reasoning, try the bedtime pass.
Everything works better when a mom is semi-rested … because lets be real: semi-rested is sometimes as good as it gets.