If there were categories of mommyhood that you could specialize in and become a professional at, I would consider myself a professional when it comes to bedtime.
Now I have to thank my many years as an experienced nanny for this professional skill because without that experience, I don't think I'd understand the importance of a bedtime ritual. I was a nanny for children without a bedtime ritual, and a nanny for one with a bedtime ritual...and the difference astounds me, even still.
The children I nannied that did not have a bedtime ritual were notoriously hard to put to bed. The 3 year old threw tantrums and came up with excuse after excuse to stay awake. He cried when we put on pajamas and often kicked me when brushing his teeth. The baby would fuss and fuss when you put him in his crib even if he was asleep once you put him down. You see there was no method to the madness. No set time for bed, no ritual...sometimes they were allowed to play for an hour after dinner and sometimes it was straight to bed. Sometimes there was a bath, but usually there wasn't. Sometimes we'd read a story, if he wasn't screaming...but it was a rare occasion. Bedtime was a 'nightmare'...and I thanked my lucky stars when I got to leave before bedtime.
And then I became a night time nanny for a child whose day to day life was insanely different and complicated. But when I came to work for him, thanks to his amazing full time nanny, he already had a bedtime ritual that had been established since he was just a few weeks old. And this was one of the many reasons why this nanny job was the dream job. Bedtime was predictable. Bedtime was relaxing and enjoyable. This 3 year old knew exactly what came next and never ever had meltdowns before bed. Not ONE...in the whole 8 months I worked with him...NOT ONE! It didn't matter if we were in Miami, Paris, Utah or even Latvia his ritual was the same. Children thrive on rituals. It's the part of their day that they feel like they know what comes next. There were no meltdowns because he knew that sleep was coming...he wasn't afraid of it.
So I knew when I had children I would most definitely maintain a bedtime ritual from a very early age. So we started Gunnar's bedtime routine when he was just 6 weeks old. Sure some things will change as he gets older (like adding brushing teeth) but he already has come to expect sleep in a certain way.
So this is Gunnar's bedtime ritual:
*6:25pm--Get Bath ready and baby ready for bath
*6:45pm--pajamas on, sleep sack on
*6:50pm--stories with daddy (generally 3 stories depending on level of tiredness)
*7:00pm--lullabies and nursing with mommy
*7:05-7:10pm--lights out and in crib whether asleep or not
7:00pm has become what works best for Gunnar now. But when we first started the ritual at 6 weeks, he was going down around 9:30 or 10pm...and we gradually worked that back to 7:00 around 10 or 11 weeks. Sometimes, if we're running late we forgo the bath or read only 2 stories, but we try our best to keep the sequence as close as possible. Shortly after we started this ritual Gunnar was able to put himself to sleep without fussing. Every now and then he fusses before falling asleep but it's never drawn out anymore. In fact many times he fusses while nursing with me and he looks over to his crib and I can tell he just wants me to put him in his crib because he's ready to put himself to sleep.