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How to cope with bedtime when you’re solo with a baby and a toddler

Caring for two very young children can be demanding and exhausting, especially at the end of the day when everyone’s tired, hungry and wanting extra attention. So, what do you do when you’re flying solo?

Looking back, one of the most daunting times as a mom for me was the first time I had to deal with my toddler and newborn alone. Now I know that single moms do this all the time, so no judging, but the thing is that I’d been lucky that my hubby worked nearby and was always home by 5pm to help out with my toddler while I dealt with the baby. And while it wasn’t always plain sailing or as clear cut as that (you know, toddler tantrums, wailing baby when dinner needs to come out the oven…) it always seemed easier when we worked as a team. But then came a time when year-end rolled in and he had to start working late into the night to meet deadlines, leaving me to juggle the witching hour on my own.

What I learned was that there are levels of difficulties when it comes to sorting a double bedtime on your own. And a lot depends on the age of your oldest. At 3 they’re a handful, but by the time they’re 4, they’re becoming more independent and you can enlist their help or leave them for a bit to play on their own while you sort the younger one. Also, while your drowsy baby is still small, it’s easy to let them snooze close to your chest while you sort the older one, and once the baby can sit you can definitely safely bath them and read them bedtime stories at the same time. This means the whole bedtime routine becomes a bit more manageable – on the whole.

ALSO SEE: 6 tips to help you set up a successful routine for your baby or toddler

I’m by no means an expert when it comes to juggling two kids’ bedtime routines, and oh boy, I’ve made lots of mistakes on the way, but talking to other moms, here’s some strategies that have helped them cope:

Bouncy seats and baby wearing

If your baby isn’t overtired you can drag a bouncy chair into the bathroom and let him watch you as you bath his elder sibling and get him ready for bedtime. Alternatively, you can put your baby in a baby wrap or carrier as you go about sorting your toddler. With you baby in a carrier you’ll have your baby close to you, but your hands free.

Special screen time

If you need to deal with the baby, but want to be sure your toddler is safe and occupied, we’re not judging if you lean on the TV nanny and let him watch some TV, or a movie, for 30 minutes. If you’re in another room, you can even set up your phone or a laptop near you with a programme so that you can still keep an eye on him.

Sleep train the baby

The thing about second babies is that getting them to sleep on their own happens much quicker if you start some kind of sleep training from early on. I know I trained my son to fall asleep in his cot when he started getting drowsy, instead of staying with him until he fell asleep, from early on. We started by putting him down and not picking him up when he cried – just reassuring him by rubbing his tummy and his head, before retreating from the room. There was just no way I could rock and shush him to sleep while I had his elder sister clinging to me and demanding attention. I needed him to go down on his own, in a safe place. And somehow, he got used to the idea that it was night time when I closed the curtains and put on the night lamp.

ALSO SEE: What is sleep training and should you try it?

Toddler stories

When your hands are full with a newborn, picking up a book to read to your toddler may not be realistic, especially if you’re alone. Instead, why not tell one. You can make up a story about almost anything, even about the time when he was a baby, just like his new sibling. Toddlers love hearing stories about what they did as babies. You could even narrate what you are doing with the baby and compare it with what you did when they were small.

Ask and accept help

Sometimes, admitting you need help is tough but it’s also important when you’re juggling a baby and a toddler at the same time. Say yes if a neighbour or family friend offers to watch your toddler while you bath the baby. Or, have a sitter watch the baby, while you spend some quality time with your toddler. Having opportunities where you can spend one-on-one time together is so important.

Cosy up in the “big bed”

When you’re all tired, there’s nothing wrong with you all jumping into the “big bed” and cuddling up. My baby would fall asleep while I was nursing him and my toddler snuggled happily next to me. When my hubby did come home, he’d just carry our eldest to his room and tuck her in. Of course, as the baby got bigger, he’d find his sister endlessly funny and entertaining, and getting them to sleep became a little more challenging.

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