On our very first night of matrimonial bliss, my wife and I learned the hard way that Hollywood is full of crap. It is physically impossible for two sane, warm blooded creatures to fall asleep in each others arms. It's hot, uncomfortable, puts your arms to sleep and it causes you to cough up hairballs. After ten minutes of trying to sleep with a numb left arm and my wife's hair tickling my nostrils, we decided to institute strict Mattress Territorial Demarcation (MTD). The left side of the bed is mine, the right side is hers and in between both sides we have a strict neutral zone that can only be violated when my wife is pregnant or wishes to become so.
This has been one of the best decisions of our marriage. As luck would have it, my wife is a roller. Had I not torn myself from her loving arms that first night, I could have easily ended up with her toes in my nose and an elbow where the sun don't shine. I am not the only one who has benefitted from strict MTD. One night, a few years into our marriage, I had a dream that I was being chased by a dog in a corn field. I woke up to find that all those kicks intended to hit the dog had actually befallen my poor wife. Had that strict neutral zone not been in place, I could have punted my wife from the bed and landed myself on the couch.
Perhaps nothing poses a greater threat to MTD and the nocturnal bliss it ensures than foreign invaders i.e. Children. In a desperate attempt to lull the little tyrants to sleep, many parents make the fatal error of allowing their child to sleep in their own bed.
There are many obvious reasons why this should never occur. First: children are pointy. Catching an elbow in the ribs from a child feels like falling onto a charging rhinoceros. Children also roll around at night like two barrels inside Niagara Falls making it impossible for anyone within a five foot radius to sleep comfortably.
Luckily, my wife and I have developed a system for getting children to sleep in their own beds that is the stuff of legend. Lets just say, if I were a comic book character, they would call me Mr. Sandman. Like a magician, I had always hoped to carry my Sandman Secret to the grave, but because it is Valentines day and my thoughts have turned towards love, I will kindly share with you the patent-pending Average Joel childhood bed-byetime method. Getting your kids to sleep effectively is broken into three phases 1) Ease the Transition 2) Develop a consistent bed time routine 3) Deal appropriately with children who get out of bed.
Ease the transition. The first mistake most parents make with their newborns is trying to get them to sleep in a crib right when they come home from the hospital. Remember, less than 48 hours a go, or less, this child was snuggled in the fetal position in a warm, tight, squishy space. Yet, we expect them to sleep flat on their backs in a cruel, cold crib.
For the first few nights, we will put the child to bed in a basinet next to the bed. They aren't going to sleep much those first few nights no matter what you do, so this is the only time in the child sleepy-time development process that you can do what is best for you. After a few nights, transition the baby into the car seat. This is going to be their home for the next couple of months.
At first my wife and I felt guilty for putting out children to sleep in the car seat. There is just something so un-parently about leaving your child in a plastic contraption that you set on the floor. However, for the child, this is the next best thing to the womb. It is warm, it puts them in a comfortable position and it reduces the risk of SIDS (no seriously, it does.)
Once the child is sleeping moderately well in the car seat next to your bed, start moving them into their own room. Maybe at first they only stay for half the night, but start getting them used to sleeping away from Mom and Dad.
Once the child is sleeping well in his own car seat, in his own room, start transitioning him to the crib. Do this first by placing the car seat inside the crib until he gets used to sleeping there. Once this happens (around month two) start putting him to sleep flat on his back for nap time only. Once the child is comfortable sleeping flat on his back for naptime, you can start putting him to sleep flat on his back at night, this should happen around month four.
Once your child is sleeping flat on his back in his own crib, you have it made in the shade. It is important to keep one thing in mind throughout this whole process: Crying has never killed a child. Each child hits the point where he is going to cry about his new surroundings. However, you need to have the will to allow the child to cry, sometimes for a long time, until they learn to accept their surroundings and sooth themselves to sleep.
Make a consistent bedtime routine. This can take on many variations, but the point is to be consistent. Do it at the same time, read the same books, sing the same songs. This creates a Pavlov's dog like reaction in your child such that the minute the clocks strikes 7:00 and he hears the song "I am a Child of God" he instantly starts to feel sleepy. Also, make sure your kids go potty and get a glass of water before hitting the sack. If they don't, they will use these necessities just as you are about to say good night to push back, if even for a few minutes, the inevitable bed time.
Deal Appropriately with children when the get out of bed. Once your children are out of the crib and into a toddler bed, they will start to explore their new found freedom and push your parenting buttons. When a child gets up at night, it is important to remember that what they want most is validation. They want recognition. So when they get out of bed, yelling at them, believe it or not, only reinforces the behavior. You need to ignore them as best you can. The first time they get out of bed, pick them up, put them back in and tell them you love them and that they need to go to sleep. The second time they get up, don't so much as look them in the eye. Keep your mouth shut and put them right back into bed. Repeat as many times as necessary until the child gives up and lets slumber take hold.
Once you have mastered these three steps, you and your spouse can get back to what is really important: sleeping.