I’ve recently returned to full-time employment. Since then our toddler wakes up and climbs into our bed and she seems more reluctant to even go to bed. Any connection?
This nighttime behavior is common and normal after mothers return to work outside the home. Yes, everyone needs to sleep, but children have nighttime needs. You could take the hard line here and either lock your door or lock your child’s door, but this insensitive approach ignores the fact that your child may have needs as pressing as your need to sleep. (It is never appropriate to lock your child in his bedroom or even to lock your own door at night, except temporarily to insure privacy for sex.)
By her nighttime behavior, your child is trying to tell you she misses you during the day and she needs you more at night now. Take this as a compliment to your parenting. Try lengthening the bedtime ritual to give her more attention. Put a futon or sleeping bag (“special bed”) at the foot or side of your bed and lay down the conditions we mentioned in “The Midnight Visitor” . If your child is still in a crib, try the side-car arrangement: Place your child’s crib adjacent to your bed and remove the near side rail. Be sure the mattress is flush against your own. The side-car arrangement respects both your bed space and that of your child, yet provides a nighttime closeness that your child seems to need. If these alternatives do not satisfy your little person, try letting her sleep in your bed — if all sleep well in this arrangement. This nighttime closeness can make up for some of what your child is missing during the day.
“But I’m being had. Isn’t she manipulating me?” you may wonder. Consider this from another perspective. A sensitive disciplinarian respects her own needs and those of her child, as you would in a relationship with another adult. This is discipline based on love, not power. It leaves a lasting impression.
Here is another thought to consider: Now that both parents are working outside the home, early bedtimes are not realistic. Otherwise, the only daily interaction with parents would be that “happy hour” before dinner when a tired child is at his worst behavior. Instead, have your caregiver give your child a later nap so that she is well-rested and sociable when you arrive home from work. Expect a longer bedtime ritual and later bedtime to give your child a greater quantity of quality time.