As a sleep coach, one of the first questions I ask parents before we begin working together is “What are you looking forward to once your baby is sleeping well?” For most parents, that answer is instant and clear; they just want their baby to get the sleep they need to be happy and healthy – and obviously to get some sleep for themselves!
But once they’ve moved past the first few blissful mornings when they wake up, realize that their baby has slept through the night, and is still sleeping, they start to discover that a well-rested baby brings some unexpected benefits.
And that often comes with the realization that they can leave their baby with the grandparents, overnight!
There is something magical about sleepovers, as it forges an emotional connection. And particularly for grandparents, having their grandchildren sleep in their home is beyond special. It’s a reminder of their days as new parents, a living, breathing testament to the family they’ve built together, and a chance to wrap themselves up in all of that family love that’s so totally saturating when there’s a baby in the house.
And for mom and dad, sleepovers are an opportunity to have a date-night. Most of the parents I work with haven’t enjoyed that luxury since the day they brought their baby home from the hospital, whether that was 3 months ago or 3 years ago! So taking advantage of a reliable, enthusiastic, (and usually free!) overnight babysitter provides them with a chance to reconnect in a way they haven’t in far too long!
Small caveat here, before you can just drop off your child(ren) at your parents’ house, I encourage you to come to a happy medium with them.
It can be a bit of a balancing act to insist that your parents respect your little one’s schedule and sleeping arrangements while still respecting their role as experienced and awesome parents.
Some grandparents are going to be completely wonderful and fully compliant with whatever you tell them to do when their grandchild is spending the night.
But not all of them.
Some grandparents have very engrained, shall I say, views on parenting. After all, they raised you and you’re living proof of their expertise and experience.
So today, I’d like to give you five tips on how to navigate sleepovers at the grandparents so that your whole family, including the grandparents, can benefit from a night away.
1.Respect Your Elders
Remember, these are your parents, seasoned veterans who have been through everything you’re going through now. So even though you may need to establish some ground rules, don’t approach it the same way you would a teenage babysitter. Demonstrating confidence in their abilities will help ensure that, whatever rules you do lay down, they’ll be adhered to.
2. Be Authentic
I see so many parents trying to play parenthood off as if they’ve got everything under control at all times, even with their own parents. I mean, if anyone knows how tough raising a child is, it’s grandparents, so don’t be shy to let them know how difficult it was to function when your baby was waking up every hour at night and how hard you’ve worked to remedy the situation. Understanding the emotional investment you’ve put into solving your little one’s sleep issues will help them feel a personal commitment to the routine.
3. Explain the Incentives
Grandparents love interaction with their grandkids. I mean they absolutely crave it. And who can blame them, of course. Smiles and giggles and burps from a baby are wonderful to anyone, but to that baby’s grandparents, they’re positively life-affirming. As such, they tend to want to keep baby awake for longer than recommended. This is especially true in the case of newborns, who can typically only handle about 45 minutes to 1 hour of awake time before they need to go back down for a nap.
My favorite approach to this situation is to explain the “long game” incentive of keeping baby on their schedule. In short, if every time you pick baby up from their place, she’s cranky and overtired, you’re going to be reluctant to leave them overnight. If, on the other hand, she’s happy and rested every time you pick her up, you’re going to hand that baby over to them pretty much any time they’re willing to watch her, resulting in much more time spent with her overall.
4. Share Your Experience
If you’ve already got your baby sleeping well at night and napping well during the day, then you know what a difference it makes to their moods and personality. Personally, I could not believe the improvement in my baby’s mood once we had gotten the whole sleep situation figured out. Parenting was exponentially more enjoyable when my little one was basically always in a good mood. It may sound crazy, but I just liked being around my baby so much more.
So make sure you let your parents know how much more enjoyable their whole day and night with their grandchild will be if they just adhere to the schedule. Laying down the law and making ultimatums around bedtime and nap schedules is much less effective than appealing to their caring, nurturing tendencies.
5. Equate Sleeping With Feeding
If there’s one thing a grandmother won’t abide, it’s a hungry child. The average grandmother won’t abide a hungry anything, really, but when it comes to babies, they’ll move heaven and earth to make sure that little one’s properly fed.
Putting sleep on par with feeding priority-wise can help ensure that the same level of dedication gets devoted to getting baby down for naps and into bed on time. So when you’re going over the guidelines, try to avoid getting into the fine details and just stress how important those two things are when they’re taking care of their grandchild.
One last thing I’d like to mention here because I think it’s super important. There’s a chance your parents might end up being guilty of a wee bit of sabotage. If your little one wakes up at night and cries, they might respond immediately and feed them back to sleep. Or they might allow your toddler to sleep in their bed with them. They may hold them and rock them to sleep at bedtime.
That can cause some serious stress for a parent who’s invested a whole lot of time, effort, and emotional capital into breaking those sleep associations. However, I want to reassure you that there’s typically no need to panic and call off any future sleepovers. Babies, even newborns, are surprisingly adept at recognizing different sleeping environments and understanding the rules in them, so just because they get rocked to sleep at grandma’s place doesn’t mean that they’re going to revert back to that expectation when you get them home. If they’ve developed some strong independent sleep skills, they’ll be back to normal pretty much immediately.
So don’t lose your mind if your mom tells you she let your baby fall asleep on her chest. A gentle suggestion that she not do it all the time, combined with the confession that you know how hard it is to resist a baby falling asleep on you, should be all that’s needed.
“A grandparent is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher, and a little bit best friend.”
If you’ve been dreaming of the day your family can enjoy grandparent sleepovers, but your sleep struggles are preventing those dreams from becoming a reality…let’s talk. We can get to the bottom why your family isn’t sleeping and create a plan to help you finally achieve consistent, restful, wonderful sweet dreams.