My Personal Faves Among the Masses of Parenting Books

When our mothers raised us, there was only one book on parenting: Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. My Mom said she didn’t even read it. :)

Parenting wasn’t even a word.

Now, there are countless volumes on how to feed, toilet train, talk to and otherwise raise our kids from womb to adulthood. There is, simply, too much information, and we can’t read it all.

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I certainly haven’t read it all, but I have a few favourites that have saved my sanity. Without them I would probably be screaming at my kids all day. 

So, I’m going to share my favourite parenting books, and I hope some of you will do the same in the comments at the end (selfishly asking of course).

Each of these books focuses on understanding your child’s developing brain, normalizing all that crazy-making behaviour, and giving parents a way to respond to those behaviours in the most compassionate, productive way possible.

The Whole-Brain Child

This is one of those books that makes you say, “Ohhhhh….” Oops.

Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson wrote this to help us understand the meltdowns – those illogical moments when our kids seem to make mountains out of mole hills.

It helps us make sense of the chaos - those times when we’re thinking (or saying) “Would you just calm down?!” (I remember hearing myself one stressful, rushed morning actually say to my 5-year-old, “It’s not a big deal!” To which she screamed right back, “It IS a BIG DEAL!” Right.)

The authors explain, in simple language, what’s actually happening in a child’s brain in those moments and what they really need from us, despite what it looks like. It is truly incredible when you have this knowledge, and instead of getting angry and trying to discipline in the middle of a tantrum, you just kneel down and hold your arms open, and your child (who five seconds ago was screaming ‘I hate you!’) runs right into them for comfort in the midst of the emotional storm.

Parenting the Strong-Willed Child

This book, by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long, outlines a five-week, clinically proven program – a specific method of interacting with your child – that can help prevent or seriously tone down the back-talking, tantrums and other difficult behaviours.

And it works like a flippin’ magic wand, no kidding. It is so effective at teaching parents how to help their child feel acknowledged, noticed and appreciated (so there is less reason for them to act out in the first place) that I give a Cole’s Notes version (no pun intended) to every family I work with that has a toddler or older child.

I once recommended my short version of this strategy to parents whose little boy had “broken up with his Dad” – he was all Mommy, all the time (including the middle of the night).  Within a week or two of his Dad using it, the little boy was skipping out the door with him for café dates and park trips, cheerily waving “Bye Mom!” 

The program is truly incredible for kids aged 2.5–6; it focuses on boosting a positive sense of self in your child, so even if you’re not particularly struggling, it’s worth learning. It changed my life when I read it, and using the technique is now a habit. 

Raising Your Spirited Child

The subtitle on this book is “a guide for parents whose child is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic”.

Just even understanding that there’s a normal range of children’s temperaments can help you breathe a sigh of relief and stop wishing your child would magically (or forcibly) change into one of those docile, easy-going kids.

This book can help you understand your child, rather than assuming they’re “difficult” or coming off the rails. Spirited kids’ brains are wired differently, and they need different kinds of communication and awareness from us as parents. The author, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, explains it all, and gives you strategies for handling every situation in a way that helps your child feel appreciated for who they are.

I love this book because it helped me realize that spirited kids are a gift. I always say to parents at my sleep seminars that these are the cool kids, the super-fun kids. (I’m developing a bit of a theory that spirited natures first show themselves in difficulty settling to sleep….)

The ideas in this book help us learn how to positively respond to our spirited kids’ sometimes over-the-top natures. And it’s our (rather challenging) job to help them shine and not be bowled over by their emotions or shut down by a parent who wishes they were anything other than their perfect little selves, with all their wildness and exuberance.

Next on My List:

Hold On to Your Kids – Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers

Gordon Neufeld is a giant in the child-development / attachment-theory world; he wrote this book with Gabor Maté as a guide for keeping kids grounded despite a phenomenon he calls “peer orientation” – when kids look to their peers for direction and a sense of right and wrong, rather than their parents.

I bought this book when my first child was an infant, because I knew I would need it one day. Parenting in the digital age scares me. It’s on my ‘to-read’ list now because my first child has just started school, and I can already see the potential for this phenomenon taking over.

And finally, here’s one I sheepishly haven’t finished:

Mindful Parent, Happy Child

by Pilar M. Placone

If you can’t get through an entire book on mindfulness, you probably need to read 10. :)

The crux of this one (so far) is that when we’re locked in battle with our kids, or frustrated with our two-year-old, it’s we who are being triggered, and not necessarily our kids who are so out-of-line (usually, they’re just being kids). This is the whole basis for seeing our children as our teachers, our vehicles for becoming better versions of ourselves. There’s just no substitute for knowing our own triggers when it comes to living a sane life.

Let this be my written commitment to dust that one off.

How to Manage the Time Change with Kids

“I hate the time change!”

Said every parent of a young child ever.

The switch to daylight savings can wreak such havoc on our kids’ sleep (and therefore ours) it can make us all want to move to Saskatchewan. Or Arizona.

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When the clocks spring ahead (in 2019 it’s Sunday, March 10), it can mean your kids won’t be tired until an hour after their usual bedtime, according to the clock.

If their normal bedtime is 7 p.m., after the time change they won’t be tired until the “new” 8 p.m.

But they still have to get up for daycare and school, and you for work the next day. That can mean each of you is missing an hour of sleep.

(That’s why the Monday after the daylight-savings switch has the highest car-accident rate of any day of the year; sleep-deprived drivers lack focus and attention.) 

Not that your kids will be driving, but they still have to function and keep their emotions from spilling out of their overtired ears by the end of the day. We probably all know what our little ones look like on exactly one hour less sleep.

So, the good news: you don’t have to move to Saskatchewan, or Arizona, as lovely as both those places are.  There is a simple method to help your child (and you) gradually adjust to the spring-ahead time change that will have you all waking up feeling, well, just normal-tired on Monday morning.

But you have to start tonight….

Let’s say your baby’s or big-kids’ bedtime is 7:30.

Tonight, put them to bed about 10 minutes earlier than usual. It’s a small enough amount that they likely won’t notice. (For that, you’ll have to bump up every part of the bedtime routine and pre-empt that plea for “one more story” or another glass of water.)

Repeat that schedule the next night.

Then put them to bed 10 or 15 minutes earlier again.

Repeat that bedtime for another night.

Then again, 10-15 minutes earlier the next night, and you see where this is going.

When you ease bedtime back 10 or 15 minutes every second night, by the time Saturday night rolls around, your kids will be tucked in at 6:45 p.m., which on Sunday will “spring ahead” to be the new 7:45 and you only have to adjust to a 15-minute time change.

It takes a little bit of military precision with the bedtime routine to make this strategy work, but that will only help your kids fall asleep more easily anyway.

And don’t forget – get yourself to bed earlier too! That pitter-patter will be coming your way a bit sooner until we all spring ahead.

Is a Strict Bedtime Routine Really that Important?

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It's the first thing any baby sleep book, fact sheet or expert will tell you to do: establish a bedtime routine.

To some parents, this can feel like their last shred of freedom is being ripped away. Not every parent is a "routine person." For some, living every evening by the clock goes against their very DNA.

But I recommend them anyway, because I believe that a consistent bedtime routine for your kids can actually give you your freedom back.

Stay with me for a minute. 

Here's why routines work for babies and young kids:

  • Until about middle childhood, babies' and kids' worlds are very black-and-white: there's right and wrong, yes and no, play time and nap time.... When they know what's coming next, and what to expect, there is more calm and less chaos in their minds.

  • Little ones need to develop an internal body clock. When babies are born, their lives are a 24-hour blur of eating, sleeping and diaper changes. They lack a circadian rhythm - that internal body clock that tells us grownups when it's daytime and when to shut down for 8 hours of sleep. To help them develop it, they need to go to bed at roughly the same time every night, give or take 20-30 minutes.

  • Kids like to know what's coming next. If your kids are verbal, just notice how many times they ask what's happening in the future: When is dinner time? When's daddy/Mommy coming home? Are we going to Grandma's today?  When they have a bedtime routine that doesn't change much, like the one below, there are no surprises to throw them off. This matters for babies too; they just can't express it yet.

  • Clear boundaries build security. Really.  When the big people in their lives are really clear about what happens when, i.e. after bath we brush teeth, have a story and go to bed (virtually every night), and there is no room for negotiation, kids just stop pushing against a wall that doesn't move, and they feel safe in a predictable world (to my American friends, I apologize for the wall analogy). And that means peaceful, calm, sweet bedtime cuddles, kisses and 'night-nights'.

Now, here's why bedtime routines are AWESOME for parents:

  • When the bedtime routine is relatively the same and doesn't change in timing or content from night to night, there is just no battle. Bedtime can become some of the sweetest time you spend with your child, rather than a nightly struggle.

  • When your kids have a predictable routine, and (very importantly) clear boundaries around sleep at night (i.e. that play/attention/fun/food is for during the day), you get your evenings and nights back for you. Completely.

  • Kids with routine sleep habits will easily hunker down at 7 p.m. for 11-12 hours of straight sleep. So for you, that means 3-4 hours every night to do what you want or need, knowing that you'll still have your 8 straight hours when your head hits the pillow. No more wondering what time they're going to call out and wake you up.

  • The earlier you start, the easier it is to stick to - it's just a part of your child's life; no debate, no questioning. You can keep the same bedtime routine you developed for your 6-month-old until they're 8. And it makes life so much easier. Really.

So, for a preview of my live webinar on Saturday, February 23, The 90-Minute Baby and Toddler Sleep Solution, here is my sample bedtime routine and age-appropriate schedule - this is just Part 1 of a full, sleep-solving plan:

Start the routine ~ 6:30 p.m.
Feeding / snack
Brush teeth (if they have some!)
2 stories (max)
Song / snuggle time
Into bed awake ~ 7 p.m.

If that "Into bed awake" part scares the daylights out of you, then I highly recommend you join me this weekend when I will walk you through a complete, step-by-step plan to help your baby or toddler learn to blow your mind by falling asleep independently and sleeping through the night, every night.

Here's the link to learn more about the live webinar: 
The 90-Minute Baby and Toddler Sleep Solution

Sleep well everyone.

Saying Bye-Bye to the Bottle

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You’ve reached that point when you know your toddler doesn’t need a bottle anymore: you’ve heard paediatricians recommend children switch from a bottle to a sippy cup around age one; your dentist has told you it’s a bad idea for her teeth if she falls asleep with it; you know it’s probably the only reason she’s still waking up at night; and your mother-in-law is on your case about it.

Whatever your reason, you want to quit bottle feeding in the night but you can’t imagine how your child ever going to manage (or sleep through the night) without it.

One strategy that works well for a lot of kids is to package up all the bottles and “send them to a new baby” (you can secretly keep them in storage if you need).  If you know a new baby your child can visit, even better.

Prepare for this by talking to your child ahead of time about how he’s so big now that he doesn’t need a bottle anymore and that it’s time to pass them on to “a new little baby who really needs them.”

He can still have his milk before brushing his teeth, but he should have it in a cup. You can warm it up and call it “special coffee” or something fun. And, more preparation: tell him no more milk until the sun comes up.

Now for the hard part: what to do when your child cries out in the night for it? This is one of those unavoidable tough-love parenting moments.

First, you wait a few minutes to see if she will drift back to sleep on her own when she isn’t met with the instant gratification of Mom or Dad sleepily handing over a bottle full of warm milk. If she is not taking this change lying down (pardon the pun), then it’s all about your poker face: go in her room and calmly, quietly remind your little one that there is no more milk until the sun comes up, give her a little rub on the back for comfort and then leave again.

If your child is old enough to be in a big-kid bed and is coming to you with the milk request, then you have to lead her back quietly and matter-of-factly with very little interaction, tuck her in and do the same remind-and-leave routine as above.

You may have to repeat this a lot on the first few nights, so be patient; best to start on a weekend when you can trade naps with your spouse the next day.

It might seem like a losing battle the first night or two, but if you are absolutely clear and consistent with your child, your night-shift work will pay off in spades and full nights’ sleeps for everyone are just around the corner.

Trading Nap Time for Quiet Time

Quiet time

A lot of parents I know see nap time as the most sacred part of their day; it's that break that keeps them sane in the unrelenting job of parenting.

So when your 3-year-old suddenly announces, "I don't want to nap!" and happily makes it through the entire day (with maybe a bit more fuss at supper time), it can bring a full-on state of mourning.

Look at it another way and it can also be freeing - no more rushing home for nap time, trying to keep your child awake in the carseat before you make it home.

How to know it's time to drop the nap
Starting around 3 years old, it's common for kids to no longer need a nap. Some toddlers make the switch a little earlier - they're usually the ones who sleep 12 hours a night and are on the bigger side of the growth curve. On the other end of the spectrum, some kids keep napping well into their fourth year.

You'll know your child is ready when you see signs like:

  • not being able to fall asleep at nap time, even when you push it later; or

  • taking for-EVER to fall asleep at bedtime on days when they had a nap.

(Just to be clear, I'm talking about kids who have solid sleep skills and had a regular routine of napping and sleeping through the night.)

Transitioning to no-nap days
If your child is showing one or both of those signs, then I'm sorry to say, your nap-break days are likely over.

Or at least shorter; you can start this transition by capping your child's nap at an hour (ie. wake her up!) if she normally knocks off 2+ hours in the middle of the day. (You may find that when your child first stops napping, he will still fall asleep in the car if you're driving later in the day - when this happens, I would cap the carseat nap at 30 minutes and just push bedtime a half hour later.)

When it's really time to drop the nap altogether, I strongly recommend making Quiet Time the next great thing in your house.

In the beginning, most children struggle to get the concept entirely and, depending on temperament, may even fight it. So you have to make it sound, well... awesome.
How to get your child to love Quiet Time
Tell your child ahead of time that instead of a nap, she can have Quiet Time. Then at lunch time, remind her about the plan:

Start with some dedicated one-on-one time: let your child choose a toy / activity and then spend the next 10 minutes sitting beside her, pretty much doing a play-by-play of her activity. Say things like "You're making the car go round and round!" or "You're making a really tall block tower!"  No praise, no direction, no questions. This is the idea behind a miraculous behavioural strategy called "attending". It's kind of like a B12-shot of Mom/Dad attention that can curb your child's need to act out for attention in negative ways (see below for more information on this).
Then read a book (just one!) with your child, have a snuggle, and get him excited about Quiet Time.

  • Have a few toys / figurines and books in a box that is designated only for Quiet Time. You may have to switch it up or add to this regularly.

  • Make a simple fort with two chairs and a blanket draped over it with a blanket to sit / lie on inside while he plays. A flashlight can be pretty exciting for a 3- or 4-year-old.

  • Keep it short in the beginning: about 20 minutes. You want to avoid making your child feel like he’s been banished. You will want a longer break, but you have to take the long view on this: I’m setting you up for years of quiet times!

  • Give your child choice: “Which of these two toys would you like in your quiet-time fort?” “Would you like the cars or the figurines today?” “You choose three books from this pile.”  You have to keep this part quick though.

  • Give your child a simple kitchen timer, or set the oven timer for 20 minutes; tell him that when it goes off, quiet time is over.

  • Work up to longer quiet times as your child starts to enjoy it and not protest it.

  • As soon as your child is contently playing in his Quiet Time spot, go lie down and take your break!  It will be over before you know it.

The Attending strategy can be a real miracle for parents struggling with their child's behavioural issues, or just to help build a more positive parent-child relationship. For more information on how to practice Attending, read Parenting the Strong-Willed Child by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long.

Is Mommy Brain Real?

As my Mom would say, “You bet your sweet bippy it is!” My Mom was born in the ‘40s. And I have no idea what a bippy is. But it basically means an emphatic yes!

Mommy brain - that fog of not being able to remember simple things or speak clearly or make decisions - isn’t just in your head. Okay, it’s happening in your head, but rest assured, it is a very real, physiological thing with a very real cause:

Sleep deprivation.

Now, just because you don’t feel like you’re in a World War II interrogation with a bright light directed at your face 24-7 doesn’t mean you’re not sleep deprived. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night (I tend to need closer to the higher end of this range). And they need those hours to be uninterrupted.

Enter baby.

Interrupted sleep is a fact of life with a new baby that needs to feed every 3-4 hours. Somehow, with the help of grandparents and friends dropping off the odd meal we can manage to get through those first few months. But if your baby gets into some funny sleep habits and doesn’t start stretching his night sleep out longer, you can find yourself six months later waking up every 2 or 3 hours to feed or rock or bounce him back to sleep. Or pop that soother back in for the 27th time.

So what does interrupted sleep do to a Mom’s brain? When we sleep, our brains don’t shut off; they get very active doing some pretty important jobs that only happen during our nightly snooze.

When we don’t get “consolidated sleep” (7-9 hours straight), we miss out on some sleep phases that help us take in new information and store it in a place where we can retrieve it later (so, we end up forgetting stuff all the time).

We also miss the parts of sleep when our brains do their nightly “clean up” - getting rid of all the fluff and information we don’t need anymore, making room for new, useful information. During this deep, restorative sleep, our brains are also busy doing a literal clean up; the lymphatic system actually flushes away waste products that our brain cells produce when they’re doing normal tasks throughout the day. So that “foggy feeling” is probably an accurate description of what’s going on in there!

By the way, this could be Daddy brain too. If Dad is just as involved in those nightly wake ups and bedtime struggles to get baby to sleep, his brain is missing out on the nightly storage and clean-up action too. As one sleep-reformed Dad put it after his 2-year-old went from waking 5 times a night to sleeping 12 hours straight, “I'm not even sure I knew what a wreck I was until things started improving.”

So how do we get rid of Mommy brain? You guessed it - get enough sleep. Every night. It’s actually not enough to have a catch-up nap once a week when Grandma can take baby out with a couple of bottles for a nice, long walk. We need to be getting that restorative, cleaning-up sleep every night.

And if Mommy (or Daddy) is feeling sluggish, how is baby feeling? Our little ones need that memory-storing and brain-cleaning sleep too. There are countless research studies showing the effects of sleep on a baby or young child’s ability to learn and retain information. And not enough sleep for a young child has also been linked to an increased risk of childhood obesity, poor attention and hyperactivity (the kid version of Mommy brain?).

Why some babies start knocking off 12-hour nights at 3 months old and others still wake 4 times a night a year later is usually (if not always) a result of how they’re falling asleep. If your baby needs a “prop” - something outside of herself to help her fall asleep, like a soother, breastfeeding or Mom or Dad’s shoulder to lie on - then she’s likely going to wake up several times a night looking for that thing that got her to sleep in the first place.

So, get rid of the prop, and baby will develop his or her own, internal method for falling asleep, just like we learned when we were babies. But it’s obviously not as simple as it sounds (or you would have done it already); your baby isn’t going to be too thrilled with this major shake-up in routine (and kids love routine). So it’s important to use a proven method that supports your baby through the process, with or without help from a sleep coach to guide you through the ups and downs of what is usually just a two-week process. (Think about that - in just two weeks you could get your brain back!)

Sounds too good to be true? Don’t believe your child has it in him? Can’t quite get around to making the big move? Of course you can’t - you’ve got Mommy brain! It’s hard to make change and take in new information when you’re just not getting the sleep your brain and body needs.

My advice: be easy on yourself; value your sleep; honour your baby’s need for sleep; and, if you don’t feel like winging it or going it alone, call in some help.

How much sleep is enough for your child?

In case you only have 10 seconds to read, I'll cut right to the answer on this one: children between 6 months and 6 years need 11-12 hours of sleep a night, straight. Every night. 

Young children need 11-12 hours of straight sleep each night for optimal health and development.

Young children need 11-12 hours of straight sleep each night for optimal health and development.

Now, the long answer:

If your child is still of napping age (younger than 3), this could be less - 10-11 hours at night - as long as they're taking a good, long nap(s) of 2-4 hours during the day. The American Pediatric Association says 11-12 hours of total sleep in a 24-hour period is the minimum.

But in my experience, babies and young children who have good, healthy sleep habits and learn their own strategy for falling asleep (i.e. they don't need to be rocked or fed, or have a soother or a parent lying beside them), will sleep much more than this, simply because they have the ability to sleep as much as their bodies need.

So maybe you’re thinking: “That’s for other people’s kids,” or “My child has never slept well,” or maybe, “He hates being in his crib.”

I’ve heard it all (and used to think all those things too!), and I’ve seen these babies and toddlers completely turn around.  If your child is healthy, well and neurologically normal, then I can say with 99.9 per cent certainty that your child has it in her to sleep through the night. 

But it’s not enough to just add up a child’s bits and pieces of sleep in between bouts of calling out, downing bottles of milk or coming into your room twice a night and call it 11 hours. It’s the straight part in “11-12 hours straight” that matters.

What we all need to feel refreshed, productive and emotionally stable (which is a relative thing for a baby or toddler) is consolidated sleep.

In the beginning, this is impossible; newborn babies need to feed every three to four hours. We can usually manage this in the short term.  But then life goes on, and we have to function.  And we all had a better idea of what kind of parent we wanted to be.

Now it's also possible that you think you're functioning just fine on 7 hours of sleep with a little one waking you up once or twice (or five times?!). That's no mistake either: research on adults has shown that one of the hallmarks of sleep deprivation is that the sleep-deprived person underestimates their impairments and overestimates their abilities. In other words, they do poorly on memory and reaction-time tests, but think they're doing just fine.

And if our children never learn to sleep through the night and have the deep, restorative sleep their brains and bodies need, how must they feel?

Research has shown that children who don't sleep enough have:

  • higher risk of obesity
  • lower IQ than children who sleep well
  • decreased memory or skill retention
  • tendency to exhibit hyperactivity (boys in particular)
  • lower scores on several areas of school testing including math and literacy.

Some kids weather the blips in regular sleep better than others; there’s a lot that depends on your child’s overall temperament. But there’s just no question that adequate sleep is critical to every child's health and well-being.

Even with a long, consolidated stretch of sleep, my own preschooler is noticeably calmer and more co-operative (and generally nicer to be around) on 12 hours of sleep than on 10-and-a-half.  And on broken or jet-lagged sleep? Forget about it. Let’s face it: parenting is hard enough.

As a sleep coach, my absolute favourite part of the job is hearing parents who have finished a two-to-three-week sleep program talk about the difference a full night’s sleep makes for their child.

Here's one example:

Braeden, a two-and-a-half year old, had been taking an hour or more to fall asleep, waking several times a night (sometimes for a long stretch) and eventually ending up in his parents’ bed.  Every night.  His parents were exhausted and exasperated.
Within a week or two on the plan I created for them that addressed sleep habits, timing, behaviour, and the boundaries around what happens at night versus what happens during the day, Braeden was putting together 12 straight hours every night and napping every afternoon. It was a life changer for his parents.
But one of the most telling pieces of this story was the change they saw in their son: he had been seeing a speech therapist for delayed speech.  Within a few weeks of finally getting adequate sleep, his speech was exploding.  He was counting, singing the alphabet and getting much less frustrated as he could finally start to express his needs. The speech therapist told the parents she had no further need to see their son.

Children need consolidated sleep, just like we do. If they don't get it, it will show up in subtle ways or possibly a big way, like for Braeden. The biggest effects may not even show up until years later, when your child has chronic sleep issues.

The good news is, your child can learn. In fact, they're learning machines; we just have to give them the chance. And when everyone is getting the sleep they need, many other behavioural challenges and parenting problems just melt away.

So, if your child is already falling asleep independently, but continues to wake in the night, how you respond to this waking will make all the difference. If you know they've been well fed and aren't in any discomfort, your first step is to wait. Ten minutes is the magic number for giving your baby or toddler the chance to put themselves back to sleep without your intervention; that will go a long way to seeing those sporadic wakings stop altogether. 

If your little one is still struggling after the 10 minutes, then go in and soothe them in some way that doesn't develop an association - one they will learn to associate with getting back to sleep (like an 18-month old learning to need a bottle in the middle of the night). Keep it quick and keep it simple. Having a 20-minute playtime with their favourite person might be enough to entice them to keep the midnight-waking habit going.

If your child is old enough to get out of bed and pop into your room for a nightly visit (or two or three), again, your response will dictate whether this goes on for years (yes, years) or stops now.  I always recommend as a first-line defence to gently, quietly lead them back to bed, tuck them in and leave again. You may have to do this a lot on night one, but keep your poker face and persevere for a few nights; the fun should be over for your little one soon. 

There is plenty of time for fun during daylight hours, and you will have a lot more energy for it.

3 Steps to a Better Sex Life

This was my family doctor's idea for a marketing slogan when I told him about my sleep-coaching business. He's a funny dude (and thankfully a top-notch doctor).

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He was speaking from experience of course. 

There's nothing like a little person in your house waking up every few hours, or a not-so-little person insisting you lie down with them in order to fall asleep twice a night, to send your libido into the basement and totally kill your marital sex life. 

I remember feeling like I finally understood what it was like to be a man, thinking about sex every 10 seconds; in the initial post-partum months, all I ever thought about was sleep. It became an obsessive, invasive thought that would cast a glaze over my eyes whenever someone spoke to me. I would nod and say an appropriate number of "mm-hmm's", but would be really thinking, "When can I sleep? When's the next nap time? I hope she sleeps in her crib so I can nap.... I need more sleep. I'm soooooo tired. Mm-hmm."

Now, there's no avoiding this bleary-eyed sleep obsession in the earliest stage of your baby's life. Your sex life will (and probably should) take a hit; there is a pretty significant physical recovery that has to happen for Mom, not to mention your top priority is keeping a new little human alive.  But often months and even years can go by without that shift back; couples can drift apart in the absence of intimacy when their child isn't sleeping through the night.

Those precious hours between 7 and 10 p.m., when a healthy, happy baby or young child is fast asleep, give Mom and Dad time both for themselves and each other, and that time can save a marriage.

I've had more than a few moms who've called to ask for my help tell me they haven't shared a bed with their partner in months or years. One mom of three said the extent of the quality time she and her husband have is "high-fiving each other" when they meet in the hallway. Another mom told me she finally understood why so many of her friends got divorced when their kids were two and three years old (at the time, she and her husband were in marriage counselling).

Intimacy isn't a luxury. And it isn't something we can afford to sacrifice after having children. Yes, our children need us and sometimes their needs outweigh everything else, but a wise friend told me years ago (several years after her own divorce), that children need parents who love each other. I would add that they also need parents in love with each other. A healthy, happy relationship between a child's parents gives them security and a happy home environment, not to mention a shining example for their own future relationships - these little people are modelling us in every moment and will continue to throughout their lives.

Now I'm not talking about neglecting your baby's needs for your own or your spouse's. This is about keeping your whole family thriving. There's just no question that a healthy sex life is one of the cornerstones of a healthy, happy marriage. (If in doubt, ask your spouse.) When we're too tired and too busy and we let intimacy slip - the same intimacy that brought you together to create this beautiful family in the first place - everyone suffers: one or both partners aren't feeling happy or fulfilled, tension builds and dissatisfaction seeps in.

And your children will pick up on the tension; they always do.

Now, back to my doctor's idea: so what are the three steps to a better sex life?  I'm fumbling through the early parenting years with two kids myself, but let me take a stab at it:

1. Decide that your marriage / partnership is a priority and a critical part of your whole family's happiness.

2. Help everyone in the family develop healthy, independent sleep habits so you actually have the time, privacy and energy for sex.

3. Once your child is consistently, happily fast asleep at 7:30 p.m., carve out time for each other, and bring back those connections that brought you together in the first place. Then settle down for your own 8 hours of sleep. 

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