How to survive nights with 3 young children

ImageWith 3 children under seven a good night’s sleep seems a distant prospect for chef and food writer Claire Thompson. The secret, she says, is not to stress about it …

Sleep is overrated.  At least that is what I tell myself of a morning when I wake up sandwiched between my 1,2 … 3 young children.  If my husband is feeling heroic he might choose to cling on the far side of the bed’s precipice, though more often than not, in need of sleep and working long hours, he seeks refuge on the sofa at some point through the night.  Needs must and all that.

Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, seems to me, to be such an elusive thing I have given up hankering for it.  Rather, on the advent of motherhood, I struck on the idea that I would think of sleep in terms of good quality napping.  Then, the little bouts of sleep I did bank in-between my waking babies, teething babies, bed wetting toddlers, children’s nightmares, temperatures and various sick bugs, would surely count for something.

And that’s just me, what about the kids?  How do they sleep?  All children wake up through the night, dipping as they do between light to deep sleep and on into REM sleep and out again.  Sleep is not a continuous state for grown ups and children alike.  A child’s ability to self-soothe themselves back to sleep should they wake in the night is the Holy Grail for all parents.  It can be done and is done (sometimes).  That said, there are some nightmares simply too frightening to be dealt with aged four and in the dark.  So to, it is never nice to wake with a start in the night needing to be sick and do so tidily and all on your own.  That the bottle of Calpol lives high up on our bedroom shelf and not in the kitchen is testament to its nocturnal usage.

With quality napping an optimistic mindset and an acceptance that nights are likely to be truncated the more children you have, sleep and me are doing just fine.  The dishes get done, washing gets hung, the children are fed, beds are made and miraculously, we all manage to leave the house by 8.40am on a weekday morning.

With my co-sleeping-softly-softly-parenting-style all but confessed, what I am a stickler for is a proper bedtime.  Roundabout 7pm and most certainly by 8pm, much as I love them, by then I’ve had enough and want them tucked up and fast asleep.

So the process goes, with the clock ticking from 5pm, dinner, bath, book and bed.  A chef and food writer, I enjoy the task of feeding my children.  I also happen to think that a well-fed child will go some way to helping them feel nurtured, relaxed and, all importantly, soporific.  Pulses, grains and pasta, together with plenty of vegetables, are a mainstay come the children’s teatime.  For pudding, I’m keen on bananas as the offering (with Greek yogurt and a spoon of runny honey perhaps) as they contain potassium and magnesium, known to help with relaxation.

With the finish line in sight, teeth brushed, pajamas on and books read it’s bedtime.  Like dominos they go, first the 1 year old, the 4 year old is next and finally the 7 year old, all fall fast and soundly asleep.

Those few hours, post kids and sometime before midnight, are sacrosanct.  My route to bedtime has similarities with the children’s (perhaps though with wine, much needed wine) it’ll be dinner, bath, (shattered) into bed and with a book.

That someone at some point during the nighttime is bound to wake up and clamber into our bed (stranger still, is when you wake to find a child’s face peering intently about five inches from your own… how long have they been there?) I really don’t mind.  Soon enough they’ll be slamming their bedroom doors with KEEP OUT nailed to them.

My only stipulation during the night is if I am to be awake, I still intend to be horizontal and with my eyes shut.  Past 6am, and only then I’ll accept as a legitimate time to move out to the sitting room, though I’d much rather 7am.  Tea is always necessary within 10 waking minutes and coffee, lots of coffee, soon after that.

Do you have any tips for getting kids off to sleep – and getting them to stay asleep?

Claire Thompson is a chef and the author of the 5 o’clock Apron blog. She also blogs regularly about childrens’ food in the Guardian. You can follow her on Twitter @5oclockapron for nightly reports on what her kids are having for their tea (we adults wouldn’t mind it either … ) Her book 5 o’clock Apron will be published by Ebury Press in March 2015

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