Many parents are in the never-ending pursuit of the “perfect” bedtime routine – whether it be in hopes of rectifying frequent 3am rude awakenings that are turning you into a zombie, help your littles have fewer daytime wobbles that one of these days you’re sure the neighbours will think you’re actually murdering them brushing their yoghurt tangled locks or maybe you have no real routine at all and you badly want your evenings back. Whatever the reason, the one thing we all agree on is it’s important that everyone gets the sleep they need.
Parents with disabilities crave all the above too, but there are a few extra factors we’ve got to keep at the forefront of our minds when developing a good bedtime routine for our littles and that’s the practicalities. Here are some facts to get you thinking on the extra obstacles disabled parents have at bedtime;
- Many disabled parents, whether they’re wheelchair users, have reduced mobility, live with blindness, are deaf etc cope in homes not fit for their needs and this often means the structure of bedtime needs adapting to their living environment. E.g If a wheelchair user cannot access their child’s bedroom – it may be more practical to snuggle up in the parents bed and ask their partner/PA to move the child to their own bed once they’re asleep or if the bathroom is inaccessible, supervising adequate teeth brushing may mean doing it at the kitchen sink as a family.
- Parents living with chronic illness/chronic pain or fatigue need to make sure they pace themselves, have frequent opportunities to rest, manage their pain so it doesn’t impact on their child’s routine and find different ways of doing things that will save spoons. – Don’t get the spoon reference? Click here.
Facing a lot of the above myself, here some tried and tested hacks that may help troubleshoot bedtime in regards to disability or access-related bedtime challenges.
1. Prep ahead before you declare “it’s bedtime!”
Whilst the littles are still engrossed in what I call the “mad hour,” where they’re basically going bananas chasing, screaming, fighting, laughing and repeat – sneak out of sight to prepare before you announce it’s time to start their routine. This could be things like; picking up toys and clearing the path to their room, bathroom etc, closing the curtains in their room, filling up water bottles, setting out pyjamas etc. Being one step ahead of the kids will help you feel more in control when they start messing around in their last-ditch attempt at delaying the inevitable – going to bed! Preparing ahead also lets you take your time on getting things ready, rather than rushing, dropping things or making mistakes as the kid’s patience dwindles as they wait for you to be ready.
2. Self-care and being self-aware!
Make sure to check in on yourself BEFORE starting the littles bedtime routine. How tired are you on a 1-10? Are you in pain? Where? What could help? Perhaps have a little lay down on the sofa/bed/tilted back in your wheelchair for just 5-10 minutes before you begin to round up the troop. If you have break-through pain meds – consider taking them before the pain gets to an intolerable level which may impact storytime etc. Heat up a wheat bag in the microwave, which you can put on the affected area while singing/reading books and either have a drink beforehand or take a drink with you. Preventing these sort of issues from escalating is key, especially as bedtime routines can take 1-2+ hours depending on your routine, child(rens) needs and your ability level.
3. Get in touch with your silly side
I know I’m not the only one with littles that get REALLY giddy at bedtime! What I’ve learnt is it’s no good trying to get them to simply stop and settle, getting flustered when they just cannot stop leaping around like spider monkeys, nevermind lie down and drift off. So after they pick a stack of books from the bookshelf and we pick 2-3 from that pile, the first 2 books I find it helps to make it super animated, getting them to recite the parts they know, talk about the book, make some of it into a game etc. It gets the last jumping jelly beans out of their system. Then the last book, let them know it’s time for a quiet story, to settle down and listen.
4. Setting the scene
We are huge fans of white noise in this house. We’ve used it ever since my youngest was small and it has the extra benefit of muffling the clicking of my powered wheelchair when I’m trying to sneak out of their room once they’ve fallen asleep. It also dulls the outside noises that may make them unsettled and if you’re in a bungalow with paper-thin walls, the white noise at the right level will muffle the tv or talking in the next room. Win-Win! For £34 you can get an Amazon Echo Dot that will play lullabies, white noise or whatever kind of background music you can think of that will set a peaceful atmosphere and block out the world. A dimly lit night light and blackout curtains are also a must – especially in the summer when children don’t understand why they’re going to bed when the suns still out to play.
5. Adapted love, whilst being tough
One of the hardest bedtime antics parents with disabilities or Chronic illnesses may face is repetitive bending, fetching and resettling. Children don’t just switch off, it can be quite a fight to get them to drift off, especially toddlers! While preparing ahead with a drink on standby, tucking the duvet down the side of the bed if it’s against a wall for example and making sure every possible soft toy they may ask to sleep with (some littles don’t have a “favourite”) is within hands reach, they will keep testing limits by asking for everything under the sun, keep getting out of bed and just drive you crazy with demands. Children are clever creatures, despite they may not understand why Mummy/Daddy struggle or can’t do certain things (depending on their age of course), growing up with a disabled parent, they know your weaknesses and naturally play on them. Not to be malicious, they don’t have the emotional maturity to think like that, every child knows how to wrap their finger around their parent to try and get away with things, disability or no disability. Clear cut boundaries are needed, alongside a solid routine to prevent you from getting worn out. E.g once they’ve finished their bedtime drink – that is it until morning, they’ve chosen the fluffy pink elephant, giant giraffe and a baby doll to sleep with and that is enough, that sort of thing. You don’t have to get into a conversation of why messing around is wearing or painful for you, focus on love and respect while sticking to your guns, the rest will follow!