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My wife and I have a 5 month old son, after a rocky start he's settled into an ok routine, especially for bed time (Baby massage, bath and bottle by 7/7:30). We have a problem when visiting my sister though. She has two girls, one 'hyperactive' 5 year old and a very clingy 16 month old.

When we visit with our son we find that he tends to.. break. He won't settle himself to sleep, he's horribly distracted at feed times and we have to fight to find time and space for him to have any kind of downtime - for naps, feeding or solo play etc. The last time we all met up we drove 3 hrs to meet up at a family fun day at a steam railway and didn't stop moving or being surrounded by noise for a good 8 hours.

The biggest problem comes at bed time. Our bedtime routine is all about calm and relaxation, with as many 'sleep-time' cues as possible. Bedtime at my sisters is chaos, starting with splashy play in the bath and generaly ending with their youngest crying herself to sleep for between 30-45 mins (it doesn't help that when the whole family visit, they have to put their two girls in together at night and they keep each other from sleeping in the evening).

We have a close knit 3 generations of family who love to get everyone together but it can take several days for him to bounce back from these trips.

My question is this - should I expect my sister/other family to take into account my son's young age and need for routine when planning these visits? We can't do anything about the sleeping arrangements for sure but everything else is aimed squarely at the 5 year old with little obvious regard to the affect on my son. Being told to 'not worry about it' listening to my son crying/screaming in his crib because he cant get to sleep, having to feed him on the move because 'that's what I used to do with the girls and they could do it'

I tend to feel that as my sister has 'been there and done that' with two girls and I'm a new first time father, I can't object too much about the way things are planned but I really worry that me and my wife's hard work getting our boy into a routine is threatened everytime we see family.

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Having the trip at all is a break from routine. Even if the bed time routine could be upheld it would be likely that your baby would have trouble resting anyway due to all the strange/exciting events from earlier in the day. Just sayin'. –  Doc May 16 at 16:17

5 Answers 5

First off, what you're describing is common even for families with similar attitudes. Young children have a tough time dealing with changes, and having to sleep in an unusual bed or sleeping arrangement is hard. Your baby will probably have trouble even if the two kids were perfectly normal: it's the change in habits that does it.

I certainly would expect your sister to take your baby into account to some degree, but I also would remind you to take her children into account. It's easy to say she should calm her kids down and make them act in a different way, but it's hard to actually do that - particularly when one is sixteen months old.

What I would do is try to make a list of things you need for your child's happiness that are reasonably under your control, and tell your sister you are going to do these things. Not ask; tell. If you need to massage your son or whatnot, do it. If you need to feed him in a certain way, do so. Consider putting a mattress or sleeping bag in his room and one or both of you sleeping there, or getting a bassinet or similar and having him sleep in your room, if you're not already doing that. You might even consider cosleeping; he's old enough most of the dangers of that have passed, and it might help him sleep more effectively. (If you do consider cosleeping, do read up on the dangers and benefits, so you're aware of them, if you haven't already; this is a very controversial topic.)

Whatever it is, just do it; and if your sister has a problem, remind her that you and your spouse are his parents, and you have to do what you feel is right. It's easy for parents to say "I did it this way, you can too", but it's not right for them to do so - and sometimes it takes a gentle but firm reminder. You're in the right here, and it would be unreasonable of your sister to expect you to do differently, so long as you keep it limited to your child.

As far as her children go, if they're doing things that make it harder on your son to sleep, you can ask her if there is anything she can do to help - but there may not be, whether it's unwillingness or inability. Again, try to come up with concrete things; but don't be too pushy about this, and don't be surprised if not much changes. This is her parenting, and unless it's so bad that you're unwilling to come over at all, you probably should let it mostly alone.

Just make sure you realize that nothing you do is going to make him perfectly happy to sleep there. He will be harder to get to sleep. He will have a harder time staying asleep and putting himself back to sleep. This will improve over time, particularly if you stay over frequently enough that he gets used to the new room; but it will take a year or more likely before that happens.

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Keep in mind, your nieces' routines are being disrupted as well, and their behavior isn't quite normal in this situation either. We were in similar situations when our children were younger. What happened with us was no one was very happy with the situation, but no one wanted to admit they didn't want to fill every possible waking moment with family excitement.

What we did was insist on a few accommodations that we and our children needed for a minimum of sanity, like waking at a later hour, going to bed on time, and having naps and mealtimes at normal times. The rest of the day was free for family time.

What we found when we started being assertive and communicating our needs is that we weren't the only ones who felt that way. Everyone was trying to keep the same schedule as before they had young children, but no one was admitting it was stressing them out and they couldn't keep up. When we opened the communication, other family members expressed relief.

Your specific needs may be different, but whatever they are, the point is to communicate them and insist upon them. Yes you'll get less family activity time, but the time you get will be much more pleasant for everyone. Yes, your children will still experience some unavoidable disruption, but you can at least mitigate it.

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It sounds like the other parents are disregarding your interests and concerns in favor of their own preferred style and interests. Your examples of their statements are anything but respectful or considerate.

I could accept that for an afternoon visit, but I'd not be happy with that arrangement during a multi-day family get-together. It's not about your sister being a bigger expert on children than you are -- if nothing else then at least because every child is different. Just because her style works with her kids, it doesn't mean that style would work for you even if you wanted to try it (and you're implying that her style doesn't work too well either, at least according to your judgment).

Your response boils down to how much of a compromise you're willing to accept. How important is your parenting style vs. the value of being with the family?

  • If you feel that your sister's style is seriously affecting your son, and she isn't willing to dial back and demonstrate some consideration, then perhaps you should not participate in this kind of family events. Instead of being torn between "spending time with your extended family" and "caring for your own family", you might want to arrange a get-together on your own terms, only including those extended family members that fit your style. If your sister demands to participate, fine -- but only if she accepts your terms just as you accepted her terms last time.

...or...

  • If you value the family event and are willing to accept the limited impact on your son, then accept the way it is. Don't fret, don't grit your teeth -- if you don't enjoy it, why participate? Do your best to go along with her style, and do your best to straighten things up when you get home again.

Personally, I've chosen the former option on several occasions, especially with one or two very young children. Once the children are older, they won't be as affected by the change in routine. I do what I feel is best for my own family, and if someone doesn't agree with my decision, well, that's their problem, not mine.

Time changes everything, including the value I get out of family events. That value may be low while kids are tiny, and rise again as the kids get older. Not participating for a year or three won't mean never participating again.

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This may sound callous, but skip the trip. My wife's family likes to get together a lot, and that's cool, but our kids have a strict 7:30pm bedtime, at which they must be home, in the bed. If that's not possible, then we don't participate, or one of us will go and the other stays home with the kids. As others have said, this is b/c children need those habits formed.

We're a little more lenient with the 2 year old than her infant sister, b/c she's been on the routine for a lot longer, but even then, if we're out and about, and it's too long past that bedtime, she starts to get fidgety, which == sleepy.

With both our children they don't/won't sleep away from home for at least the first year. Partly b/c we're clingy, but again, it's all about habits. Strange environment, likely to be off a little on the routine, it all adds to that stressed. And if our kids are up, then we're up, not cool.

Like I said, it may sound callous, but in the end you're the two who have to deal with a cranky baby that can't sleep. I give my wife all the credit, after 1 month with our first child we put her on a bedtime routine, and she's been sleeping through the night ever since about 2 months old. She'd wake up to eat and go right back to sleep, and we only changed #2 diapers in the middle of the night, before feeding. After a year, we may have had to 'deprogram' her once or twice after spending the night at grandma's, but it wasn't a big deal, we just let her cry it out, at 7:30 :)

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I like this one. We also have a close knit family, but we also go home before bedtime. Problem solved. I don't think "grams" should expect a host to alter their lifestyle because of a visitor. If a visitor doesn't like it, go home. –  jp2code May 16 at 15:40
    
@jp2code nicely put, but grams do love their grandchildren! –  BigHomie May 16 at 15:41

My wife and I have been at numerous family occasions where either WE were ready for bed, or our 3 year old daughter was ready for bed and yet there still screaming kids running through the house. The solution we finally came up with was to either stay in a hotel, or hit the road before bedtime. My family has never looked at us strange.

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