Disagreement over children's bedtime is bad for your relationship

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Lots, in fact most, of us have been there.

You and your partner are exhausted and haven't slept in months when the baby wakes in the middle of the night. One of you wants to bring them into bed with you to get some sleep and the other wants to let it cry it out, you will fight with each other at 3am.

A study has now confirmed something that parents are all too aware of – differences over your kid's sleeping patterns can cause relationship problems.

Researchers asked mothers and fathers questions about what they do when their child wakes in the night and what they felt about parenting.

The study found that when mothers had stronger beliefs than fathers, they also reported feeling worse about their parenting relationships.

In the past, studies have only focused on what mums' think about their kids' sleeping patterns, for example whether they should attend to a crying infant in the night or let them self-settle. This is the one of the few studies that also asked dads about their feelings towards the same issue.

Researchers said they were hoping to determine the importance of parents working together with a shared understanding to promote a child's well being.

"Setting limits about how to respond to night waking is stressful, and if there are discrepancies in how mothers and fathers feel they should respond, that can reduce the quality of that coparenting relationship," said Jonathan Reader, a doctoral candidate in the College of Health and Human Development.

"We found that for mothers in particular, they perceived coparenting as worse when they had stronger beliefs than the father."


And here's a shock.

"During the study, we saw that in general mothers were much more active at night with the baby than the fathers were," Mr Reader said.

"So perhaps because the mothers were the more active ones during the night, if they're not feeling supported in their decisions, then it creates more of a drift in the coparenting relationship."

Researchers said the study confirmed the importance of parents keeping an open dialogue going prior to having children and after having children, so they could be united and support each other.

"It's important to have these conversations early and upfront, so when it's 3am and the baby's crying, both parents are on the same page about how they're going to respond," Mr Reader said.

"Constant communication is really important."

Fellow researcher Douglas Teti, department head of the Human Development and Family Studies department at the same college, said how parents reacted was also important.

"What we seem to be finding is that it's not so much whether babies are sleeping through the night, or how the parents decide to do bedtime, but more about how the parents are reacting and if they're stressed," he said.

"Whatever you decide, just make sure you and your partner are on the same page."

He said it was important more research was done to work out effective ways to develop and enhance the coparenting relationship, particularly when it comes to infant sleep.

"We want to lean more about how to put families in a position where they know that not every baby will be sleeping on their own by three months, and that's ok," he said.

"Most kids learn how to go to sleep eventually. Parenting has a lot to do with it."