Years before I had children, I would carry on about being “tired” during busy, sick or overworked periods in my life. There I’d be, battling a stomach virus alone in my quiet, peaceful apartment, whimpering about my exhaustion and lack of sleep. There I was, after a week of particularly intense deadlines, sipping wine in bed at 8 pm on a Friday night, promising myself a weekend of sleeping in, because heavens! What a week without sleep!
What I didn’t know then is that I WAS NEVER TIRED, NOT EVER, UNTIL I HAD CHILDREN.
Since the day my first child was born, I have learned about the lengths and the depths that I will go to for a drop of sleep (it ain’t pretty, people). After having my second child, I straight did not sleep more than 3 hours a night for 6 months, and yet, I was left responsible, for the majority of the day, for two very small children. HOW WE SURVIVED IS A MIRACLE AND A MYSTERY.
In the last 4.5 years, I’ve slept about as much as I did during a particularly lazy week in my twenties. If you have had a child from the ages of 0-5, I bet you can relate, and if you can’t, you probably forgot because these days of sleep deprivation get foggy AF, as far as I can tell (sometimes, I have forgotten what day it is and if we ate-again, a miracle and a mystery we are all here). The quest and pursuit of rest, sleep and slumber is a parent’s endless journey into conversations around things like sleep training, co-sleeping, no milk before bed, warm milk before bed, benadryl and pure, unadulterated desperation. We have all been there.
When my kids were babies, I was often trying to come up with techniques and practices to get my kids to sleep. Some of these things worked, and many of them didn’t. I know there is information abounding in your playgroup, on the internet, in your books and in your group of friends about what to do and when to do it and why it’s terrible/horrible/abusive to your child if you do it any other way, and I’d like to add my voice to that racket with this very sage and enlightening peace of advice:
Listen. There is no secret to raising children. Not if they are babies or toddlers or school aged or teenagers. I know I don’t have teenagers yet, and you’re right-I am NO authority, but I’m telling you, I feel confident in saying this: THERE IS NO SECRET. If there was a secret, it’d be this:
You learn as you go, and you learn to trust yourself, and you listen to your gut, and you learn that your gut says one thing and another woman’s gut says another, and it’s all good and right and special and sacred and mysterious and miraculous. Because we all have these guts and these lessons and these things to pick up as we go along, and isn’t it lovely that we get to do that together. No one way is right. No one child is perfect. No one mother has the answer. No one author has found the secret key to sleeping babies who also grow up to be toddlers who eat kale sandwiches and children who only and always share and teenagers who spend their weekends cooking at a homeless shelter. I mean this is LIFE, my people. So, let us all take off these cloaks of perfection and self-righteousness and bare our insecure and shaky little souls, at last.
Rather than work yourself up into a tizzy thinking something is WRONG with you or WRONG with your baby, or something is terribly WRONG with another sleepless parent or WRONG with a sleepless child you know, here is what I recommend you do.
First, before you do anything else, do NOT give yourself too much credit OR too much responsibility. You have to stay away from both of those things at the same time, or you will get yourself in a jam. Rather than feeling full of yourself for finally figuring out how to get your angel to sleep and look at what a wonderful, well-adjusted child she’s turning out to be and that’s because of ME, instead choose gratitude. Give yourself and your child and your entire village a bear hug. Isn’t it so wonderful when things go your way! Then, when your child stops sleeping, out of the blue (again), and you find yourself feeling tired, blue and CRANKASTANK, do not shoulder the blame. Do not assume you are a terrible, inconsistent parent who cannot figure out simple things like sleeping at normal hours. Instead, choose to be enough. Allow every choice and every win and every loss and every success and every failure and every sleepless, foggy friday afternoon to be ENOUGH. Isn’t it painful when things don’t go your way. You’re enough, anyway.
Take all the information always being hurled in your direction and make your choices, please! Do not feel that you must try nothing since it will likely all end in some varying amount of sleeplessness. No, choose to try, knowing that eventually, no matter what you choose, your child will sleep. It’ll happen. You won’t believe it until you’re a few weeks in and then, bam! Something will hit you: YOU ARE RESTED. It will be like the Buddha himself has arrived on your doorstep and given you the Publisher’s Clearing House award and the answer to world peace. EVERYTHING FEELS POSSIBLE WHEN YOU ARE RESTED, and you knew that! Look at you go!
Along will come things like daylight savings time, respiratory infections, stomach bugs and strange growth spurts. Holidays, changes in school, schedules, vacation, etc. will throw your little muffin off again, and you’ll swing back into some amount of sleeplessless. It is the way. The good news is, you’ll likely swing back to sleep again, too.
Do NOT allow yourself to be swept up in silly commentary about your choices. Do NOT allow yourself to believe that some people figure things out and others don’t. Do NOT further separate yourself from the very sacred process of parenting by demanding excellence and high marks from yourself and those around you. Do NOT, darling. Do something else.
Give yourself every break at every exact moment that you need it. Do this because the more you do it for yourself, the easier it will be to do it for your children. And they will need ALL the breaks and ALL of your generosity of spirit. Give to yourself like some kind of scary, unshowered, jagged-looking Santa Claus. Give to yourself in good times, in bad times and in blurry times. Stand in your enough-ness for at least 10 minutes every single day, and remember that your precise blend of person is exactly the right combination for your precise blend of child. Give yourself ROOM to know and not know and question and answer. Give room to those who share this road with you.
It’s sleep we’re talking about, but it’s MORE (cue Godzilla voice on that one). No pressure, but come on. Haven’t you heard that famous quote:
“How you do anything is how you do everything.”
If you’re walking around demanding that life provide you with answers, you’ve missed the point. If you’re assuming that you’re supposed to be some kind of omniscient wizard by the time your child is 5, you’ve lost touch with reality (and maybe need a hug). Take the weight of this complicated process off of your back, and lighten up.
Once you do that, you may be able to see that the path you’re on is infinitely larger than stages of development. The path you’re on is laced with spiritual lessons, physical adventures, emotional healing and HUMOR, for chrissakes. It’s not about being a really great, gold star person, or parent or mom. Achievement isn’t even on the map. It’s about growing up, a second time around, and this time with a small person beside you to lead you and inspire you and remind you of your value and your worth at every pass. They’ll also remind you of your demons, your skeletons and your fears, and that’s why you’ll have to hone your ENOUGH-NESS like a monk. Like a ninja. Like a celtic warrior. Because being enough will be the only thing that’ll give you the courage you’ll NEED so that you can SHOW UP and give your child a gift that no amount of sleep or organically prepared meals can ever give them:
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. SELF-ACCEPTANCE. OPEN-MINDEDNESS. CURIOSITY.
So, listen. You aren’t sleeping right now, but YOU WILL BE. I won’t tell you to hang in there, but I will tell you that YOU ARE ENOUGH. You are on the road, and you are built to move forward. You have big things to do, and very small things, too. You’re absolutely suited for every single second of this life you have inside your body, and this life you’re walking beside, in your child. Go forth, and do precisely what is possible. It’ll always be ENOUGH. Promises.