The Sleep Conundrum

I love my children very much. They are literally the world to me and I delight in their little quirks. I adore the way their minds work, how they get all excited over nothing and squeal in delight at being tickled or chased around the room.

I even love watching the Little Boofuls cake herself in food before giving me the biggest grin, despite knowing I’ll have to dunk her in the bath shortly after!

However every parent gets to a point where they start to lose it – where silly little things get to you and you start to lose your perspective. And the main cause of this is sleep (or should I say lack of!) 

We are currently being treated to the grand total of around 4 disturbed hours per night. The other half definitely is getting it worse – with nightly feeds every two hours, she’s barely getting back to slumberland before starting again. 

To try and help out, I’m taking the Little Boofuls downstairs and snuggling in on the sofa to try and max out the time between the periods of frenzied milk consumption that have become the theme of our nocturnal torture. Even now, I write this at 4.30am – under a sleeping Boofuls on a sofa with a daddy-shaped dent in the middle that’s never going back to the shape it used to be. 

And it’s during the daytime, whilst stumbling around like zombies emitting groaning noises and generally looking like death gently warmed up, that we start being regaled with tales of other people’s experiences of the terrors of what I term ‘parental endurance training’. These take on two distinct formats.

Format 1 – One-upmanship; anything you can do, I can do better. In this format, your torturer will proceed to listen to everything you say before telling you that they had it worse. 

e.g. The response to your baby waking every 2 hours needing a feed is that ‘Baby Tarquin woke every hour screaming for a feed whilst holding a grenade…’

This is ended with some unhelpful sentiment of ‘see, it could be worse’ being uttered from their lips and a self satisfied smile as they move away from you mentally collecting points from your exchange, leaving you feeling guilt, hatred and a bit like you lost in a game where no-one knows the rules for daring to speak of your troubles.

Format 2 – Smugness. These are the worst ones to come across when seriously close to the end of your tether. They will often catch you unawares, seemingly ready to offer sympathy and advice but actually waiting to stomp on your issues with great aplomb. They will arrive with the most evil, soul shredding phrase any self respecting parent should cower in the face of…

‘Baby Lucifer slept through from a day old…they’ve always been a good sleeper’

Even typing it made me feel uncomfortable! Why, when confronted by someone looking less than their best, with a visible twitch and a crazy (and potentially homicidal) glint in their eyes, would you choose to say that to them?! 

The worst thing is that if we’re really honest, we’ve all used one or both of these formats discussing parenting at some stage.

The other half developed a theory for this. It’s called denial. You see, when you dig deeper, every parent has their own way of defining sleeping through. Optimists will argue that their child slept through except for when they fed – however because baby went back to sleep minus any screaming or real drama, the time they were awake was minimal and therefore isn’t counted.

Some (you may call them pessimists; I prefer realists!) take sleeping through as when they go to sleep to when they wake but with no disturbances at all, meaning it’s generally unlikely to happen. 

For me, this is the true definition; nirvana if you will. And it is here that I am going to crack open a big old can of truth for you…

If you have a breast fed baby, sleeping through is not going to happen.

I’ll let that sink in for a second. 

Breast fed babies do not sleep through. They simply don’t. Bottle-fed might, as they are often so full after a feed that they drift off into a food coma like a grandparent after a big Sunday lunch. Bottled milk is generally made heavier to make sure there’s enough of what the baby needs in the fixed quantity you give them. Breast milk works completely differently; so babies generally feed more frequently, meaning they wake up more often for the odd top up.

This is not to wade into the whole boob vs bottle debate; your choice is always the right one in my view, whichever way you go. Anyhow, I digress…not the first time breasts or the odd bottle have distracted me.

Back to my original point. The lack of sleep I’m going through has made me lose my perspective on something that shouldn’t bother me, but does. So I’m going to vent.

I’m sick of the ridiculous value parents seem to put on sleeping through – it’s like some kind of currency. And with currency comes a whole range of negatives; people will become corrupt, immoral and unable to recognise the impact it has on other people when they brag about what they’ve got, exactly what I’ve seen and heard when I’ve gone to any gathering with parents talking about their little angels and their sleep patterns.

Too many people put themselves under pressure in trying to get their child sleeping through – so as a result they concoct their own version of reality to makes themselves feel better and so as not to feel that they have failed when they talk to others about it. 

In the end it’s not a competition! The reality is that whilst you can put every routine in place, buy every device that claims to rain sleep upon your house like a modern day miracle and clutch onto every slight improvement like a child holding a chocolate bar, some babies simply just don’t sleep well.

It will got better. Rarely have I ever encountered teenagers who still sleep in their parent’s bed, or need to wake for snacks to get them through the night. If anything, getting them to leave their pit is the greater challenge!

But in the meantime, don’t become one of ‘those’ parents, smug or hellbent on one-upmanship, making others feel inferior whilst they struggle on valiantly with their daily lives. Tell people your actual reality – not the carefully constructed version – and let them know that they are not alone or failing as a mother or father. 

They are just human – doing the best they can. Just like you did for your kids.

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