I love love BLOODY LOVE this article by Emily Writes. Read it right now, and then come back here, OK? I’m in an amazing Facebook writing mothers’ group with Emily, and she’s brilliant. She is so wise and so funny, and she’s doing all of her fantastic writing and editing with very little sleep.
Long-time readers of this blog will remember that, when Hattie and Joe were babies, sleep was a sore point in our house. That’s babies for you: they don’t sleep much. You may recall the very dark days of my trip to France, including this notorious night of a million wake-ups. You may also recall that we did turn to a sleep consultant (the Baby Sleep Consultant) for help, and it worked well for us: we ended up with two babies who would sleep through the night, and take good naps. They kept napping until they were three and a half, and these days they sleep for eleven hours a night. And I am forever grateful for receiving this help, because it was what we needed: I couldn’t cope without sleep, it was as simple as that.
I so utterly admire parents who deal with long-term sleep deprivation. There are plenty of parents who’ve tried various sleep training strategies and not had any luck – because, let’s be honest, it is a matter of luck, since all children are unique, and what works for one will not work for another (despite what experts may claim). And there are other parents who do not feel comfortable with the type of help provided by sleep consultants, and they are amazing too. We all just have to be true to our own values as parents, and know that we’re doing the best we can.
And can I take a moment to tell co-sleeping readers that I think they’re incredible? Without doubt, I wouldn’t be able to do what you do, and it’s so lovely that you are willing to provide your young child with that degree of emotional nourishment and connection. Hattie came into bed with me this morning at 4am (which is highly unusual) and honestly, it was like sleeping with a rabid octopus. So wriggly! So many limbs!
Emily raises many great points in her article, but there are three things she wrote regarding sleep deprivation that really resonated with me, because I think they apply to all areas of parenting:
- If you have a partner make sure they’re not a dick;
- Call the village; and
- Give no fucks.
Having a partner who isn’t a dick
I can’t comprehend how people stay with a partner who doesn’t think that parenting is an equal opportunity gig. The idea that, because the Mummy is at home with a baby all day, and the Daddy is at work all day (and let’s be honest, that’s how it is in many families), Daddy shouldn’t have to worry about dealing with anything baby-related… well, I don’t know what to say about that. It’s amazingly, scarily prevalent, that attitude: the idea that pretty much anything child-related is the mother’s job, and that fathers should just parachute in for the fun bits as it suits them. And it goes on well beyond babyhood: how many women feel that, if they go back to work, all of the childcare costs should come out of their pay packet, as if it’s their job to take care of anything child-related?
I remember when Hattie and Joe were tiny and I was on a twin parents’ Facebook group. I read about another new twin mum – who also had a toddler at home – regaling the group about how her husband had gone hunting for a week, leaving her at home to cope with the babies and toddler singlehandedly. Many women in that group were, like me, low-key horrified that any father of new twins would think this was a reasonable way to behave, but it was astonishing to read more than a few women side with the husband and assume that it would be unreasonable to expect him to curtail his leisure activities TO STAY AT HOME WITH HIS THREE TINY CHILDREN AND ACTUALLY PLAY AN EQUAL ROLE IN PARENTING, I MEAN MY GOD.
Aside from breastfeeding, Tristan has done everything I’ve done as a parent. When Hattie and Joe were tiny he would get up for EVERY feed, because it was much quicker if we each had a baby to burp. He only had three or four days of paternity leave, but he’d get home each day at 5ish, and get handed his crying baby for the five hours of witching hour insanity that so delightfully characterised our early experiences as parents, and just get on with it. He was utterly exhausted, of course, but this was life. It was shit, but we did know that it would get better eventually. This photo from eight weeks in really sums it up (and things were actually getting a bit better by this stage, so imagine what the first few weeks were like…):
Calling the village
Again, long-time readers of this blog will appreciate the extent to which I’ve embodied this attitude in my four and a half years as a parent. I couldn’t have survived that first year without the twin mum friends I made, both on- and off-line, and the advice and support I received from other friends and family. I was so utterly clueless, and some of the kind comments I received in response to Facebook cries for help, and despairing updates I posted here, were honestly the only thing that kept me going. You have to find your tribe when you become a parent. You don’t need to see them every day, but you need to have somebody you can turn to for advice or support, or even just to cry to. All of my Auckland-based twin mum friends have seen me completely lose it on so many occasions, and my lovely friend Clare has been left dealing with her two toddlers plus one of mine at a swimming session, when I had to take tantruming Hattie back to her house early – and then she had to mope me up when I was in floods of tears about it all. I have always been a huge play date plan, and it’s for two reasons: because I think it’s great for my kids to learn how to play nicely with others; and because I would go batshit crazy if I didn’t get to see my twin mum friends. The hardest thing about the past semester has been the lack of play dates in my life, because I’ve been at uni all the bloody time.
Giving no fucks
This is essential. You have to just get on with it, and not let the thought of other people judging your parenting choices get to you. Trust your instincts – or, if you’re like me and start life as a parent with a firm conviction that you totally lack parenting instincts, find experts that you trust, and listen to them.
In her article Emily remarked:
I know people tell you what to do, I know you hear “have you tried?” a trillion times a day. I know it’s hard. Give no fucks my friend.
You are doing an awesome job. Whether your child sleeps 45 minutes a night or 11 hours is not a measure of how good you are at parenting. It says nothing about you as a mother.
She was obviously talking about sleep, but I think this applies to so many areas of parenting. We are Those People with kids who sleep for eleven hours a night, but remember: we’re also the people whose children eat NO vegetables, and have a daughter who would disappear into dust if she was deprived of carbs and dairy products. And yes, I have heard so many suggestions of how we should handle it. I don’t give a stuff anymore. If you want to come to my house each night and make dinner for my kids and convince them to eat it, be my guest. Otherwise, bugger off!
So, if you’re struggling with a lack of sleep in your life, I am really sorry, and I hope that some of Emily’s suggestions are helpful – or, at least, raise an exhausted chuckle. And remember, you are awesome, and all of us find parenting challenging, and when you’re exhausted every other element of normal parenting life is ten times more challenging, and if we had any sense we’d elect governments that gave all parents of under-fives three fully funded child-free weekends a year and the nannies required to care for their children, and these days won’t last forever, and naps ARE amazing. You are amazing to cope with this and still function as a parent.
Oh – and I must add that I laugh and laugh when people tell me (in response to the news that my children wake up at 6am every day, despite our best efforts to convince them that it’s still the middle of the night) that, when they’re teenagers, they’ll want to stay in bed all day. That sounds awesome! I’ll be able to sleep in, Tristan will be able to go kayaking first thing, and then we’ll go for brunch! If the kids would rather sleep all day and miss out, I won’t give a shit! So, yeah. One day your kids will also be feckless teenagers who just want to sleep all day, and then you’ll be able to catch up.