Well… within reason, of course.
This personal essay is dedicated to the Mother/Parent/Guardian who truly needs to read this: get some sleep. I am telling you; I wish I had listened to this simple (I’m just kidding, it can be immensely complicated) advice, before reaching my breaking point.
Now that I have your undivided attention, you have likely gravitated towards the following words considering how exhausted you feel. And, I’m not talking about that exhaustion we knew from before. This is a new type of tired. One that is barely fathomable until we experience it first-hand.
Between hormonal shifts from breastfeeding, giving birth and/or general lack of sleep, our bodies and minds go through a lot when we take on parenthood. Whether you’ve delivered naturally or adopted/fostered a new child, there will be moments of sheer survival. Moments not even caffeine could help. I don’t have to tell you this, but it is an important reminder for us all to realize: rest is necessary. Good, solid rest.
We have likely heard this from our medical professionals, our friends and family who have experienced raising children. Sleep is necessary. Yet, it’s hard for these second-hand experiences to truly resonate unless it’s from personal experience- like everything else. It’s rare that we do not deeply take in these (soon-to-be) relatable stories until experienced first-hand. I surely didn’t.
I was used to an all-nighter here and there just a few years prior to motherhood while studying my undergrad. Working two jobs just to pay rent while I studied full time, I was so tired! To be frank, the information I had learned throughout my English and Theatre degree is well in my past. It was hard to retain any information that I was so heavily, financially invested in, while I worked my part-time retail jobs before and after classes. From time to time I had genuinely thought: wow, this must be how parents feel.
I’m not saying that I was far from what I would soon experience only two years after my graduation. I’m also sharing with you my personal experience. Yours may look different, but potentially similar. Perhaps you had well rested nights during your studies or during your early years before parenthood, and that may have been an even worse wakeup call for you to get shocked with such exhaustion once baby arrived. On the bright side, at least I had some practice functioning well (the best I could) while under a plentiful amount of sleep deprivation.
I’ve come to realize the difference between my two most exhausting life experiences has been (simply put): during university, I was solely responsible for my own well-being. During parenthood, it feels a bit overwhelming from time to time, acknowledging the fact I’m fully responsible for another little life. It’s truly wild.
With my first child, we were limited to physical space. We lived in a small, downtown, one bedroom condominium where we initially set up our den into a baby’s room; however, this den led right into our bathroom. It was neither practical nor relaxing for a small child to rest during their naps and nighttime slumber.
My partner and I ended up co-sleeping with our daughter until we moved into a much larger home with more rooms than an average family-of-four needs (in my opinion). From tiny-home to near mansion (I exaggerate; but I often day-dream of downsizing because of how much cleaning I do), we were then faced with transitioning our toddler into her own room. Expecting our second child mid-spring, he too would have a room of his own and initially it was seamless. We had set up the baby’s room as our Guest’s Room considering we had planned to co-sleep with our baby for his first year at least.
Our sleep experience with our first child went quite well; we found it most comforting to co-sleep and read articles upon articles on how much safer co-sleeping with a child can be- this explanation (possibly) for another time. The crib, from our previous judgment was a horrible invention forced upon Western Civilization; one that could tear our mother-child bond apart. I can now see both sides quite clearly, since I’ve lived them. They are both neither wrong nor right; just as many parenting choices come to be.
I was quick to label myself as an Attachment Parent. Skin-to-skin was my (literal) day job within the first year, and napping alongside my child was a daily occurrence. It was euphoric.
So, when we had changed our location, our environment and grew our family, I hadn’t realized how different each child, within their first year, could truly be. Quickly, I learned first-hand how parenting techniques have to change child depending; even when you’ve already decided to be the ‘type’ of parent you were previously with your first. Not only can subsequent deliveries go incredibly different, the children you raise will alter your perspective on many things; including some morals and values you once had.
Firstly, our son was much larger than our daughter was. From our queen mattress we had comfortably shared in the city, to a new king that felt smaller than my dorm-room’s given bed, it was a new sense of how much space I truly needed to feel rested. The baby woke frequently due to our restless sleep; as our daughter must have enjoyed the minute-by-minute alarms bellow our balcony while she was young. They were (and are) such different sleepers. I could not believe it. We had to transition that Guest’s Room into our son’s nursery.
Initially, the transition for our son went well. He woke between 3-5 times in a 12-hour period: for me, that was do-able (I told you I was sleep-deprived). But within days, he began to wake every 30 minutes. Every. Single. Night.
I would bring our children to play-dates often an hour away just for them to nap considering how poorly our nights had become. I had multiple friends send me notes on the sleep seminars they would attend, but everything I had applied seemed to never work. We spoke with a professional sleep consultant, but that expense was not in our budget. Finally, I came across a 12-page write up a friend had forwarded months prior regarding sleep training. The title formed a lump in my throat. The dated vocabulary made my progressive mind stand still. How could anyone allow their child to ‘cry it out’?
I had considered some information that resonated with my tired mind. To paraphrase: if your child is waking frequently, they’re tired and they won’t be developing well mentally or physically. If you, the parent/guardian, is waking frequently, you will not be in the right mind-state to be the best parent that you are capable of being.
I was no longer writing 10-page essays dissecting Victorian Literature. I was keeping two, incredibly young children alive and well with little help. I could not justify hiring the sleep consultant because of the expense of bi-monthly therapy to address my triggered anxiety disorder.
The clearer-minded momma, that I am today, finally realized I had the answer in front of my face the entire time. Friends and family would constantly tell me, “get some rest, you’re not yourself”, but I had to figure that out on my own. I had to find what worked for my family and what worked for me.
Though mentioned above, I did not have one, major breaking point. I had small episodes of panic attacks, fits of sudden rage and moments where I would cry uncontrollably. I was exhausted. My children were exhausted. Anxiety, depression and anger are things that we will face in our lifetime; some spells more intense than others. But when it distracts us from our day-to-day responsibilities, like raising humans, it should be addressed with the help from your support team: whether that means close friends, family or professional guidance. It was a mix of the three for me. It may look different for you, just as our experiences with sleep deprivation, exhaustion and parenthood generally is; though we are in this together. We really, really are.
It’s important to accept that your parenting techniques can and should change from child to child. We are human. We evolve. Parents may generally feel pressured to adapt more quickly than the average individual; but it’s vital for us to let go of any resistance and go with this parenting flow. It’s hard, I know- but it’s necessary in order to live a healthy and happy life which will reflect into your child’s. So, get some rest. You’ll be able to think a lot clearer, as will your child.
Words by Julian Jamie
Photographed by Krista Norris