I have a confession to make. I am suffering from a serious case of sleep envy.
My husband is a sports reporter, among other things, and so he works long hours during the Olympics, but the other day after a night shift he stayed in bed til 12pm. Lunchtime! It’s not as scandalous as it sounds if you’ve been to bed at 2 or 3 am, but I was soo jealous.
From talking to my friends, I’ve deduced that sleep envy is a common problem among mothers of young babies.
And if you’re not careful a simple case of common sleep envy can escalate into a full-scale sleep war. It all starts when the husband makes the mistake of lying on the couch, casually yawning and then muttering something along the lines of “Oh, I’m soo tired.” Now the man may utter these words without even realising he’s said them, but to a sleep-deprived mother, they are a red flag to a bull. When you’ve been up 3 or 4 times in the night with a sick child, and you then hear the man who slept peacefully through a midnight vomiting episode complain of being tired, well let’s just say it’s a little hard to take.
So Dads unless you are the one getting up all night to tend to the baby, don’t even think about saying the ‘t’ word.
I can cope pretty well with one or two bad nights in a row. But when it gets to three or four that’s when it all starts to fall apart. I find that I really have to make a big effort to be patient with the kids when I’m tired. On those days I’ve learnt to put aside whatever I hoped to get done and just focus on looking after the children as best I can.
The other problem for breastfeeding Mums is that if you don’t get enough sleep then your milk supply drops and that starts a vicious cycle where the baby needs to feed more often because your milk supply is low, and so you can’t get as much sleep. When that happens I find I really do have to rest during the day. Forget about all your other commitments, your cleaning, your washing, your social life, just try to eat well and rest. I’m somebody who hates to let other people down, but sometimes you just have to say ‘no’ and take care of yourself.
So what can Dads do to support sleep-deprived Mums?
Breakfast in bed always goes down well! If you are breastfeeding, then it really does have to be Mum who gets up in the night and tends to the baby, so there’s not always a lot that Dads can do, even if they want to help. But every Mum should have at least one designated sleep-in day. When we had Birdy I was up early every day because I always had to breastfeed her. Then eventually I realised that if you do the first morning feed in bed, then you can pass the baby to hubby when you’re finished and he can sometimes get up first.
I think it’s a really good idea for both Mum and Dad to have a designated sleep-in day.
Then there are no arguments about who stays in bed, it’s just set in stone that on Saturday Dad gets up with the kids. (Notice how I said, ‘Gets up with the kids’. Not puts on cartoons and goes back to bed!)
Also, men, here’s a tip for you: if Mum does complain of being tired, it doesn’t mean she needs you to come up with a solution.
Men tend to want to fix things. So when I say ‘I’m tired’ my husbands first response will be to say, “Well go to bed earlier” or ‘Have a nap during the day.” But as Mum’s we find it hard to switch off. We can’t go to bed when the kitchen isn’t clean or the washing’s not put away. That just means starting the next day even further behind. So when we say we’re tired, sometimes all we really want is a bit of understanding and TLC. There’s nothing so good as a cup of tea that somebody else has made for you, or a really nice dinner that somebody else has cooked for you, or half an hour with a good book while your husband takes the kids to the park. Then hopefully sleep envy is less likely to escalate into a full-scale sleep war!
PS. I’m so tired I forgot to upload this post on Monday and didn’t remember until Thursday.
PPS. Full Brownie points to hubby who was up last night trying to settle an inexplicably unsettled Molly. I let him stay in bed this morning!
Have you ever suffered from a case of sleep envy? How do you and your partner (if you have one) work things out so that both of you can get some sleep?
This time next week I’ll be in Port Morseby, Papua New Guinea, getting ready to head out on the road, delivering Christmas shoeboxes filled with presents to the children of Papua New Guinea. For those who aren’t aware, Operation Christmas Child is part of the work of Samaritan’s Purse and they spread Christmas cheer to children who otherwise probably wouldn’t receive a gift. I’m pretty excited about the idea of seeing the children receive their presents. I know it means a lot to them to think that somebody in a distant country cares about them enough to send them a special box full of presents. It sounds like a cliché, but I know it will be a life-changing experience. I’m just slightly concerned about leaving Birdy for five whole days!
I’ve never really gone anywhere without her. I left her overnight with a babysitter once for our wedding anniversary but we were back home by 8am the next day. Just the other day when we had The Voyage of the Dawntreader preview screening for work, Birdy had a sleepover at my sister’s house. Now I must admit I quite enjoyed having a night out without her, but when I got back home the house seemed strangely empty. And when I woke up, there was nobody squashing me off the edge of the bed. Normally I go to sleep in the usual way, lying on my half of the bed, but when I wake up Birdy has crawled over the top of me, sandwiched herself in between Mum and Dad in the wee hours of the morning, and I’m like a seagull perched on the edge of a cliff, about to fall off, with Birdy sticking her legs and arms into my back at all sorts of impossible angles as if she’s trying to give me acupuncture. I don’t know how I’m going to sleep without my early morning torture session.
I think she’ll be fine. If she does miss me at all, it will probably be at bedtime, because we always cuddle up in bed and read 4 or 5 stories together. It’s our special little time at the end of the day. But I don’t think she’ll miss me too much because she’ll have an army of people looking after her. My husband will be there (when he’s not working), my sister’s coming down to stay, my parents are helping out for a bit and then there’s her other Aunty and Uncle and cousins who live nearby. So she won’t be deprived of TLC. And as long as she manages to stay out of hospital for five days, I probably won’t be too worried about her. I thought I might try to leave her a little letter to open every day while I’m away so she knows I’m thinking of her. I’ve also got to figure out how to get my phone to do international roaming. I don’t think I could go for five days without at least sending a kiss and a cuddle down the phone!
Have you ever gone away without your kids? What’s the longest period of time you’ve left them for? How did you cope? How did they cope? Are you glad you did it? Do you have any ideas to help make the separation go more smoothly?
PS. I won’t be able to blog from PNG, but I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about when I get back!
I saw a status update on Facebook that amused me recently. My sister-in-law (Aly) described how her 3 year old climbed into their bed in the early hours of the morning and they grudgingly allowed her in. After lying still for about a minute she started bouncing around. They told her to keep still and she said, “But I’m a froggy. I want to hop, hop, hop like a frog.” So her Dad said, “We don’t want any frogs in our bed. No more froggy jumps please.” After a short pause a little voice piped up, “Can I leap like a deer?”
I can relate to this story, especially lately. Last night I said to Birdy, “Night, night, mind the bed bugs don’t bite.” And she said, “Well if they do, I will just crawl into your bed!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I bet you will.” I think because the weather’s been so cold, a certain little person keeps turning up in our room at about 4 am. And I must say it’s quite convenient because it’s a lot warmer if she curls up with us than if I have to go and settle her in her bedroom!
We’ve come full circle on this one, but it’s partly an age thing. When Birdy was little we had a rule that she couldn’t come into Mummy and Daddy’s bed until the birds were singing. This was mainly because she’d wriggle and squirm so much that none of us would get any sleep. I was pretty firm about it, because I thought that if she came into our bed I’d never get her out again. But there was one day a few months ago when neither my husband or I noticed that she’d got into bed with us until we woke up and found her asleep between us in the morning. And I thought, well if it’s not disturbing anyone, then what’s the problem? So now we let her stay there as long as she doesn’t start doing the cha-cha in the middle of the night.
Last week on my radio show I interviewed Rozanna Lilley from the Children and Families Research Centre at Macquarie Uni about the way children and families sleep around the world. Her point is that in most cultures, some form of co-sleeping is the norm. Not necessarily bed-sharing, but sleeping together, rather than expecting infants to sleep alone. The idea that children have problems sleeping is a relatively recent phenomenon in western cultures, and it may be that our expectations of children have changed, rather than that their sleeping has become worse. To hear the full interview click here.
Anyway, we actually quite enjoy it when Birdy comes to snuggle up with us. So far she hasn’t vomited or wee’d in our bed, though I’m sure the day is coming. Obviously I might feel differently if I had four kids, but with just one, she’s actually quite a good hot water bottle. I’m sure I’ll have second thoughts about it when summer rolls around though!
Do your kids climb into bed with you? What time of morning is OK? Do you let them sleep in your bed, or is it strictly a kid-free zone? What rules do you have to make sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep, or as good as possible?
Since I became a new mum, there’s been one moment I’ve been completely dreading. I know it has to happen eventually. But just thinking about it is enough to send me to the shops for a Bex and a good lie down. I’m not talking about the day Birdy brings home her first boyfriend, or gets a nose-ring or wants to go bungy jumping over Niagara Falls. No, I’m thinking of something much more terrifying. The subject I don’t mention in front of her. I’m talking about the day that Birdy drops her daytime sleep!
I’ve been talking to other mums, and I’ve been reliably informed that there comes an age when you can’t get them to sleep until 9 o clock at night if they do nap in the day. And that’s when you have to make the call that afternoon naps are a thing of the past. (Consigned to the dustbin of history along with flared jeans, Rick Astley and Soda Streams.) And that is exactly what happened to us the other day. We came back from the long weekend, we went straight to the Colin Buchanan concert and when we got home Birdy was so tired that I put her straight to bed. She slept and slept and slept and slept. She was so tired I could not physically wake her up. I could have started a chainsaw next to her bed and she wouldn’t have stirred. But then she wouldn’t go back to bed until 9 o clock that night. And that was when I knew that our days of daytime napping were numbered.
In fact, while I was writing this, I had two little girls, both in their beds, both playing and singing and calling out, refusing to take their afternoon naps. But for my sanity, I put them both to bed with a couple of books, and let them entertain themselves in bed for an hour. I need that time out and so do they. Otherwise we all get cranky pants.
But the question that’s really bothering me is this: If Birdy gives up her daytime sleep, when am I going to get anything done? Right now, I use that time in so many different ways…. to do work, to clean my floor of mashed up food, to write my blog, to sit back with a cup of tea and a book or to call a good friend for a chat. It’s my little window of peace and quiet and tranquility and restoration and opportunity and it’s ALL MINE! MINE, I said. It’s the only time of the day when I do something for ME. (OK so cleaning the floor isn’t exactly for me, but it is important to my sanity.) So you can understand why I’m so reluctant to give it up.
So for that reason, I’ll keep putting her to bed in the afternoon, even though I know I’m fighting a losing battle. I’m sooo not ready to give up my cherished little snippet of me-time just yet. Some things are worth fighting for.
What age did your kids give up their daytime sleep? Did you prolong it for as long as possible? Did they start refusing to go to bed during the day, or did it just get harder to get them to sleep at night? Do you still enforce some kind of rest time? If so, how successful is it?
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The question most commonly asked of new parents is: ‘Is he/she sleeping through the night yet?’ There’s no doubt that dealing with disturbed sleep is a big challenge for new parents, but when people are always asking you this it would be easy to get the impression that getting your baby to sleep through the night should be the first and final goal of parenting. Oh really… hang on… you mean it’s not?
I remember when Birdy was about three months old she started catnapping. I had a copy of Save Our Sleep on the shelf, so I read it from cover to cover, and started Birdy on a feeding and sleeping routine. At the time, I thought it was an absolute lifesaver. There’s no question that her sleeping improved, she seemed more settled and life became more manageable for all of us. She would fall asleep easily, by herself, usually without crying. But I was also fairly strict about not cuddling her to sleep, or rocking her, or doing anything that would be a hard habit to break later.
But now that she’s older, I’ve started to change my point of view on this issue. I remember one night reading Birdy the Mem Fox picture book Time For Bed, which shows all the baby animals going to sleep with their mummy’s. One night, after reading that book, Birdy asked me why she couldn’t go to bed with her mummy. Suddenly I had this niggling feeling that it might be unnatural to put a baby to bed on their own and expect them to always fall asleep. So now if Birdy wakes in the night, I’m much more likely to lay down with her for a few minutes and give her a cuddle, rather than to just expect her to go back to sleep by herself. Don’t get me wrong, I know self-settling is an important skill to teach, but it doesn’t have to be taught overnight. It can and often does take time. And it may not be realistic to expect babies or very young children to consistently sleep through the night without any help from Mum or Dad.
So now whenever I hear new parents bragging about how their little one is sleeping through the night at ten weeks or twelve weeks I find it very hard to stop the corners of my mouth from curling up in a secret little smile. Because what those first-time parents don’t realize is that the baby who is sleeping through the night at three months, ain’t necessarily going to be sleeping through the night at six months, nine months, or even one or two years of age. Again, I’m not saying you don’t need to teach good sleeping skills, of course you do. But if you make ‘sleeping through the night’ the number one goal of your parenting, you’re going to be disappointed.
Because you can teach your child to self-settle at three months, and think you’ve got it sorted, and then at four months they start teething, at six months they want to feed more, at nine months they’re snotty and can’t breathe well, then they’re teething again, and then they develop separation anxiety and wake up just to check you’re still around. At one and a half they suddenly decide they don’t want to go in their sleeping bag anymore so then they kick off all their blankets and wake up cold. Then they get sick again and can’t sleep. Then at two they start having night terrors and bad dreams, then they move into a big bed and they fall out or they find themselves upside down with their head under the doona and their feet hanging out the window. Then they get sick again, then they develop asthma, or hayfever or eczema, and they wake up coughing, or sneezing or scratching, then by the time they’re three they’re toilet trained and they want to get up in the middle of the night and go to the toilet.
So now you can understand why, when some proud parent tells me gleefully at twelve weeks that their new baby is sleeping through the night, I have to turn my face away slightly and bite my tongue. Because I would have said the same thing when Birdy was three months old. And now I get up most nights to a snotty, coughing, itchy, upside down, uncovered or scared little girl who just wants a kiss and a cuddle from mummy. And it’s not really a big deal.
So what is the first and final goal of parenting if it’s not sleeping through the night? Just loving them. And yes, sometimes that means tough love, but sometimes it means finding it in your heart to be kind and patient and loving, even at two in the morning.
Is your child a good sleeper? When did they start sleeping through the night? If they don’t sleep well, why do you think that is? Do you sometimes feel pressure from other family members or friends to ‘fix’ them? Would you do anything differently next time around? How have your expectations changed over time?
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Useful Resources (If you really do have a sleep problem)
SMH Article: Baby Whisperers
The Australian Article: Tough Love