Sleep is one of those things that you just agree to give up when you become a parent. You tell yourself that you’re ready for it. You make the necessary jokes, familiarize yourself with the super late night TV lineup, and you just agree to forego sleep for a while. It’s as easy as that. Right?
Any parent, no matter the age of the child, will tell you that functioning while sleep deprived is not only possible, but also completely normal. Years ago you might have thought twice before getting behind the wheel of a car having only logged two hours of sleep, but now you’ve got an older child to get to preschool and that ride might actually get the little one to snooze. So you grab your third latte of the day and hit the road. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
Different parents cope with sleep deprivation in different ways.
Some parents will wear their sleep deprivation like a badge. They will stand in a group of other parents at the park and compete for who averaged the fewest hours that week. They will always win. Probably because the other parents are too tired to compete, and they struggle to remember what happened that morning…forget about the whole week.
Some parents will pretend it’s not happening. They will put on some make-up, throw on their cutest jeans with a spit-up proof top of some sort, and hold their heads up high as they chase their kids around and never seem to tire. Their Facebook status updates will make you want to scream because they will only say the very best things that are happening each week. They will somehow gloss over the lost sleep, the vomiting kids, or the never-ending tantrum that took place in line at the Gap. I stand accused of this one at times. An old friend once emailed me the following line: “Your Facebook self seems happy.” That’s when I knew I had gone too far.
Others will wear their sleep deprivation on their faces and just about everywhere else. They will take deep breaths, they will try to remain calm, and they will try to enjoy each moment. But at some point the exhaustion will start to show, because parenting is hard work even with 8 hours of sleep. These parents will tell it like it is. These parents won’t compete or pretend. These parents will be honest about the importance of sleep. They won’t whine or complain; they will just speak the truth. Although I sometimes pull off the look good to feel good thing, I generally fall into the category of parents who tell it like it is.
While there’s something to be said for the fake it till you make it mentality (I really do feel better in a cute pair of jeans), there’s also a lot to be gained from being honest.
There’s been a lot of chatter about “Mom guilt” lately. Moms are feeling guilty because they made a decision they later regretted, snapped during a time of stress, or left the TV on just a little too long. This guilt is eating away at them as they try to be a better mom. The kind of mom who always packs fruit instead of goldfish and only allows exactly 45 minutes of TV per day. These are probably the same moms in the cute jeans and boots, right?
Sleep deprivation affects everyone. It can make you more susceptible to illness, it can decrease your attention span, it can make it hard for you to lose or maintain weight, it can make you irritable and impatient, it can make you anxious and/or depressed, and it can lower your self-esteem. Sleep deprivation can cause some major damage.
Instead of competing over exhaustion or simply pretending it doesn’t exist, I propose we talk about. I think we should admit that, while being a parent truly is the greatest gift, we are sometimes tired (because, seriously, being tired doesn’t make you any less of a parent). Because once we start admitting to it, we can start sharing some solutions.
Here are my suggestions:
- Phone a friend: You know that friend who is always offering to hold your new baby? Let her.
- Call in family: Even if you don’t like their advice, they can still buy you an hour or so of uninterrupted sleep.
- Tag out: If you’re anything like me, you probably try to protect your husband from the wake-ups as much as possible…but no one is supermom, so just tag out.
- Insist on quiet time: Kids (even non-nappers) need quiet time. Make them special quiet time boxes, set a timer, and get 45 minutes alone in your room while they play with their quiet time toys.
- Get a babysitter: Your kids will learn new things, and you will be a better parent for it.
- Set an alarm…to go to bed: Keep your bedtime consistent by setting an alarm on your phone to signal you to go to bed. No excuses.
- Have a relaxing routine: You know that very consistent bath, reading, bed thing that you do with your kids every night? That works for adults too.
- Accept your limitations: You can’t be the perfect parent all of the time, and you can’t do absolutely everything on your own all of the time (believe me, I’ve tried). Embrace every moment: The good, the bad, and the in-between…and know that you are doing the best you can do on any given day.
Incidentally, I do believe that goldfish + cute jeans = happy kids and happy mom. But maybe that’s just me.
How do you cope with sleep deprivation?
Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Consultant in Los Angeles, CA. She has a four year old daughter, two year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog at http://practicalkatie.com/and can also be found on Twitter. Author of, The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World.
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