Ugh. Sleep.

15 Sep

When you have a kid, you soon realize that one of the most frequent (and bizarre) questions you get from family, friends and strangers is: is she a good baby? 

Like, what are you going to say? No? She’s a really shitty baby? I wish I could send her back? We’ve been in touch with some adoption agencies? I hope the next one turns out better?

After the good baby question, the next thing that will inevitably come out of that person’s mouth is: is she a good sleeper? Because for some reason all babies are judged based on their ability to sleep.

My son is a terrible sleeper. He has many sterling qualities, but sleeping well is not among them. At 19 months he still wakes up multiple times a night. I would give you an average of how many, but I’m too exhausted to count.

I’ve discovered that sleep is a really tough subject to discuss with other parents, for several reasons:

1. They all have sleep strategies that they want to share with you.

2. They assume that you have tried zero sleep strategies on your own.

3. They make you feel like having a kid who doesn’t sleep through the night is some kind of horrible failure on your part.

That last one? The one where I am made to feel like a terrible parent and a failure? I am being dead serious right there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned to other parents that Theo doesn’t sleep through the night, only to be met with an expression that would best be described as total and complete horror. From the looks on their faces, you would think I’d just confessed that he regularly swills gin and plays with knives. Which, I mean, that is totally inaccurate, because we only sometimes let him have gin.

It sucks, because not only do I feel like I am getting grief from other parents for having a sleepless kid, but also being this tired all the time makes me want to stab things. Matt likes to tell this story about how, in the first week of Theo’s life, he was so exhausted that he started hallucinating. At one point he turned to me and said, I understand now why sleep deprivation is an effective torture technique.

Theo was a fledgling insomniac even in those early days. He grunted and wriggled around in his sleep, and he absolutely would not sleep in a crib. When I tell people that we co-sleep with him, they often assume that it’s because I’m some kind of attachment parenting hippie. I mean, I am an attachment parenting hippie, but really, the decision to share our bed with our kid was born out of the fact that we couldn’t figure out how to get him to sleep, and we were desperate.

Since then, we’ve tried a few different types of sleep training. Some we’ve had moderate success with, some we’ve been too tired to implement properly or regularly, and some have just flat-out not worked for us.

One thing that’s helped recently, though, is re-evaluating what my expectations are for Theo’s sleep. Part of that comes from the fact that I’ve struggled with insomnia since my early teens; if, at 30, I can’t remember the last time that I slept through the night, why am I expecting my kid to be able to? Theo got Matt’s blue eyes, adorable nose and laid-back personality – it only makes sense that some of my genes would start showing up sometime. I can only hope that he also got my killer fashion sense.

Thinking all this doesn’t make me any less tired, but it does make me feel a little more sympathetic towards him. Because the thing is, I know what it’s like to not be able to sleep. I know how rough that is. There are nights when I, a highly verbal and fairly capable adult, still cry from frustration because I can’t seem to turn off my brain. Given that, I don’t know why I would expect my sleepless toddler to just be able to roll over and start sawing logs.

I know from experience that I can’t force myself to sleep, and, the fact is, I can’t force Theo either.

So where does that leave us? Mostly it leaves me with a sense of it is what is is, which is oddly comforting. We’ll keep trying different strategies to get him to sleep through the night, for sure, but I’m going to try to stop feeling bad about it. He’s a sentient human being, wholly separate from myself, who, while able to know his own wants, totally lacks any ability to be reasoned with – at this point, if he doesn’t want to sleep, it probably isn’t going to happen. And it probably isn’t my fault.

Maybe this is a good parenting lesson for me. Because sometimes, my kid is going to want (or not want) to do something, and I’m not always going to have perfect control over the situation. I’m not saying that I’m going to give into him, but I am saying that maybe I need to be more flexible. Maybe I need to learn to look for a different approach to any given issue, or work to find a compromise. Hopefully, rather than seeing me as someone who is trying to impose her authoritarian will on him, Theo will come to see me as someone who is trying her damnedest to understand him, and only has his best interests at heart.

Because that’s the parenting dream, isn’t it? To have your kids respect and obey you without resenting you. To have them understand that sometimes you have to do things that they won’t like because, for whatever reason, it’s good for them. Is that even possible? I’m not sure.

If all else fails, we’ll just blow his whole college fund on therapy and sleeping pills.

11 Responses to “Ugh. Sleep.”

  1. MamaToBean September 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    I was just at the mall today and got asked that “good baby” question all the time. Especially since Arthur is usually rather quiet and alert. He attracts people and I’m not comfy with it all the time. Especially since an abhorrent amount of strangers get all touchy feely. 0_0

    Anyways I totally have a sleep strategy for you. Do what’s best for both of you. Which it seems you have implemented before I shared my strategy. 😉 I’ve been lucky Arthur’s a great sleeper so far. But he’s also only three months and I have only today put him in his crib. So far so good. I, like you, have trouble shutting off my brain. Part of the anxiety I’m told. I’m hoping Arthur keeps sleeping like his dad since he got my good looks. 🙂

    On a different topic, do you just plug these entries out from your head or do you edit and such? I’m just curious as it often takes me hours to write a post since I have to read and re-read it over to make sure I don’t sound like a dork.

    • bellejarblog September 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

      I wish Theo took after his dad sleep-wise – Matt sleeps like a log! I, on the other hand, wake up if someone near me is breathing too loudly.

      I usually just plug the entries out from my head, post them, and then spend the next 24 hours going back and editing them. I probably do sound like a dork when I first post them, but oh well.

  2. empressnasigoreng September 16, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    I had one of those “good [ie, sleeping through the night from very early on] babies” and now he is the kid who is always in trouble at school for being lazy, not concentrating, distracting other kids etc. Sleeping is really no measure of anything – except how well someone can sleep.

    • empressnasigoreng September 16, 2012 at 4:10 am #

      Oh, and cute picture by the way! 🙂

      • bellejarblog September 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

        Thanks! It’s kind of old, but oh well. Makes me miss those infant days!

    • bellejarblog September 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

      Good to know! I’m sure your son is absolutely wonderful, though 🙂

      • empressnasigoreng September 17, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

        Yes, he is. Just one of those “square pegs” that find it hard to fit into the narrow confines of the education system.

  3. chelsealainewells September 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Oh my god. Exactly. (Sorry for stalker commenting your blog, it’s because I followed the link from that moronic Nicola Kraus article that I took so personally.) My six month old daughter Atlee will not sleep through the night no matter what we do, and I am so sick of people making obvious suggestions and criticizing me when I am stupid enough to share what I have tried (EVERYTHING). I try to put her down in the crib but almost always she wakes up after an hour and ends up in our bed, nursing us both to sleep, because I have to sleep longer than 4:45am-5:00am if I’m expected to work a ten hour day. Anyway, I’ve taken to lying about how much she sleeps if asked so I don’t have to hear it.

    • bellejarblog September 19, 2012 at 3:04 am #

      People are SO WEIRD about babies and sleep. I honestly don’t understand what the fixation is.

      I hope you guys start getting more sleep soon ❤

  4. transatlanticbelle September 26, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Too true about those two questions! What is a ‘good’ baby anyway? And who cares if they sleep through the night? Sleeping through the night does not indicate character. I agree, it’s like some kind of fixation. Very weird. Why don’t they ask instead, What’s he/she like? What’s your fav bit about them? When do they make you laugh the most?
    I don’t know, maybe I’m just an AP hippie parent, too. 🙂 x

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