Sleep deprivation parenting—it’s a thing

Tired eye

This is not my eye, btw. Stock photo tired eye.

People who have children who sleep well should thank their lucky stars. My daughter is now three and a half years old, and in those three and a half years, my partner and I have not made it through a single straight week without a night of broken sleep, and that’s in very, very good weeks. The truth is, most nights we get, at the most, about four hours of unbroken sleep before we’re woken up by the sound of our daughter’s calls, cries, and sometimes screams.

There will be those reading this who will immediately roll their eyes and make assumptions that we are those soft, weak parents who “allow” our child to act this way by the way we react to the sleep problems. To those I say a) we’ve already tried just about every method of controlling this you can throw at us, b) you’re measuring this against a different child/children, and c) shut up.

When I was pregnant, my partner’s mother laughingly told me that he didn’t sleep well until he was four. I laughed too, thinking I had it all in hand since I had read the Gina Ford book (NB Damn you to hell, Gina Ford). Now I silently, stupidly count the days until her fourth birthday and wonder if we can be lucky enough for her to follow the same pattern. Yeah, lucky. But at the same time, it has become a part of our lives. We are tired. All the time. Because life. Because child.

As an infant, she didn’t feed too well and showed signs of silent reflux. As a baby she was highly sensitive and inquisitive, and couldn’t sleep if there was even a dot of light in the room (remedies involved blacking out the windows with black cardboard, putting Blu-tak over the light on the baby monitor, and praying to Lucifer to bring down the sun), as well as a week of absolutely ruined sleep every time a tooth tried to break through. As a toddler she became extremely clingy and only Mummy would do—she’d scream, “Ikke Pappa! Ikke Pappa!” (not Daddy! in Norwegian) if he tried to settle her—and freaked out every time I wasn’t within arms’ reach. Now as a pre-schooler, she has nightmares, night-terrors, random inexplicable wakings… all of which result in Mummy and Daddy staring across at each other in the mornings wondering who’s going to eat whose brain first.

Everything that happens in her life—good, bad, exciting, painful, scary, developmental, illness-related—results in sleep problems. And every child has this stuff going on all the time, so she has sleep problems all the time. It’s just the way she is, and though I complain a lot about being tired, I’ve accepted it, as I accept everything about who she is. Most nights, she ends up in our bed. Sneer if you will, but until you are severely sleep-deprived and you know what will get you a few hours straight, you’re in no position to judge. People have judged our situation to my face and behind my back, making assumptions and claims they can’t possibly substantiate. To those people, I say, “It’s not what we’ve done or haven’t done. Some kids just have a rough time with sleep.” Then I do my best not to judge their kids’ bad manners, aggressiveness, desire to lick other kids’ faces, etc. (See End the Mommy Wars, which I fully support.)


Look how cute she is. Just look.

While there are things about our children that it is our responsibility to shape, develop and encourage, we also must accept our children for who they are at their core. When I think about any one other thing I could swap this problem out for, I can’t think of a single one that would be worth the exchange. My little girl is happy, sensitive, empathetic, quirky, curious, funny, smart, caring, bright, loving, affectionate…if I could switch any one of these wonderful traits of hers to its opposite in order to get myself a better night’s sleep, I wouldn’t. Not ever.

So I’m tired. I’m always tired, and I don’t know when I will ever be not tired again. Yes, the time will come, but I can’t know when and there’s no real sense in trying to guess. Until then, I raise my glass to all my fellow tired parents out there, and rather than try to reassure you that it won’t last forever, I’ll just say that whatever you’re doing to cope with it is OKAY. No matter what anyone else says.

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