When I was pregnant, I knew that my life was about to change forever. My biggest fears were birth, breastfeeding, and being sleep deprived. I honestly didn't know if I could cope with any of them. I managed to get through the birth and breastfeeding hurdles, but I had no idea at the time that it is totally normal to continue being sleep deprived for years to come.
It's not uncommon for my 9 year old to wake me up at 5 am. Nor is it uncommon for my 6 year old to sneak into my bed once - or even twice - a night. My exclusively breastfed babies were weaned when they were 2 years old and they both co-slept with me until they were around 3 years old. When we transitioned them into their own beds they went willingly. It was exciting to be in a big boy bed. Bedtimes evolved into being read to or sung to sleep. Within 10-20 minutes they both fell blissfully to sleep. Easy.
So what's the issue? Well, there is always something isn't there? The sun rises at 5am half the bloody year and sometimes we forget to close the blackout blinds. They get ill. Nits. They forget to do their bedtime wee's and get woken by a full bladder. Or they don't and instead wake up in a wet bed. Colds. Nits. Worms (!!). Allergies. Coughs. Bad dreams. Getting cold because the duvet got kicked off. Getting too hot. Staying up too late the night before. Nits. Going to bed too early the night before. Nits. Clocks changing. Weird shadows on the wall. You name it. Did I mention nits?
So, it begs the question. With all the co-sleeping that we embraced, have we unwittingly done this to ourselves? Had we just been firmer when they were babies - let them cry it out more - then perhaps we'd have established a firm sleep schedule? They'd learn to self soothe and be able to go back to sleep without needing the crutch of mummy. They'd be independent. They'd thank us one day. Besides, we don't want them in our beds when they are teenagers, do we?!!
I was in a Children's centre recently and overheard a Health Visitor tell this story to a group of mums wondering if they are doing the right thing by allowing their babies to co-sleep in their beds:
"Yes, I understand what you mean. I was worried too and I can tell you that my 13 year old still comes into my bed. (pause for appropriate shock) So my son, he's very embarrassed by me in public, you see. He hates it when I wave to him. He'd never hold my hand! So when he came home the other day upset, he went straight up to his room. I tried to give him the opportunity to talk but he really just wanted to be alone. So I left him to it and gave him space, even though I was desperate to give him a cuddle. We were really close when he was little and it's hard to see him growing apart from me. I was surprised when the next day, before it was morning, I heard the pitter-patter of some not-so-little feet. It was my boy. He crawled into bed beside me and I hugged him. He let the tears fall as I stroked his hair and he told me how he got his heart broken for the first time. For my big, independent boy, this was the safe space he'd known since he was a baby where he could connect with me. The sacrifices I made being the night time parent for all those years mean that our bond is strong, even when it seems like it isn't."
So what does it mean to be the night time parent? It means that you respond to your child's emotional needs at night in the same way you would during the day. We'd never say to a child 'you need to learn to self-sooth' when they accidentally get hurt playing so we give them a 'you're all right' cuddle. We'd never let a child cry it out during the day if they were cold or frightened. We'd never ignore a child's daytime hunger. And yet we regard the night as some mysterious parallel universe where new rules apply.
It's not because we're horrible people! It's because parenting is damn hard. And parenting when you are meant to be sleeping is damn harder! The truth is we are not meant to parent in isolation. We're meant to have a village of support. Where is my village?? Maybe one day it will return.
In order to get through the debilitating and endless night time parenting, I try to think of it as an investment. I'm helping to create emotionally healthy humans. Hands up who thinks the world needs more emotionally healthy humans? And also, if you are a night time parent, be sure that you are getting:
- support in the day
- help with housework
- lots of cups of tea
- all the chocolate
- basically, all the things
And if night time parenting is driving you insane then you are allowed to say so. You are allowed to get help. You are allowed to try something else. You are allowed to swear, get angry, throw things. You deserve all the things.
Our time with our children is limited. I have been told that one day they will grow up and leave the house. I'm told I will be very upset about this. We'll see.