(I wrote this post a few weeks ago for a parenting site that did not use it in the end. I decided to put it on my blog, adding in some finishing touches. I am still going through quite a bit of sleep deprivation, so the topic is still very relevant to me. Nicky has been sick this week and his naps are all different (he has now gone back to two naps). He is also clinging to the boob again, but I think it is part of not being well. Hope he gets better soon! In the meantime, enjoy this article).
It is a sad fact that the parents of young children often have to deal with frequent night wakings and not a lot of sleep themselves. Bearing in mind that mindfulness means “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations” (according to Google), how does one be fully present when all you want to do is go to sleep?
Parenting is not for the faint hearted these days, and we are constantly reminded about the effect we have on those in our care. The pressure to raise the perfect child, to say the right thing at the right time, to be on the ball, offering appropriate redirections for misbehaviour; well; it all takes a lot of energy and patience.
I have to say I rather appreciate “Great Parents are Made, Not Born.” In other words, we learn from our mistakes. I’m hoping you can learn today from some of my mistakes and together we can become better parents, learning how to power through the days we just want to be over.
The incident where I had a rotten, sleep deprived day began with our attempt at transition to our (recently just turned two) toddler’s own bed. The idea is that he would sleep in his own bed for the first part of the night and then I would take him to our bed for the rest. Since he is still not sleeping through, it makes more sense to have him close than to walk up and down to his room.
However, I did not count on myself lying there, awake, unable to sleep until he cried at about midnight. This meant I got no sleep during the first part of the night. Then, he attached himself to my boob continuously until about 2am. I was too tired to make the mental connection that I should have switched sides earlier. As soon as I did that, he had his fill and fell asleep. He woke up again during the night (I think it was about 4am) so the night was far from over.
I was so tired and grumpy the next morning; I really did not want to get up out of bed. But since my husband does not drive due to epilepsy, up we got to take him to work at 7:30am. And so my bad day began.
Looking back on my day, I can identify positive and negative choices that I made.
-Reading to Nicky, giving him attention at the beginning of the day.
-Going to a support group of moms that morning (ironically the topic was sleep: a great place to vent).
-Cancelling other plans in the afternoon, not trying to load the day too much.
-Going to sleep early and letting my husband watch Nicky.
-Putting him in front of the TV at the end of the day when I could feel my patience running very thin. This might not sit well with the general idea that screen time is a no-no, but rather a few minutes of that, than me losing my temper again.
-Not checking that the gate was closed when I came back from the meeting. Our gate has been a bit temperamental lately and you have to check that it closes properly. Leaving it open puts all our lives at risk. I should have known better.
-Shouting at Nicky when he threw water out of the bath. We normally get out together, but on this day, I just needed time to myself to get dressed first. Of course he took the opportunity to get my attention with a whole lot of water. I was aware that I set this bad situation up, but I lost it anyway. It was a bad mother moment.
-Working at nap time when I should have slept.
So how could I have turned this situation around, to be more present when my body was failing?
1) Acknowledge and respect the need for sleep. Part of mindfulness is accepting one’s feelings and bodily needs. I’m the one who chose to ignore my need for sleep. I chose not to nap when he napped. The desire to sit in front of the computer and “get things done” at nap time was where my ego should have taken a hike so as to meet my physical need for sleep.
What if I’d been in a situation where I couldn’t sleep, such as work? Again, I think part of the battle is to be aware of how sleep slows our mind and just to take things slowly would have helped. I think as parents we put way too much pressure on ourselves to “do it all”, and perhaps, scaling back on the tasks of the day would have helped.
2) If you need to self-medicate to get through the day better, do so. Having a cup of coffee to wake you up or chugging back a pain tablet to curb that blinding headache from lack of sleep will certainly help on days like these. A block of chocolate also works wonders.
3) Change your environment. Going outside and playing in the dirt is grounding and there is something about nature that is calming. Also, putting on a classical CD will also help. I used to put those on when I was teaching to calm myself down, never mind the kids.
4) Be aware of how much shorter your fuse is when you’re tired, and make a plan before you lose it. You may have less capacity to be “fully present”, so don’t set yourself up for a disaster. If a toddler is surrounded by water and his mom is ignoring him, don’t be surprised if the water is thrown. Use it as an opportunity to play and pour water back on top of him. “I know you want to throw water out of the bath, but it doesn’t belong on the bathroom floor (ours is carpeted so it is so much worse when wet), it belongs in the bath.” (I am using Gary Landreth’s play therapy method of Acknowledge the Feeling, Communicate the Limit and Target an Alternative – ACT). And, if you do lose it, make a plan to prevent it happening again.
5) Be aware that you won’t remember everything, and be more vigilant at checking. Check that your child is safely strapped in. Check gates, doors and alarms. Take things slowly and remember that your brain is slower today.
6) Be gentle with yourself and forgive yourself the mistakes you will make on this day. The feeling of failure only makes things worse. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that you are human, and you will do better next time because of the lessons you have learned today.
7) Balance the acceptance of your child’s erratic sleep with a plan to improve sleep in your home. Part of the bonus of going to the mom’s meeting was finding out about a book on sleep by Elizabeth Pantly which I will be studying for better success (you can see my notes on it here – you’ll see in the end I did my own thing (Sippy cup and holding) but it is always good to get ideas). I will also be bringing him to bed earlier rather than waiting all stressed out for him to cry.
8) Pray. This should be an automatic response when you are in the depths of sleep deprived despair, but sometimes it isn’t. If you quiet yourself when you are in a better emotional place, some answers to your problem will come. For me, during the time that Nicky has been sick, I have received the message not to push the weaning, that it is the wrong time, as well as some encouragement.
9) Let Go and Let God. Whatever your religious persuasion, there comes a point where you have to let go and try and see the bigger picture, even if the greater plan is just to help other moms going through the same problem!
There are kids, of course, who just won’t sleep no matter what you do. My mother gave me some good advice: she said when you reach the point of acceptance that you will not sleep, that is usually when sleep occurs.
I hope this article has showcased my mistakes sufficiently for you to avoid making them yourself.
Our challenge going forward is to make the effort to be more present and accepting of ourselves and our limitations. Because when you can accept yourself and your own mistakes, it makes it a lot easier for your children to deal with theirs.
At the end of the day this is a rite of passage for parents, and to know that you have crossed over to the other side is something to be proud of.
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Invitation.