Parenting confession

Because Ms. Prufrock asked for it.


One of the best-kept secrets of parenting, something no one reveals to people considering having children, is that, no matter how well a child is sleep trained, the sleep deprivation does not end until the kids hit puberty.  Children are needy little buggers, and they are never so desperate for parental attention as they are at four in the morning.

Unfortunately, all our nocturnal woes were not resolved when the boys began to share a room.  There are good runs, days and weeks at a time when the kids are snoring by 8:04 PM and do not wake up until 7:16 AM.  We relish those stretches, because we have come to know they cannot last.  Someone will find a way to bust apart our slumber sooner or later.  In fact, the only way I can think of to ensure that I get a good night sleep each night is to move out of the house. 

There is a children’s book called Peace at Last about a Father Bear who roams the house one night looking for a quiet place to sleep.  Zachary loves it, which I find ironic, since he is the very disturbance I most want to escape.

I am OK with getting up to calm his nightmares, and I am there by his side if he finds himself covered in throw-up.  It is all the other reasons he seems to find for getting out of bed that I could do without.  Like the string of ten mornings when he woke up between four and five every morning and would not go back to sleep.

Oh, sure, the first reason was always valid, coughing or a need to urinate.  Of course, we provide him with a little potty right by his bed, so he really does not need to drag my sorry butt out of bed just to witness the undertaking, but it is hard to tell a three-year-old that you would prefer if he could hold off on nighttime training for a couple of decades.  I get up and I help him, a bit grumpily but with the understanding that this was the deal I signed on for all those many months when I wept to have a child.  If only the child would then go back to sleep.

During this particular run, he would lie in bed for forty-five minutes or so, waiting until Jacob and I had finally fallen back asleep, and then come trotting out for more water.  Or to pee again.  Or to tell us he did not want to go back to sleep.  Since I knew full-well exactly how tired he was, I finally came to the conclusion Zachary did not want to go back to sleep.  He was willing himself awake solely to torment his mother.

So, I started to get angry.  “Just use the potty in your room,” I grumbled.  “You do NOT need more water,” I groaned.  “Stop waking me up!” I snapped.  Like the proverbial man who put a snake in his pocket and then was surprised when he was bitten, I just could not get over my son’s ability to cut into my sleep time.

J is always calmer with nighttime wakings, mostly because he himself is not fully awake.  But there is also the cold, hard fact that I have never been particularly gracious towards people who wake me up.  Just ask my poor husband, who goes to elaborate measures to ensure that, no matter what he does, he cannot be accused of rousing me out of bed.

Those who awaken me are conducting an assault upon my person.  They are ripping into not just my time and my space, but my body.  Denying me sleep is intentional infliction of distress, even when it is unintentional.  I can usually remember that my children are just children the first night it happens.  But when Benjamin teethes for three nights, then Zachary goes through a run of four AM wakings, and then Benjamin has a nightmare, we are getting dangerously close to the two-week mark, and I can even begrudge the hugs I need to provide to remedy bad dreams.

“Just go back to sleep,” I find myself telling the toddler, as though he has any control over the situation.

25 responses to “Parenting confession

  1. what i wouldn’t give for another hour of sleep this morning. i feel your pain. . .

  2. Oh, we are very alike in this way. I told a friend once that you just have to give up on the idea of “sleeping through the night” once you have children. As soon as I accepted that a good night’s sleep was not guaranteed, not ever, I became more cheerful about it (which isn’t to say I am cheerful, but not grumping is still more cheerful than I used to be).

    I am envious of my husband’s ability to go right back to sleep after the waking. I usually lie in bed for an hour afterwards, sometimes even composing blog posts which I promptly forget in the morning.

  3. Ah yes . . .

    You describe it quite well . . .

    I can’t remember the last time that I felt really rested.

    Even at 3 yrs old, and 16 months–It seems that at least one of my boys wakes up every night–

    It does not help that they BOTH sleep in my room . . .

    (Yes, I know . . .THAT’s a whole other issue!! 🙂

  4. Amen. I can so clearly remember the first time I got a six hour block of sleep after Fiona was born. There’s nothing like much too little sleep to make six hours feel luxurious.

    And waking up, on my own, without being awakened? That’s a distant dream. This morning, we all overslept, which means I got more sleep than usual, but I was still grumpy because of the way I was startled awake – by Fiona leaping into bed with me.

  5. Ah, yes. This is familiar. My daughter is generally a very good sleeper, but there are bad nights. Bad nights for both of us. I am much less willing to play at 4 a.m. than my daughter would like.

    Can’t I pretend that I’ll get to sleep more in a few more years?

  6. yes, the first legit waking is the one that starts you on the slippery, slippery sloap. I am not so good at nighttime parenting myself, like I seem to not understand English. This is much harder on Thinker who speaks in coherent English at any hour, but easier on the little ones who forget all the words and just cry.They seem to expect me not to understand. As long as I am standing up, they are satisfied – all the while I think to myself – I just want to lay down.

  7. I’m feeling exhausted just reading the post and the comments.

  8. It’s like you have a window into my life.

    Bean is sick, nothing major, just enough to make him miserable. Therefore, at 1 o’clock this morning, it was my duty to be awake and miserable with him until he finally gave in to the Children’s Motrin siren song and fell asleep at 2. Naturally, every 30 minutes or so threafter, he would rouse himself and cry just enough to disturb my sleep, again, before passing out once more.

    I’m here at work with puffy, swollen eyes, a very crabby disposition, and a headache the size of Rhode Island. My son? Is still sleeping. Oh, injustice. 😉

  9. I won’t break your heart by pointing out that puberty doesn’t end the sleep-deprivation, it just changes the purpose. Yes, they pee on their own, yes they get their own water (oh, frabjous day THAT was!) but they also now go out! With friends! And while mine are fairly thoughtful they do forget to check in, get held up so they’re in late etc… etc… etc…

  10. Just two words — ME TOO!

  11. Benjamin (mine, this time) is a champion sleeper. At 6.5 (he’ll remind you of the 0.5 if you should ask) he gets up by himself to get a drink/pee/grab an everloving band aid and has for many years.

    Alex will be my challenge. He HAS been my challenge. And hell, right now, I just want some time OFF.

  12. oh god, yes. i am mostly a semi-cheerful, loving parent. but when there is not enough sleep, i am a semi-loving zombie who would sell my beloved child to gypsies just to lie down with my pillow.

    it’s a small flaw.

  13. I need my sleep and always figured (self-serving I know) that they needed their just as much as I needed mine. Thus, whenever I felt the mid-night wakings shifted from necessary (throw-up, nightmares) to optional (water, company) I made it clear that my need for sleep was not optional and if they wanted to stay awake, they could do it without me.

  14. My 13 year old suddenly wants to do nothing BUT sleep. Sunday, he slept until almost 1:00! The doctor assures me this is normal for kids approaching puberty. My 9 year old….he doesn’t sleep. Poor kid inherited my insomnia.
    Sleep issues are the pits!

  15. I don’t have kids, but I understand the pain of being woken up too soon. I don’t like getting up even after a full night’s sleep. I get *extremely* grumpy when I’m groggy.

  16. Oh yeah, I’ve had many of those nights. My 10 year old will still come and wake me (shortly after I’ve just fallen asleep) to tell me she can’t get to sleep. I am at my most bearish mood just after I fall asleep and have snapped and told her “Knock it off and just go to sleep! Go back to bed!”
    Of course in the morning, when I remember, I feel bad about it.

  17. I still have so many nights like this, and my girls are all teens. I tend to drift off to sleep, sitting in waiting rooms, in the dentist chair, getting my hair cut, when my husband is driving the car, etc. You name it, I’ve learned to snatch slumber when I can. I dream of a full night sleep.

  18. I can relate to this so well. My daughter is 2.5 and still doesn’t sleep through the night…never has. The moment I told my brother I was pregnant, he said “hurry, go to sleep. you’ll need it”….he wasn’t kidding.

  19. LA, LA, LA I can’t hear you LA, LA, LA.

    I refuse to hear that the sleep issues don’t magically go away in the second year.

    LA, LA, LA I can’t hear you LA, LA, LA.

  20. One more thing we have in common – waking me up is an assault on my person as well. And my problem is that once I wake up I’m up for 2-3 hours, even if the child is back to sleep in five minutes.

    Also, you are RIGHT about sleeplessness being the best kept secret in parenthood. When we hit our first sleepless stretch after the initial bliss of finally having an infant who was sleeping through the night, I was shocked. SHOCKED. Nobody told me that four-month-olds wake up at 4:30 every morning for two weeks straight, or that 15-month-olds wake up (as mine did this morning) soaked in a leaking diaper and unwilling to be put down long enough to change the sheets. This is what nobody tells you to expect when you’re expecting.

    Also, when you’re pregnant, sleep is especially precious. A two-week stretch is enough to test anyone’s patience.

  21. I would so rather lose sleep over a sweet little kids than lame ass nightmares, anyday

  22. They tortured Winnie Mandela with sleep deprivation, you know….. I remember those years all too well – sleep always seems like a precious commodity once you’ve had children ! I can promise you, though, it will soon get better.

  23. We’ve always shared the getting up at night but we both handled it as differently as our personalities are. Something that never would have worked for me, worked for dad: he lied down beside them in their beds and slept there for hours. Sometimes, he fell asleep before the kids … lol … gosh, what wouldn’t I give for a man’s sleep!

  24. I started highlighting sentences you wrote which were SO RIGHT ON that I was going to paste them here and say “this is SO RIGHT ON.” But it ended up being almost everything you said.


  25. Ugh… the sleep-deprived fog is here to stay I’m afraid (the rare nights the twins don’t come crawling into my bed, usually turn out to be the M walking/talking in his sleep nights). I hope you’re right about sleep-deprivation going away at puberty, but I’m afraid that’s when we’ll start lying awake, wondering where they are, what they’re doing and if they’ll come home by curfew…old age may be the next best chance for a good night’s sleep.