My friend Sue Scheiner once told me that your last good night of sleep is the night you conceive your first child. She was absolutely right.
Before I had children, I was an excellent sleeper. I’d count it among my best skills when I was in my 20’s. Saturdays and Sundays it would not be unusual for me to sleep until noon. With few worries and no one to feed, change or drive anywhere, my sleep was uninterrupted.
Then I had kids. The first years were filled with babies that wouldn’t sleep through the night—and then when they did I would check on them to make sure they were still breathing. As early morning came and I would finally relax and fall into a deep sleep, one of them would wake up and be ready to start the day.
Although my children were good sleepers, there were often middle of the night issues that woke us. Other families report bedwetting, sleepwalking, night terrors, vomiting and growing pains as reasons their children would interrupt their slumber. One woman told me of finding her daughter yelling for help from under the bed in their guest room and a few moms recounted finding their boys standing and peeing in random parts of the house.
Cyndi Sheridan, mother of twin boys, said, “Sure, I am a great mother from 6 a.m. until about 10 p.m.. After that all I want to do is sleep undisturbed because that's the only time no one is making demands on me. Luckily my husband is more of a night owl, so he has traditionally been the one to handle middle of the night crises. Before having children all couples should talk about how they will handle middle of the night and early morning demands -- especially in two career couples when neither can catch 20 winks during the day.”
I know people who would wake their sleeping children to balance nap schedules and bedtime. For me, it was a challenge to get everything done I could while they were still asleep. Toby Goldsmith talked about the advice she and her friend Naomi Adler agreed upon: “never wake a sleeping child until you need to get them moving.”
There was an old joke that said that when you have a baby, you should sleep when they do--the problem is that it’s hard to sleep when you are driving. Early mornings and late nights when they are all finally asleep and the house is quiet is the best time to get any work done. I wrote my first book from 6 a.m.- 8 a.m. many mornings. If I want to get things accomplished, I have to force myself out of bed early, even if it means only getting four or five hours of sleep.
“I find that I have no problem sleeping given the opportunity. It's the opportunities that are lacking!” Allison Jaynes, mother of four boys, said. “In general, I feel like there are literally just not enough hours in the day to get everything done. Just to get through a workday, dealing with kids needs when they crop up midday (who doesn't dread those calls from the nurses office), then the after school run-around then the crazed dinner and helping with homework and nagging and quizzing and it feels like we are all-kids-all-the-time till 10 p.m. or later.
"And then THAT is when I have to start all the OTHER stuff. Bill paying, carpool planning, vacation planning, event planning…the list just never ends and I'm generally up WAY WAY too late trying to keep up. And as expected, that leaves me with too little sleep and no catch-up time (and yes cranky). I keep saying I'll sleep when they go to college! UGH!”
Then there’s the worry. Many nights I’ll wake up at three or four in the morning and my brain clicks on. This article was started at 3:58 last Friday morning as I was in a hotel room with my daughter on a college visit and I couldn't sleep. Often, my “to-do” lists and anxiety over things that are happening start swirling around and returning to sleep becomes impossible.
I’m sure that worry never goes away because my mom still mentions it happening to her. And my grandmother will get up in the middle of the night and, unable to fall back to sleep, she’ll start cleaning. Cleaning is not my go-to activity for insomnia, but I can relate to the inability to return to slumber.
As the children get older, there is often a sleep reversal. Liz Berg noted a shift in her family, “For the last two years I have gone to bed earlier than both of my children. They have been faithfully ‘tucking me in’ for quite a while. It's a pattern that I don't see changing any time soon.”
Gone are the long, sleep-filled mornings. I miss it, but the things that being a mom have brought to my life make it okay. Thank goodness for coffee!