It’s Dark In Here

I thought I had reached the light at the end of the tunnel.  After eight long months of waking every three hours (and sometimes every one hour or every 45 minutes), my daughter began sleeping ten to eleven hours.  Straight.  Every night.  As the barrage of sleepless nights came to an end, I emerged from my bunker and stopped moving through the world like a zombie.   My husband and I were reacquainted over dinners; I started exercising again; I even watched a little TV!  Most importantly, I started sleeping too.  But things fall apart: after three weeks of nighttime peace, my daughter stopped sleeping so soundly.  Eleven hours became eight, and getting her to sleep became the new challenge.

Having been to the promised land, this backslide is hard to accept.  Rationally, I know this problem is inconsequential, but rational thought does nothing to temper the havoc that sustained sleep deprivation can wreak in your life.  Sleep deprivation, however, is only part of the problem.  The larger problem is my reaction to the deprivation.  For eight months, I was somebody I didn’t like: sarcastic, short-tempered, exceedingly inflexible, quick to assign blame.  I would write that I was somebody I didn’t recognize, but the truth is that I did recognize the person I had become; sleep deprivation just amplified those negative aspects of my personality that I manage to keep under wraps with nine hours of sleep a night.  The advent of a sleeping baby allowed me to neatly wrap those character flaws back up, much to the relief of my husband.  As I now watch her newly established sleeping patterns slip away, I also watch my personality flaws reemerge.  Tensions are again rising in my home, in my relationships, and in my heart.

Parents can pass on character failures to their children, and I worry about what I am teaching her about handling stress.  If I don’t want her to lash out when chaos fills her life, I have to learn to keep my head when chaos comes to mine.  But this lesson is hard, and rational thought again fails me.  I know what it is I need to learn, but I’m not sure how to learn it.  How, in the middle of my frustration and exhaustion, can I find a light in the tunnel, and not merely at the end?

8 thoughts on “It’s Dark In Here

  1. That’s a tough time. We went through it with teething. Suddenly our “great” sleeper was an up all night crying mess, and mom and dad were zombies at our jobs.

    Its a cliche, but it passes. I hope you find ways to cope that you feel good about!

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  2. Oh man! I wish I had some advice to offer but I can only offer support and a virtual hug! Know that we have ALL been there. It passes–only to be replaced by the other fun aspects of parenting (like playing musical beds all night with a 3 and 5 year old!) Ak!

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  3. Nazie and Amanda: I take it from your comments that either (1) you both find nothing unusual about my Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde routine when sleep deprived, or (2) neither of you had the heart to tell me that I need to pull it together and stop coping so poorly. LOL!

    I really think there’s a larger issue here, that the challenge of having a baby is just amplifying; my inability to be sane under pressure, or to see the larger picture (and thus put things in perspective), when stressed out. I know she’ll eventually sleep; but this character flaw will likely remain unless I do something about it…

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  4. The only thing predictable about children is that they are unpredictable. Therefore, the other parts of my life are flexible to reflect that unpredictability. Nights where I don’t get sleep because child #1 has monsters in their room and child #2 took a nap until 5pm and just refuses to stay in their room are days when I may not get to class and the kids watch tv for a great part of the afternoon while I sit like a zombie on the couch. My schedule is sparse — class, work, home. Blocks of non-scheduled time are a neccesity because something will always come up – the babysitter is sick, someone needs to go to the doctor, the car breaks down.

    The bad parts of yourself when sleep deprived – gir, I know that feeling. LaToya + stress does not equal a very nice person. But I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it. While this may not be a popular viewpoint, my therapist tells me that our children are now in a re-conscious period, where they will not remember these years where parenting is at its most stressful. I yell more than I hoped I would when I thought of myself as a parent, but it is really frustrating dealing with a 4 year old and a 2 year old when you are trying to get out of the door at 7:20 in the morning to an appointment 30 minutes away that’s really in 20 minutes and one is throwing a tantrum and the other one is whining and you haven’t had your morning coffee because you have to fast for the procedure and neither kid has eaten and it’s raining outside. Or when you’ve cooked dinner and then they decided that’s not what they want to eat but you have a student over email that’s having a crisis. Or when you’ve run out of juice at dinnertime and all you have is water and you have a paper due at 8am but there is a mutiny going on about the juice situation and your 2 year old just threw her water on the floor. Who is expected not to be stressed out over that? And in your case, who is expected not to be stressed out when working and not sleeping?

    As moms, we have to develop some compassion for ourselves. We are not super-beings, we are human beings. We are not the sole determinants of our children’s personalities, or the sole teachers of how to handle stress. Our children are agents as well, who will learn from many people, not just from us. The fact that almost all new moms and moms of small children have similar experiences should tell us something, and that is that the idea of a mom that doesn’t yell or doesn’t feel stressed or doesn’t get snippy at her husband or doesn’t feel overwhelmed is a MYTH. The fact that you are conscious of your emotions, thoughts, and actions is a lesson that she is blessed to be receiving from you.

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    1. Thanks for this, Toya! Your candor helped me feel a lot less out of control! Sometimes I just sit on the floor, and let the baby climb all over me, or just watch her play. I feel bad that I’m not directly engaging her, but it’s like “you’re fed, dressed, and dry; that’s all I can muster today!” I also never thought that maybe being conscious of my emotions is also a lesson in itself. I won’t soon forget that.

      Good to remember that children are not storing all our less-than-the-best parenting days in their memory; but what DO we think they take from us at this age? Does their brain record our loving touches, or kind words, anywhere in there???

      Finally, babies are really hard on marriage! My goodness…

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  5. This is very hard because I know how you feel and I’m not a new mom, so I’m afraid that feeling might not go away. Except to say that I have not exercised regularly except one summer since I’ve been a mom and I did feel really good that summer. Maybe you should make that the one thing you do not sacrifice so that you will have lots of energy and be generally more upbeat. (I will follow that same advice, any day now 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Tanji! I’ve been trying to play tennis again. I’m a class person, so eventually I’ll have to take a good hard look at the Wellness Center schedule, and figure something out.

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  6. Show how to handle stress by helping her to develop hobbies and rituals.

    I’ve had a lot on my shoulders for the past few months, and while hunting for treasures in the $1 record bins, I said to myself, “If I keep myself busy digging through the crates, maybe a new summer of surprises and love will be here sooner rather than later.”

    …Encourage her even at her age to take walks, to make those little things for herself that are tools to process stress.

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