I know I should practice what I preach, but today I am not feeling very “accepting” of babies not sleeping. In fact, after a week of crappy sleep, I am feeling anything but accepting. The only words which spring to mind are those I cannot express in this forum, and the feeling somewhat resembles the come down after a weekend bender; hazy, exhausted, jittery, and a persistent dull ache behind the eyes. Funny how prior to becoming parents, we would willingly choose to stay up all night; and there was usually a correlation between less sleep equaling a better night. As I have said time and time again; this is all to be expected in the early weeks with a newborn, but I think we are so quick to forget how challenging it can be until we are in the thick of it… and just as well, otherwise I am certain there would be a lot more only children out there! In order not to forget, here is a run down of what you can REALLY expect sleep wise in the first 12 months!
So, what’s keeping me awake at nights right now? Like clock work, every morning between 2-6am, my poor little Jett suffers from wind/gas; squirming and making grunting noises which sounds like something out of the exorcist. Usually from 2 weeks (and sometimes even up to 3 months) babies begin to suffer from wind as their little bodies become accustomed to consuming milk; a big change from absorbing all their nutrients through the umbilical cord (with nasties filtered out by the placenta). Although the cause is not always known, there can be a number of physical triggers such as; mum’s diet, or air bubbles from sucking the dummy, guzzling milk, or poor attachment. Environmental factors can also cause this unsettledness (commonly occurring between 5-11pm – aka witching hour) and usually accompanied by constant crying. The main culprits are being overtired/over stimulated from either being awake too long at a time during the day, or too much going on in their environment – which sends their immature nervous systems into overdrive. This is why adhering to an age appropriate awake time becomes so important, as does optimising the sleep environment, and the use of various settling techniques that acknowledge our baby’s need for a fourth trimester. In more severe cases, the constant crying and wind like symptoms may be diagnosed as ‘colic’, in which case the above will still help, and in particular; swaddling, shushing, holding your baby in the side position, a swinging motion, and sucking (dummy or finger). Click here for further reading.
After three great weeks, the time has come where I can no longer hide underneath oversized trackies, grundies, and men’s t-shirts. I should wash my hair, hubby must go back to work, and I can no longer afford the luxury of lying in bed all day like lady muck whilst barking orders at him to fetch me food, nappies, wipes, phone, laptop, water, and point out the spots on the floor where he has clearly missed cleaning up food scraps after our two and four year old.
The visitors have come and gone, the excitement and happy hormones overrun by sleeplessness, and the stark reality sets in; how do I juggle THREE children? I struggle getting through the breakfast service without breaking a sweat, and the thought of attempting drop off/pick up or grocery shopping with three in tow absolutely petrifies me! It’s funny how economy of scale works with children; I remember after having two kids, looking after only one was like being on holidays (well, maybe a one-star camping holiday). To have just two kids now seems like a cake walk! I wonder whether this is true for mums who have 4 plus kids? I can’t imagine getting to the day where wrangling three kids is a breeze.
I always thought four was a nice even number, but I’ve been given the ‘no deal’ from hubby for any more. What doesn’t help my cause, is that he does have my declaration of “no more kids” on tape (whilst in the throws of labour). He is even planning to create some kind of musical remix just so he can play it to remind me anytime I mention pregnancy or babies in the future!
I have to say, my husband has been AMAZING running the household, and taking care of my other two children whilst I have been afforded the special one on one time to rest, breastfeed, and enjoy the scrumptious newborn cuddles with Jett these past couple of weeks. ..But as I watch him play rough and tumble and tickle their naked little bodies after a bath whilst they squeal with excitement; there is an all too-familiar feeling which creeps up inside of me: mother’s guilt. You can’t escape it once you are a mum; it comes with the job description. It’s the persuading little voice inside your head which whispers (or sometimes shouts) – “you’re not doing good enough. You need to play more with your kids. You’re a bad mum”. As the majority of my time is spent caring for our newest family member, I feel guilty that my other two aren’t getting enough of me. Then there’s the guilt that whilst hubby is the ‘good time’ parent who plays with them on their level like a care-free child; I am the #assholeparent; the fun police keeping everyone and the household in check. I am the one who is always yelling; “pick up your toys, put your dirty clothes in the wash, sit at the table to eat, flush the toilet, wipe your bottom, wash your hands, brush your teeth, don’t hold your trains near the baby’s head, don’t……” (insert about 1,000 demands here). That’s not fun at all.
And as if the mother’s guilt is not enough…somewhere along the way I have established the useless belief that as a mum I have to be able to ‘do it all’: manage a career whilst juggling young kids, bounce back to pre-baby shape within weeks of giving birth (I blame Cosmo for this), maintain a household, play with my kids 24/7, be able to whip up a meal in under 15 minutes like Jamie Oliver….and if you ask for help along the way – somehow this admits defeat or failure.
As mothers (and parents) there are so many expectations and conflicting advice (both professional, and within our social networks) on what we *should* and *shouldn’t* be doing when it comes to raising our children, and parenthood in general. We are our own worst enemies and harshest critics, and the pressure can be all-consuming… breastfeeding vs formula, natural vs western medicine, routine vs going with the flow, attachment vs traditional parenting, pro vax vs anti vax, cry it out vs no cry, nanny vs childcare, working mothers vs stay at home, and so on. Sometimes the greatest lesson, and also the greatest loneliness in parenting is realising that very few ever truly conform to your ‘map’ of the parenting world. Keep in mind this map will most likely change over the years, so it’s important never to judge another mum (or dad) for their different parenting ideals.. you may very well find yourself doing what you said you’d never do as a parent in the years to come – for me, this has been true of many things; junk food, dummies, television, technology, wishing time away, and sitting at the park on my iPhone whilst my kids (unbeknownst to me) take a tumble off the play equipment….. just to name a few!
…So here is some advice to me, from me; or any other mum dealing with the same parental guilt and pressures (whether self inflicted or not) :
- It is not our job as parents to always play with, or entertain our kids. Our job is to create a safe space where they are free to play, explore, learn and problem solve without us constantly interrupting them. Most of our children’s greatest learnings are during self-directed, independent play. A great read from Janet Lansbury on this here
- You’re doing a great job; this parenting gig (whilst rewarding) can be hard work at times. You’re not alone
- Get a house cleaner
- Set some realistic and timely goals which gives you something to work toward; family holiday, girls weekend, weight loss, fitness goals etc. Preparing a vision board is a fun and successful exercise for this
- You will not compromise your children’s emotional well-being just because the parental balance has temporarily shifted (refer to point about accepting help)
- If your husband is good enough to get down and dirty and play fun games with the kids; then that’s taken care of ✔
- Schedule regular YOU time to make you feel human- sleep, rest, get a massage, manicure, coffee (or wine) break, exercise, have a bath, meditate; whatever it is, make it alone time to re-group and breathe without children. Most of the time when things feel overwhelming, we are not giving to ourselves enough (or just sleep deprived!!)
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – friends, family, acquaintances. Offers for food, taking kids for a play date, pick ups/drop offs etc – what goes around comes around, and you can re-pay the favour when you are in a better place. Write a I owe you list if you are concerned you won’t remember!
- Guilt is not a resourceful emotion. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can help with this
- Prepare a detailed instruction list for house chores and operations (cleaning, washing, cooking, kids activities etc) so anyone can be assigned the responsibility if you are down and/or out
- Sign up for a weekly home delivery service (groceries, fruit and veggies, pre-prepared toddler meals if required)
- Find a hobby, activity, exercise, or anything that you love to do – and commit to doing this on a regular basis. We tend to lose ourselves as individuals when we have kids, so it is a good reminder to do something that keeps our own passion/fire/inspiration burning
- Play centres are a god send in Winter – avoid days staying home all day (especially if you have 2 + kids!)
- Don’t willingly put yourself in stressful situations in public where you are likely to wind up a raving demented lunatic (e.g. taking 3 kids under 4 out to a cafe for lunch, or food shopping solo. It’s unfair for us to place unrealistic expectations on our young children to behave like adults or comprehend adult concepts. They don’t respond like dogs to “sit down” or “stay still” (especially little boys), and their attention span barely covers the time it takes to scull a cappuccino. Stick to the play centre or park, and BYO lunch
- Don’t be fooled by Mister Maker’s ability to prepare crafty creations in under one minute. Craft activities and painting at home almost always ends in tears (yours, not your children’s); an hour of clean up for 5 minutes of toddler gratification = epic fail!
- Don’t judge, gossip about, or ridicule other mums for their parenting choices – especially when you know nothing about their journey or battles. Karma is a bitch, and you never know when you’ll find yourself doing the very thing you once got all judgey judgey about (speaking from experience here)
- Follow your gut and trust your parenting instincts, as only YOU truly know what is best for your child – not Jo Blow next door who advises you to dip their dummies in phenergan. Throw away the books, stop googling, and avoid being sucked into every other parent’s opinion and experience (forums on the net are rife with these); chances are they are not being as honest about their “great sleeper” as what they make out. Note: the actual definition of “sleeping through” pertains to 5 hours in a row!
- Sometimes it’s ok to choose the path of least resistance. There are times where you just have to do what is best for your sanity and well-being (regardless of what we think we *should* be doing). If this means you’ve recruited Peppa Pig to babysit your kids a little more often than you’d like to admit; chances are, you’re not alone, and your kids will live to see another day. Don’t beat yourself up, we are all just doing the very best we can, with the resources, upbringing, and genes we have been given
Signing off with love….
Sophie & Jett xo