Updated: Oct 9, 2018
Sleep, or lack thereof, may be the most difficult thing about parenthood. In the past 5 years I can count on one hand...no, on 1 finger, how many nights of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep I have gotten. Yes, you read that right, 1 night in 5 years!
It started when I was pregnant with my oldest and I haven't slept well since then. Nights with her were so rough...so so rough! 30 minutes to an hour of sleep with an hour or more of crying in between. My husband and I traded off the rocking, bouncing, singing, and shushing. As she grew it did get better but, even at almost 5, she still wakes at least once every night. Sometimes she wakes just as frequently as our nursing infant.
Responding to Nighttime Needs
For as long as I can remember I have not been a good sleeper. Motherhood just made it worse. I have always tossed and turned throughout the night, had to get up to use the bathroom at least once per night, and I always need to have water by my bed because I get thirsty in the middle of the night. I may start the night off cold, but then I get too hot so I throw off the covers, then I have to pull them back on and stick one foot out to find the perfect balance. Is it any wonder that my eldest child also struggles with sleep?
The wonderful thing about Attachment Parenting is the understanding that children have nighttime needs just like they do during the day. This starts as an infant, a time when most people expect and accept that sleep is interrupted and you are just going to make the best of it when you can. But at what age do you stop meeting those needs? For me the answer is never. As long as my child has a need, even if it is in the middle of the night, I'm going to be there to attend to it. Can she get her own water glass off the nightstand at age 4? Of course. But as a therapist I know that there is more to her calling out for help with her water. It is the reassurance that I am there. It is dark, even with a nightlight on, and she is scared. She knows she can reach over and get a drink of water but she is scared and feels better, more secure, if Mama attends to her. And that understanding is what I take away from Attachment Parenting. My daughter's needs don't go away because it is 3AM, they just look different. In the middle of the night she needs reassurance that mom is there, she isn't alone, monsters aren't going to come up and get her from the crack between the bed and wall, and if she needs a snuggle I will respond with love and understanding.
These years are short when you think about the span of a child's lifetime. They are only little for so long and they only need you to meet nighttime needs for a phase of their life. I may be tired now but someday I will miss those sweet snuggles as my oldest drifts off to sleep. I will miss the midnight nursing sessions with my infant that turn into playtime because she feels rested after sleeping for 4 hours. I will miss the sound of my daughter crying out "Mama!" when she needs me to attend to her. I will miss being awoken by a foot in my back or a little hand on my face.
I won't deny that some nights I am tired and exhausted and the responsibility of meeting their needs drives me crazy. Just like every other parent out there I have begged and pleaded for them to "please, just go to sleep!" I have cried when they are overtired and won't stop crying. I have laid them down and walked away because I needed a break, just for one minute I needed a break! I have gotten frustrated and yelled and threatened, I'm not proud of it but it has happened. I have made myself sick with guilt for being tapped out and snapping and not being understanding or meeting their needs in a kind and loving manner. Those nights are the worst. When I go to bed crying because I am exhausted and I feel like the worst mom in the world. When I lay next to my baby and, even though they are asleep and don't know I'm there, I need to have that repair moment. I need to sweep my finger across their forehead and kiss their sweet cheeks and say "I'm so sorry baby, I love you, and I'm here."
The lack of sleep, the constant meeting of someone else's needs, it can drive a mama crazy sometimes. But on the whole there is so much beauty in the meeting of my children's nighttime needs. The memories that I'm making, even if they won't remember them, I will have to hold on to when they have long outgrown their need to have Mama attend to them in the middle of the night.
Will I ever sleep again? The answer is yes...someday. But in the meantime I will try to look at the positive side and know that I am doing the best for my babies, meeting their needs during the day as well as throughout the night. And when they are grown I can think back on the times when they needed me, their Mama, to rub their little baby feet, or bounce a certain way, or run my fingers through their hair, so they could sleep safe and sound...even if I couldn't.