Dear People Who Tell Me To Sleep When The Baby Sleeps,
The hardest part of being a new mom isn't the diaper-changing, or the lack of me-time, or the boredom of playing peek-a-boo for three hours because it's the only thing that'll calm down your teething infant. It's the sleep, or rather, the lack thereof. I consider it a "good" night if my baby gets three or four solid hours of sleep. Anything more than that is a luxury.
When I tell people this, what usually follows is a piece of advice I'm sure most new parents have heard once or twice. It goes a little something like this: "You just have to sleep when the baby sleeps."
I don't know about your baby, but mine loves to nap during the day. She's 5 months old, and her prime napping hours are from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. As for her actual bedtime, she'll either wake up every 20 minutes or roll around for hours on end, hoping someone will muster up enough energy to play with her.
The thing is, well-meaning friends and family, I can't make myself go to sleep at 11 a.m., or 3 p.m., or even 7 p.m. I'm a grown woman. I just can't. And if you stop to think about it, you might begin to understand just how problematic your advice to "sleep when the baby sleeps" really is.
You see, most mothers I know have responsibilities outside of taking care of their baby. Maybe they went back to work after a few months of maternity leave. Maybe they are self-employed, and they couldn't really afford to go on a proper maternity leave in the first place. Hell, maybe their employer didn't offer the option at all. Some moms have other kids to tend to besides a sleepless newborn. Others have to cook and tidy the house. Some might work at home, so they're around their child more regularly, but the thing is, they still have to work.
When you have a baby, there generally aren't enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done.
When you have a baby, there generally aren't enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done. Whether you're a stay-at-home mother or a working mommy, the same is usually true. There's always laundry that needs to be washed, an infant that needs to be fed, a meal that needs to be cooked, a spreadsheet to finish, a bath to take, a meeting to go to, or a doctor to visit. It's never-ending, and sleeping during the day — i.e., when the baby sleeps — just isn't feasible for most parents.
Sometimes, the things that need to be done around the house might not seem "essential." These things are usually related to your social life or your self-care routine. For example, I have a friend who cannot fathom why I don't take advantage of that 7:00 p.m. nap time to get some shuteye, but the simple truth is that 7:00 p.m. is when my partner comes home from work, and it's the only time of the day that I get to see him. For many couples, the early evening hours are the only hours they can actually have together during the week. Sacrificing them right now means sacrificing part of the relationship. It means risking feeling separated and distant from each other, at a time in our lives when we desperately need to feel connected.
I'm trying to remind myself that I'm a whole person, and not just a mommy.
The daytime is also when I try to see my friends. I'm five months into this parenting thing, and I'm still desperately trying to hold onto some piece of my social life by preserving my relationships with the people that matter to me most. I'm trying to stay connected to the friends I've flaked on countless times, the ones who still bother to email me even if they know they won't hear back right away. I'm trying to remind myself that I'm a whole person, and not just a mommy.
Although not sleeping for days on end has been one of the most difficult challenges of my entire life, I guess I would rather deal with the side effects of sleep deprivation than what might come from neglecting the rest of my life.
If I didn't make time to answer my friends' messages on Facebook, or take a quick shower, or buy some groceries, or wash my daughter's clothes, or keep on top of work, I know I would feel even more broken.
Sure, I may be moody or quick to anger. I may be hopelessly disoriented. But at least I'm not as overwhelmed as I would be if I slept during the day. If I didn't make time to answer my friends' messages on Facebook, or take a quick shower, or buy some groceries, or wash my daughter's clothes, or keep on top of work, I know I would feel even more broken. I know I'd begin to question my ability to balance my new identity as a mom with the person I've always been.
In all honesty, getting things done when my baby sleeps is incredibly satisfying. Yes, I'm exhausted, but I'm getting sh*t done anyway. I'm providing for my daughter, for myself, and for my family. I'm making sure the home stays put-together, which is something that makes me feel like I have a safe space to chill out in. I'm making sure my bills are paid. I'm making sure I take a few minutes of the day for self-care, whether that means a quick hot shower or a coffee break in the garden on a sunny afternoon. I'm making sure I don't stress myself out by forcing the to-do list on my phone to grow longer and longer. I might be totally exhausted by the end of the day, but at least I'm not buried in additional anxiety and piles of dirty baby clothes. So please stop telling me to sleep when my baby sleeps, when there's so much of the outside world that I still want (and need) to experience.