Back in July, I had almost an entire week of proper sleep. This was right after I visited a naturopath because I thought for sure my hormones must have been out of whack – I was irritable, emotional, exhausted and kind of all over the place. She decided I wasn’t sleeping enough and that I needed nine uninterrupted hours of sleep each night. Nine hours. That meant a 9:30 bed time, which is frankly impossible. She gave me herbs to help me fall asleep faster, and I slept with a mask to keep the sunshine from waking me up before I wanted to be awake. After that week, I felt like a new human. The problem turned out to be a lack of sleep, (my hormones are just fine) but since that glorious week of rest, I haven’t been able to nab another nine hour stretch. As I type this, I feel a bit weepy. I wish I hadn’t experienced what good rest feels like because despite those few days, the reality is this: young kids make sleep impossible.
Why Young Kids Make Sleep Impossible:
- They insist on sleeping with you. Okay, maybe yours don’t. Maybe you chose not to co-sleep with your child from day one because getting out of bed for feedings in the middle of the night seemed a small price to pay for the freedom you would enjoy later on. Maybe you don’t have to convince your almost-four-year-old that his own bed in his lovely room is perfectly safe and awesome. Good for you. My nipples were like hamburger meat and I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown in my early days of motherhood. But you were probably smarter, and you’re probably a much nicer person than me in the mornings.
- You can’t sleep when they don’t sleep with you. My little guy isn’t the only one who got used to sleeping with another human every night. Whenever he sleeps with his other mama, or has an overnight with the grandparents, I inevitably hit a spot in my bedtime routine where I suddenly feel like a limb is missing and my heart and soul aches for his sweaty little head on the pillow beside me. The truth is, I sleep the very best when it’s just him and I in bed. He’s the only biological child I will ever have, and he’s growing up so fast. Go ahead and laugh. You can probably see how I got myself into this mess.
- Daddy starts to resent everyone. When your husband wants you all to himself, do you think it’s fun to have to race against the clock to get ‘er done before the little boy (who managed to finally fall asleep in his own bed) comes pounding on the door because he wants to sleep with you? It’s not, believe me. There’s nothing fun about knowing that having an orgasm will be next to impossible because you can’t stop wondering when one pounding will start and the other will end. Then, with two adults and a four-year-old squished together in a queen sized bed, nobody’s sleeping well. There are toes where toes should never go. Inexplicable scratches in the morning. Flailing and maiming of all varieties. I swear, my man has started snoring like a beast just to get back at me for insisting on co-sleeping in the first place.
- They spit in the face of progress. Just when you think you’re getting ahead with a new routine, your kid brings back some disgusting virus from day care and ends up with a fever for an entire week. A WHOLE WEEK! The doctor sends you home with a Roseola diagnosis, no big deal really. Except you aren’t sure how to keep a close eye on them and regulate their sometimes terrifying temperature spikes without setting an alarm every hour, and so back into your bed they go. You start to wonder if the weird little tic they’ve adapted where they compulsively lick their fingers is a small part of a much larger, much more diabolical plan.
- They try to touch your boobs. Like, constantly. Even when you tell them you don’t want them to touch your body because you’re trying to teach them about consent. God forbid they end up growing up to be some asshole frat boy with a sense of entitlement and a healthy grasp on misogyny, but you can’t explain that to a three-and-a-half year old, can you? No way. I say “It’s my body and I don’t want you to touch my breasts right now.” He says “But Mommy, you fed me with them when I was a baby so they belong to me too.” Then he flashes that winning smile and his huge brown eyes dance. Or he has several ‘accidents’ where he’s quick to apologize, but a boob is inevitably touched. My grandma had a boyfriend like that once. I know consent is important, (believe me, I know) but sometimes it’s too hot to sleep with a t-shirt on, and honestly I’m just so freaking tired. If I pretend I’m asleep, is it still wrong?
How to Reclaim Your Right to Sleep
Obviously the answer is ‘get the kid to sleep in his own bed’. Or maybe it’s ‘Daddy and son can switch rooms half way through the night.” Whichever the case, it’s easier said than done people. We’re long past the point where we can leave him in his room to cry it out. I’m not about to lock him in there, or barricade the door to keep him in because it’s really not his fault that he’s learned to depend on someone in bed with him to sleep with. Last night he said to me (through tears) “I want to be like daddy. Every night he gets to sleep with either you or Ulla Mumva*.” I tried to explain that when he was a grown up, he could find someone to love and sleep beside too. Then he trumped me with “But I thought you loved me?” Soul-crushing, really.
*His name for my partner Sarah, which grew out of his original name for her ‘Other Mama’.
We are in tense negotiations over here. Deals are being brokered every day:
You can come for a morning snuggle.
I will sit in this chair beside you until you fall asleep.
I’m taking you back to your own bed, and I’ll tuck you in again (x 1,000)
If you sleep in your own room for five nights we can get that stupid, over-priced plastic piece of junk you saw on YouTube and decided you must have.
Look, here’s a sticker! (you only made it until 2:30 am before daddy was so tired from re-tucking you that he lost all reason, and mommy ended up sleeping in your tiny bed because daddy was snoring so loud and you wouldn’t stop touching my boobs.) If you get four more, you can pick a new toy at the toy store.
Your sisters always slept in their own beds. (To which he responds “Yes, but they always shared a room so they had somebody to keep them company.” Can I remind you here that he’s THREE AND A HALF?)
He’s starting full time school in a month, and part of me wonders if this is really the time to introduce more change. I mean, we just phased out night time diapers for godssakes. How much is too much?
Co-sleeping parents how did you do it? How did you finally make the transition? How did you have uninterrupted sex with your partner? How did you convince your little one that sleeping alone is a great skill to master and that it didn’t mean they had to sleep alone every single night?
I need some advice, some encouragement, and some rational thinking. After all, I’ve only slept truly well for about a week in the last three-and-a-half years.