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Melody Thomas shares some of the lessons learned while parenting two kids on very little sleep…
Of the phrases peppering modern communication there is none more cruelly misleading than “sleeping like a baby”. How on earth it came to mean to experience a deep and restful sleep is completely beyond me. Was the first utterer of this idiom demented? Had they ever met a baby? Did they actually mean to say that they had spent the entire night groaning and writhing about trying to poo and waking hourly for snacks and sleeping only when their full weight was pressed on top of another person, but their meaning was misconstrued?
Sleep deprivation is the absolute worst, hardest, shittiest part of parenting. It is torture. No, actually: sleep deprivation is used as an interrogation technique by organisations like the CIA – producing symptoms ranging from irritability, difficulty concentrating, poor judgement and an increase in appetite to disorientation, apathy and social withdrawal. Any of that sound familiar?
As you’ve no doubt heard already, time has a way of speeding up once kids arrive.
What they don’t tell you is that time also slows down, turns inside out, and disappears entirely. Whole weeks fly by despite the fact that every single day making up those weeks felt like it would never end. If you’re the main parent at home you’ll know all too well how the two hours before the other parent finishes work are actually more like four, whereas if you’re lucky enough to be given half an hour to lie down or have a shower the time is gobbled up in about three minutes. And it’s best not to ever look back on photos of yourselves from before babies – a year in the life of a parent equates to about five when it comes to ageing.
On mental health:
There will be days when you feel like your identity and the life you once knew is lost to you; like all of the great things you spent however many decades becoming have fallen away and all that remains is a tired, unfamiliar shell of a person called “Mum”.
On these days hormones will cast you as an emotional female stereotype bursting randomly into tears, eating way too much sugar and yelling at people who don’t deserve it. But then you’ll wake up the next day or the following week or month and you’ll be feeling good again. You might even put some makeup on, or clothes that aren’t leggings. And while those horrible spells won’t completely disappear for a while (maybe ever?) they will become fewer and farther between until you barely remember them anymore (*although it’s important to talk to someone about it if they don’t).
Because Western society celebrates individuality there is an unspoken narrative in which asking for help or relying on others makes us failures, and as a result we’ve become incredibly good at pretending everything is fine.
But chances are, every single one of your uber-competent, super-Mum friends experiences self-doubt, guilt or anxiety a good deal of the time, and they are just waiting for someone else to give them permission to bring it up. Talk to your friends. Watch as relief floods their expressions, and enjoy the new-found strength that comes from solidarity and shared experience.
If parenting is something you’re doing with someone else, be ready for your relationship to change. Prepare to become like ships in the night, trading information about pick-ups and drop-offs and nap times before sailing to your beds at opposite ends of the house. You will go whole days without checking in, weeks without saying something affectionate, and don’t even get me started on the sex.
But at some stage you’ll find yourself together in the same bed, cuddled up like you used to, talking about something other than the kids – and provided it was there in the first place you’ll realise with relief that that good, solid foundation you built this relationship on still remains, and is in fact better and stronger than ever. Revel in that moment. Have sex if you’re up to it. Or else just sleep.
There’ll be plenty of time for sex when the kids move out.