I haven’t slept in three years. I miss it.
I always knew that having kids meant less sleep, but I was convinced that once we were past the newborn stage and our children were finally out of nappies, we would return to our regular scheduled programme. Of course, I also thought that I’d never bribe my kids with sweets and would limit TV time but, as I’m writing this, they’re both well into their third episode of Peppa Pig and wolfing down a giant marshmallow I just gave them. It’s safe to say pre-children me was pretty naïve.
Far from having both kids sleeping through, I spent last night bouncing between every bed in the house, stumbling through the dark in search of their dummies, despite both of them being too old for the damn things, and eventually resorting to making my son a bottle of rooibos when he just wouldn’t settle. He’s almost three.
The worst part about nights like these, aside from the stiff back from sleeping in a toddler bed, is that there is never a chance to catch up on sleep. Afternoon naps are a thing of the past and sleeping in past 6am is rare. It seems children, mine at least, are hardwired to wake when the sun rises. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to winter. The blackout curtains I bought haven’t managed to fool them – I’m still woken every morning at the crack of dawn by the pitter patter of tiny feet down the passage.
“I was very disciplined about following a strict sleep routine when my daughter was born but when my son came along 16 months later, I quite honestly didn’t have the energy.”
Load shedding provided some reprieve. I insisted that if the lights were out it simply wasn’t time to wake up. That tactic worked for a while, until we were moved to a new load-shedding schedule and the lights were in fact on at 6am.
I suppose the one positive about having done such a poor job at getting my children into a good sleep routine is that I am far more productive – by 8am I’ve already done most of the things on my to-do list. Of course, I’m also onto my third cup of coffee by then, but what mother doesn’t run on caffeine?
I know I have only myself to blame. I was very disciplined about following a strict sleep routine when my daughter was born but when my son came along 16 months later, I quite honestly didn’t have the energy. Perhaps it was the small age gap, or maybe it’s just what happens with the second child. You follow the rule book for baby number one but second time around you simply choose the path of least resistance, which in my case meant rocking my son to sleep every night until I was dripping with sweat and giving him a bottle whenever he woke up demanding milk.
Of course, I think getting your children into a healthy bedtime routine is very important and I encourage every mother to try. God knows I’m trying (and failing miserably most nights), but I’ve also come to accept that sleep isn’t linear. Leaps in development, changes to their environment – be it welcoming a new sibling, moving home or starting school – and illness can all turn a good sleeper into a bad one.
My daughter is a prime example. She pretty much slept through from eight weeks old (part of the reason my son’s aversion to sleep threw me) but as soon as her brother was born, her world was turned upside down – and so was her sleep pattern. She’s slowly settling back into a good routine – almost three years on – but my son is still a terror at night.
For a while, I beat myself up about it, but as mothers we already carry so much guilt, I decided not to take this on too.
As my mother-in-law said, whose boys all slept in her bed for the first three years, eventually they will stop needing you during the night and will sleep in their own beds, and while you’ll enjoy getting your eight hours, you’ll miss those cuddles and the smell of them next to you. So, do your best to get them into a routine because it’s as good for them as it is for you, but also don’t be so hard on yourself (or them) if they’re just not ready.
Jessica is a writer and editor from Cape Town – and a mum of two toddlers. Suffering from major mom guilt trying to juggle life and motherhood, she recently started a blog, realhometruths.com, to celebrate the mess and the magic of motherhood.