It’s a parenting meme and observation that is cemented across all of social media and quite possibly all of time: sleep deprivation. It’s cure: coffee and complaining (or at least that’s what Facebook memes tell me). I would love to tell new and future parents that this is an exaggerated happenstance of kids and that sufficient sleep is absolutely attainable when building a family. But I’d also love to tell other people that kids are inexpensive and don’t take much of your personal time, but we know that’s not true. In my experience, the meme rings true as short nights and I have become quite familiar bedfellows. Everly is just over three months old, which translates to neither my wife nor I having a single night in over three months with more than 5 hours of consecutive sleep. The question is not “Did we wake up during the night?” but rather “How many times did we wake up?” If the answer is two or less, we consider that a win.
I love a good parenting meme and, if you follow me on Instagram (parental_grit) or Twitter (@parentalgrit), you probably know that sarcastic complaining about parenthood is currently one of my favorite pastimes (who needs all the hobbies I enjoyed pre-kids, no?). While I enjoy lamenting with other parents on the challenges of raising children, the underlying distinction of my complaining is that I view sleepless nights as an invariable condition and not as a repressive obstruction and potential rationalization. That is, I view sleepless nights as my permanent reality (for now, at least) and not as an excuse or hindrance to prevent me from moving forward with my goals. If we, as parents, open that door (I didn’t accomplish X because of a rough night’s sleep), then we’ll never be able to close it again. If we can find a way to view sleepless nights the way we view say, the weather outside (out of our control), then we can stop treating it as a burden and an obstruction but rather as an annoyance. Exhaustion is like a bothersome gnat or mosquito, it’s just not enough of a reason to avoid going outdoors.
Unfortunately, the world doesn’t much care about our sleep deprivation, does it? While my coworkers can probably recognize my bloodshot eyes, mismatched outfits, crooked hair, and disastrous countenance, it doesn’t mean I’ll receive any grace when it comes to what I need to accomplish. As parents, we will have to succeed professionally on innumerable nights of 3 and 4 hours sleep. We will have to manage being patient and present for our children when our energy tanks are flashing EMPTY. Everything from friendships to side hustles will only be built and maintained on fleeting energy bursts in the most inconvenient hours. I had a rough night of sleep simply doesn’t fly in most situations. So we are left with enduring the exhaustion and plowing through our objectives anyway. After all, if it were easy, it’d hardly be memorable.
The truth is that I will inevitably extol the virtues of proper rest in some random wellness post in the future because I do believe that sleep is essential to optimum health. To be clear, my wife and I do everything we can to aid each other in catching up on sleep whenever possible. I wake up with the girls every weekend morning and do my best to keep them pacified as long as possible so my wife can sleep. She fights through the exhaustion of a long day to put both girls down and give me an occasional opportunity for an early bedtime. But parenting, in absence of a more eloquent expression, is what it is. Newborns will stretch their sleep habits at different and perplexing speeds. The toddler will teethe and sleep in small two-hour pockets for weeks on end. Daycare viruses and bugs will quickly grind an entire week of sleep to a halt. Heck, my toddler even manages to poop herself awake several times a month!
I’ll close with one of my current favorite quotes, “Sleep less and dream more.” Perhaps blogging isn’t my actual dream, but I can say that cataloguing my family’s early beginnings, writing stories, and connecting with other parents have become a passion. It’s the reason it’s 11:45 pm and I’m writing on my computer and not sleeping, even though I know the baby will be stirring by 1:30 am and the toddler will be up at 5:45 am (and that’s assuming she has an uninterrupted night!). So take an extra shot of espresso, laugh deliriously at your utter exhaustion, and proceed anyway. The world may not care about how much you slept last night, but it does care about all the wonderful things it’s patiently waiting for you to contribute.