queen of faff

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Sleep when they sleep

12 Comments

Sleep when she sleeps” was the most well intended, ubiquitous and overwhelmingly unhelpful piece of advice I received after the birth of my daughter.

I say ubiquitous because in the early days it really did feel like everyone I met who noticed I had a newborn would say it to me. Not just friends and family, but my midwife, health visitor, the supermarket cashier (upon noticing my baggy eyes and pale face).

I say well intended, because it was just that. The message really being that I was important too and that my rest was also important. After all, if I didn’t take care of myself, how was I going to take care of my baby.

It remains however, one of the most unhelpful things people have ever uttered to me following the arrival of our small person, regardless of the thoughtful intent behind the words. It is even more frustrating to hear when you are sleep deprived and just generally exhausted.

The reason it is so unhelpful is because quite simply – in my world at least – it just doesn’t work like that.

Take my baby for example, she is not a good napper. She also does not cope well with being tired. Trying to persuade a baby that she needs a nap when she is quite positive that she doesn’t, is one of the less enjoyable aspects of parenthood. She naps very easily if she is being pushed around in the buggy, or taken for a drive in the car, or gently rocked in my arms from side to side. A little impractical for me though, to be napping while I am doing any of those things for her.

She often falls asleep after feeding, but she is a light sleeper during the day, and will wake as soon as I move her (regardless of how long I wait to move her!). I often have to weigh up whether it’s more important for me to move to do x,y or z, or whether I should sit still with her on my lap for as long as she needs to sleep.

This post isn’t really about the sleep patterns of my child though.  What motherhood is making me increasingly aware of is our use of language and the failing communication between what people say and what they mean. “Sleep when she sleeps” is just an example. It works really well for babies that nap well and parents that fall asleep easily (I suppose exhaustion might do that to you). For the rest of us – it makes us wonder if we could have pre-ordered the sleeping variety.

I saw a facebook post recently of a response that my sister had given to a desperately tired and sleep deprived new mum. She said “Nap when you can”. A subtle difference in the choice of words perhaps and the same intended message, but if someone had used that phrase for me in the early days it would have made a big difference to the message I received and the associated pressure that I felt because I wasn’t managing to sleep through the day.

I’m typing this blog while my baby sleeps. Trouble is that the reason she is sleeping is because she is in a sling on my back and my earlier walking around the house lulled her to sleep. If I take her out, she will wake up.

So, I don’t sleep when she sleeps.

But I will nap when I can.

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12 thoughts on “Sleep when they sleep

  1. Wise words! People always extrapolate from the particular to the general. It was so for me and so it must be like that for everybody. Earlier today I heard a lady asked (foolishly, in my opinion) asked what the gender of William and Kate’s baby might be. Actually she was asked by a BBC person what sex the bay might be. But don’t get me going on the misuse of the sex word! Anyway this lady ventured that it would be a boy because he is late and my first was a boy and late. So there you have it, first borns who are late are likely to be boys! If they had asked me I would have said that as long as it is not a giraffe I don’t mind.

  2. I know what you mean. Even now I get it when I’m tired and mine are 3 and 1 – how can I nap when #2 is sleeping .. just let #1 roam the house? Not to mention the fact that no matter what I do, I just cannot fall asleep in the day. I have to be seriously ill to sleep in the daytime and even then it will take as long to fall asleep as I get back from actually sleeping. I would be stuffed in these countries where they take a siesta!

  3. Yeah I think it’s alot about the communication, but also sometimes the judgements of other people’s parenting, as if there is a right and wrong way that applies to everyone. There’s not enough recognition of each child’s uniqueness, and that family’s attempts to respond to uniqueness.

    • Indeed! Was thinking only the other night about how big the mind map would be if you branched off every different parenting choice you could make eg breastfeeding vs formula feeding. Then if you chose formula which one etc. Thinking about nappy choices, sleep choices, weaning choices. It would be endless. V arrogant for anyone to assume they have ALL the answers and sometimes thoughtless to try and impose what they think is right on someone else. As you say, each child unique, therefore needs tailor made approach :) Not easy to remember that no-one knows your baby better than you in the midst of all that ‘advice’ and pressure though….

  4. I feel your pain. When mine was tiny she would only sleep in the car or pram if I took her for a walk. I remember her screaming at a post natal group and heard a ‘friend’ comment to another ” That poor baby must be really unhappy being in that pram!” No she just didn’t want a nap!

  5. I love this. The other thing is though, that even when I wanted to sleep i couldn’t, because I was just stuck staring in wonder at my new little bundle. Lots of friends have said to me “put bub in the cot to sleep.” I actually find he settles better with the tv on, on his little couch in our lounge room rather than silence to which ill probably get 20 minutes to myself. Only you know what is best for you and unfortunately i feel your frustration in advice being so generalised like its “just that easy” for everyone. I must admit in the beginning my child slept like a dream, then teeth came and routine was abolished. Hes now one and like i said, prefers a buzzing environment to a quiet one. The vaccum sends him to sleep and I got an app called sleep lite that has a recording of a hairdryer. Pure magic! Thanks for the honest account! EJ

    • Thanks so much for your reply. Our baby too slept like a dream (8-10 hours a night from 6 weeks) until teething started! It’s not the lack of sleep that bothers me so much, it’s recognising in myself that I’m doing what’s best for her. Like other people have commented, we have to trust ourselves to do what is best for our babies. And once we get the next routine cracked it’ll be time to change it again! Now I’m off to look at the app you mentioned ;)

  6. I love the sentiment of this article, I remember being told the same over and over. I also recall the moment I got my daughter to sleep, in her Moses basket, put my head on my pillow and closed my eyes only for her to wake up again. I felt so much worse for thinking I was going to get a sleep then not that I never attempted it again! However I can’t say I’ve ever had the chance to nap either. Perhaps “Rest when you can” would be a good alternative?

    • Thank you Lisa. I too have attempted napping only for her to wake up when I’m in a deep sleep and end up feeling worse. I think for me it’s the general communication to new parents – mum’s in particular (see earlier post when I was asked what my hobby was!). It’s becoming much more apparent that people don’t necessarily mean what they say but not always possible for new and/or under-confident parents to hear the intended message behind the choice of words used. I might start a “say what you mean” campaign! Although I am probably guilty of it myself…..

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