In Time, Your Child Will Sleep

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Let’s talk about kids. I’ve got three of them.

They’re going to be the end of me, but I love them to death. And, for a while, that death felt like it would come from lack of sleep. It doesn’t get more primal than kids and sleep in sweet harmony. At least not for a quiet man living in the comfort of modern civilization. We’re all feral to some extent. You connect with that part of yourself once you’ve tried to nurse a child to sleep for the seventh night. And failed. Hour after hour. After hour.

That’s the thing with modern technology: It can measure and coach you to a good night’s sleep, but it only takes the cry of a child to realize that, sometimes, the only thing that works is simply being there. It’s not by neglect or coincidence that concepts designed to help us get a better night’s sleep rarely account for the chaos of domestic life. In those concepts, we are all young or young-ish. We drink green smoothies and we run with friends through parks. We are not tired. We smile. In those imaginings, we are the group of people least likely to need help. But we’re the ones most likely to latch onto any tool that says it can.

Fat chance it’ll help once that special someone comes into your life, tiny and soft with a voice like an opera diva. When the child cries, it breaks your app’s machine learning and cracks your fitness bracelet in two. Our years of research and development won’t last a minute against a child on a rampage against sleep.

But you can last. You will last.

Why? Because you got the best goddamn invention ever designed to understand sleep, and that’s your body. But to learn it, you’ve got to feel it. And while this is true for any situation, this is your baseline, and it’s never as important as when you’re fighting fatigue on a playing field where someone else sets the rules. You can’t feel it if you’re fiddling with settings or configuring a wearable. Put those things away. They won’t help.

Instead, accept the situation. Embrace it.

Acknowledge that you are dead tired. Feel no shame in your frustration. Love has plenty of room for frustration — as long as you’re honest about it. Hold your child. Hold them close. Even when they scream. Wear those headphones that workers at construction sites do. If weather allows it, take a nightly walk. Sleep when your child sleeps. Shower tomorrow. Don’t bother about chores. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a partner that can worry about those. Work on the routines. Evening is for bedtime, night is for sleep. Don’t take advice from people who prey on your emotions. No one knows the bond between you and your child better than you do. Cancel any social obligations that don’t give you good energy. You don’t have to meet your friends and pretend that having a kid is great. It’s okay to scream into the pillow and pound on the walls. Love is primitive, rarely pretty. That’s why it’s beautiful.

Because in time, your child will sleep through the night. Your memory of these battles will fade. You’ll fire up that app or bracelet again, count your steps, note your calories and read your sleep journals. Graphs and charts will once again try to tell you something about who you are and who you could be. That’s not a bad thing. Technology is great when it can teach you something about yourself.

But there will be situations when it has nothing to offer. That’s when you take a pause and stay in the present. You enjoy the silence from your machines as you listen to the wail of your kid. Once this rage has passed, you might find that this primal part of you misses it. Perhaps even yearns for it again. After all, I’ve got three kids and I’m still young.

Well, young-ish.

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3 thoughts on “In Time, Your Child Will Sleep”

  1. This is such great advice! We have to remember that babies are designed to survive in more primal times. They don’t understand that no tiger is going to come into their crib and eat them in the middle of the night.

    Once I understood the primal need to be close I was able to let go of so many of my ideas about what normal infant sleep is. And once I was able to do that I was able to accept night time mothering as it was and let go of the frustration.

    The best advice I ever received was to let go of your expectations for how bedtime was “supposed” to be and accept the current situation for what it was. It’s not always perfect but it does help!

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  2. Thank you for being so real. My second and third babies were such terrible sleepers, and we are lining up for number four to arrive later this year. I hope and pray that the next one will be a good sleeper, but my gut says it is unlikely to be!
    Your advice is so spot on, and when I started to relax and just go with it, life was much easier. The sleep was still bad, but I didn’t resent my baby anymore (or my snoring hubby!)

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  3. Lack of sleep was the hardest part of motherhood for me. The sleep deprivation was brutal. But once i did what you suggested, and just leaned into it, it got so much easier. Half the battle is the mental aspect. Its been 3 years strong with babes that dont sleep. And lifes not bad! I embrace the challenges and know one day I will miss the midnight snuggles.

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