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A love letter to care-workers who aren’t sleeping.

sarah Jun 06, 2024
Baby Sleeping on Chest

Hi Mama, Papa, or Caregiver of little ones - 

I want to tell you something with kindness. I know that you are normally a smart person with interesting and helpful thoughts, but, right now, you can’t trust your thoughts.

A few months back I had a tender and vulnerable conversation with a mom of a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old. If you have a small child and aren’t getting enough sleep, then you can relate to her. If you are a human who has to work for money and food and to keep a shelter that is safe and livable for another human - you can relate to her. 

One year after having my third child I crawled to my general practitioner and said “Is it possible to have postpartum depression 1-year after having a baby?” She wisely responded, “How’s your sleep?”.  

The conversation ended with a diagnosis of 8 years of sleep deprivation. (Not a real diagnosis - I don’t think). These years without more than 4-hours of straight sleep had led me to some dark places and 8 years on I was only then starting to see the connection.

But this letter is not about how to get more sleep or to solve it. I’m talking about the times when no more sleep can be had and work still has to get done.

These are some thoughts for you to try while struggling with not enough sleep and living with the responsibility of caring for small children.

Here is the advice I gave my friend and what I wish someone had said to me when I had littles and wasn't sleeping.

 

Get Postpartum Support Here.

 

Advice #1: When you’re sleep-deprived, you can’t trust your thoughts. That voice in your head is not rational or a helpful guide when you’ve had less than 6 hours of straight sleep and even less so on 4. 

That voice in your head might say things like “My partner is a monster, if only I had a better partner” or “I should be doing more, cleaning more, working harder, helping my community, and solving world problems.” Be very skeptical of anything you’re believing or saying to yourself right now. Don’t give these thoughts any weight or power. 

Advice # 2: Tell yourself: I’m doing it right for my situation right now. 

Tell yourself this, because it’s true. You’re not sleeping, because you are caring for a human. 

Tell yourself: My biggest job right now is to take care of this human.  Not sleeping is part of caring for this human right now. I could win an Olympic competition for not sleeping.

Take the pressure off of trying to sleep. To lie and rest as best you can with a crying, nursing, annoyingly pinching your armpit child, and not sleeping is part of the job description right now. In the morning you can feel good knowing you did your job.  

Advice #3: It’s ok for your child to cry.  I wish I’d known this, deeply known it, trusted it from minute one of birth. Only now, have I finally (mostly) found I can practice it in the face of my screaming 12-year-old, or tantruming 7-year-old, or hurt 9-year-old. 

I am not saying to ignore a crying baby or child. The key is to stay present, continue to offer comfort, and be ok within yourself.

All of my babies cried - a lot. Two had colic and didn’t learn to sleep for many years. They would cry and nothing would stop it. Their crying would leave me unhinged and dysregulated, anxious, angry, and in tears.

I know you will have already checked the diaper, offered food, done the sleep routine, and offered comfort. You've provided the 5 S’s that babies often need. After all of that, you just become ok with the crying. Stop fighting it. 

Tell yourself: It’s ok for my child to be crying. There is nothing for me to fix or to do except bear witness, listen, and be near. If someone else is in charge of comforting or caring for my child right now, it’s ok for the child to cry with them. My partner, parent, in-law, or nanny are trustworthy and it’s ok for my child to cry with them. Everyone cries, I cry and there is nothing wrong with crying. Adults should maybe cry more. I won’t teach my kids to not cry by trying to stop the crying. 

Just like sleep, sometimes you’ve done all you can do. It’s your job to be good at staying and not stopping the crying. You can sit, lay or walk with your crying baby and that is enough. 

Your 3-year-old is going to cry and your 15-year-old is going to cry if you can learn the practice of allowing them to cry with your full presence, love, and attention and without trying to stop it until they are fully done, this will be a huge gift to your children. Letting them cry - not stopping it - will be a gift you give your children. 

15 minutes. Can you let your child cry for 15 minutes while you sit and do nothing? Do you need 5 minutes away from your baby while they cry so you can calm yourself and then go back and just hold them while they cry. Walk with them while they cry? 

I learned this practice from hand-in-hand parenting and see it as part of their practice of Staylistening

Advice #4: Take one thing at a time.  Here is the list of challenges you might be wanting to tackle right now: 

Sleep

Emotional regulation

Division of household labor

Getting out the door peacefully

Deepening friendships

Marriage intimacy

Prioritizing your career

Becoming a more skilled parent

Eating healthy and exercising 

As we discussed earlier, you’re not sleeping, so be skeptical of this list and how urgent it your mind is telling you everything is. 

That’s not to say you can’t work toward improving your life in these areas or create goals around them. Just do one at a time and give it 3 months to a year before taking on another fully. Seriously. 

I once took 6 months where my only focus was how to get the kids up in the morning and out of the house peacefully and without yelling. 

I love you, you couldn’t be doing this any better than you are. 

Sarah 


PS. If I had to recommend one parenting tip or book or concrete thing you can do for yourself to be a better parent it would be regular therapy or private coaching for yourself. Burn the books, get face-to-face in real-time to process from a professional.

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