Before I had children, I was legitimately concerned with how they would affect my sleep. Sleep — the activity I loved most in the world. I’ve long struggled with leaving my bed in the mornings. I couldn’t fathom repeated wakings in the middle of the night. But when my son arrived in the spring of 2012, I had no problem waking up to feed, change, or cuddle him. As a baby? He was a great sleeper.
Then, it was December of 2014 and my son suddenly stopped sleeping. We are not exactly sure why, but we do have some strong theories. They have been curated and supported by medical professionals and multiple sleep studies. It’s summer of 2017 and my son has continued to begin most of his days around 2am. He does not nap. Although he seems to have more than enough energy to carry him through a full day, and still fight bedtime. His dad and I do not. So it is with much caffeine that I write to you an article on
How to Respond to the Sleep Deprived Mom in Your Life:
Be helpful and specific with your offer to help.
Well-meaning friends, family, and acquaintances have offered me all the advice under the sun. After three years, ninety percent of their advice is not new to me. I probably discovered it on a blog, website, or forum during my own internet search for answers. The suggestion of a weighted blanket, your favorite essential oil, or a star chart are not bad things. In fact, they might actually work for some kids. But unless Sleepless Mom has asked, the only advice you should offer is the latest Starbucks Seasonal drink. Or at least tread carefully, knowing that Exhausted Mom will now feel pressured to explain all the things that she has or has not tried. Unless you are a medical professional who specializes in sleep, don’t make a worn out Mom account for all her efforts.
Instead of asking what She has done, ask What you can do for her. And if you can be specific, even better! It’s hard for me to ask for help and it’s even more difficult for me to do it on the spot. But friends that have asked if they could babysit or bring dinner on specific days have become instant household heroes.
Don’t try to fix it. Just listen.
The two phrases I repeat most often to my children: Are you listening? and Listen to me. So, if I’m having an adult conversation, at this point in my life, it is a gift just to be heard. I think most moms would agree. A good listener is a treasure to be found. When I’m asked about the nightly struggle, it destroys the lie that I am isolated in this suffering. Feeling alone in our pain can make it feel that much worse. Sometimes all I need is a witness. Due to some of my son’s special needs, sleep might always be a struggle. My friends can’t fix my 3am, but they can be with me at 3pm to cheer me on in the late night battle.
For a while after my son stopped sleeping, I tried to continue with life as normal. As if I was not going through my day on two-four hours of interrupted sleep, day after day. Our family hit survival mode and being social was not even on my radar. After a while, restless nights became the new normal. But now more than ever, I try to avoid evening plans. The late night wake-up is coming either way. So I have to be honest with myself and close friends and explain that I might be MIA from evening gatherings. But I still want to be asked! However—
Understand if/when she flakes out on your plans.
Because last night (or the last week) was exhausting and I can’t find the energy to find real clothes or a parking spot in East Nashville. My close friends have been amazing about the number of times I’ve cancelled our plans days (or hours) beforehand because I’m just.too.tired. They pursue me anyway, try to schedule early, and then forgive me every time I have to bail. Their continued friendship reminds me that we are in it together. I’ve learned to make the most of the time that we do have and text a lot in between. And make up coffee dates are a win-win right now.
Be a cheerleader.
Sleep-deprivation is challenging. And I can quickly swan-dive into despair, drowning in my own self-pity. I need friends to gently encourage me. I am not talking about a “look on the bright side” mentality that minimizes the hardships. But as chaotic as the nights can be, our days can also be pretty amazing. And my second child has slept through the night like a dream from Day One! Sometimes just talking about these other wonderful topics can be a refreshing look at life. Also, I am often running on empty. It can be easy to feel like a failure when I don’t have the energy to meet my own expectations or others. I’ve had to settle for “good enough” a lot more than I’d like in the last few years. An encouraging word from a friend can put the wind right back in my sails and carry me into another hard night.
Share your life too.
I don’t have the monopoly on sleepless nights. So don’t be scared to share your struggle. And if you had a single hard night, then I’d love to offer all my empathy. I get it! I’m the perfect person for you to vent your frustrations. I’m happy to bring you coffee to get you through the late afternoon or share my stash of melatonin gummies if you need some. Also, sleep is not a finite resource. Just because you get sleep doesn’t mean that I don’t. So don’t feel bad if your kids are sleeping in until 10am. Momma, I hope that you are too! Just know that the rest of your mom friends are counting on you to organize the next early Happy Hour. Even better if you bring coffee to the one who misses it.