For those of you blessed with children, it’s often easy to forget that you were a wife before you were a mother.
And I think the wife role is actually the more important one, because once you’re a mom, other people are now depending on you!
It’s Wednesday, the day we always talk marriage, and today let’s deal with this tension between being a wife and being a mom.
First, I guest posted over at Life as Mom this week, sharing 5 Ways to Transition at Night from “Mom” to “Wife”.
After writing that, I came across my friend Julie’s piece from Intimacy in Marriage, where she gives moms a bit of a pep talk.
If you don’t nurture sex now, then when?
Every season of parenting has its time constraints and energy depletion. Every. Season.
I kid you not.
1. Put the kids in their own room.
I know, I know.
Some of you are big on the whole family bed concept. Sadly, what I think happens in too many houses isn’t family bed at all, but rather “mom and kid” bed, while dad sleeps elsewhere.
Regardless of whether you’re all sharing a bed or if you’ve told yourself “just while they are little,” I’m going to challenge you to reclaim some marital ground.
Personally, I think your bed should be the one place in the house that is just about the two of you. Much easier to teach those kids that they have their own space in their room, rather than fight the battle of getting them out of your bed after they’ve been sleeping in it for 6 years.
But that’s not the point I want to make.
I want to talk about the wider issue of just SLEEP–sleep when you have little ones and you’re exhausted.
Let me tell you about little Katie.
When she was born, I nursed her whenever she wanted. In fact, she nursed for the first 18 hours of her life. She wouldn’t stop sucking (though she’d pause for a minute or two between sucks).
When we were home she’d still want to nurse a ton. She was often fussy. She wanted me all the time. Finally I found that I couldn’t get anything done, and I couldn’t ever interact with Rebecca, our oldest one, because Katie was literally on the breast about 10 hours a day.
We started spacing out her feedings–I’d give her fifteen minutes on each breast, and then I’d make her wait two hours, and then two and a half hours, and then three hours, until she was happily going three hours or more. And we found that she was far less fussy. She’d pay attention to what Rebecca was doing. She laughed more!
But she still didn’t sleep. During those nursing-all-the-time days I was simply exhausted. But Katie always seemed to sleep in the swing, so we’d put her in the swing just to give ourselves a break.
Soon she wouldn’t sleep unless she was in the swing. And as soon as the swing stopped swinging, she’d cry and we’d have to wind it up again. One of us had to sleep beside the swing and wind it up every time it ran out of steam, or she’d wail.
After a few weeks of this we realized we were being ridiculous. We were both so sleep deprived we weren’t functioning. But we had trained Katie to need the swing to sleep. We had to help her learn to self-soothe–to go sleep by herself.
When she was about five months old we did this. We’d put her in the crib while she was still awake for her naps and for bedtime. Every few minutes we’d go in and reassure her that we loved her, but we wouldn’t pick her up. She cried a ton the first day and a half–and then she stopped crying. She learned how to go to sleep by herself. And she became a whole new baby! She was happy. She was alert. She wasn’t always sleep deprived.
When babies and toddlers need someone else to put them to sleep, they get very fussy. It’s actually quite intimidating, because when they wake up, they don’t know what to do without that other stimulation. But when they learn to sleep on their own, they get much happier.
The Mistakes We Made with Rebecca and Her Bottle
Becca slept better than Katie, but we did go through a few rough days when we had to train her to sleep without needing me to nurse her. She was waking up in the middle of the night NOT HUNGRY, but simply needing to be put back to sleep. I always nursed her to sleep, so when she woke up, she needed me.
When she was six months old we helped her learn to sleep without nursing, and lo and behold, she started sleeping through the night! It was easy peasy.
Until, that is, she hit about a year and we found out about my son’s heart defect (I was pregnant, and we learned how serious it was). We got lazy, and I started letting Becca go to sleep with a bottle of water.
She stopped sleeping through the night, because when she woke up, she’d cry for her bottle. So we had to take the bottle of water away until she went to sleep on her own again.
With both girls, when they were sleeping on their own their mood was much improved, they slept longer, and they napped better. And that meant that I could sleep!
A Story of a Friend and Holding Her Baby
I have another friend who held her baby (then about 13 or 14 months old) to sleep. Whenever the baby wanted to nap, she had to hold her. Through the whole nap. Which meant that for two hours in the afternoon, while the baby was sleeping, she couldn’t move.
Then, to put the baby to sleep at night, either she or her husband had to hold the baby for about two hours until she was in a deep sleep. Then they could transfer her into the crib. But if she woke up, she’d cry, and she’d need them to hold her again.
The baby had learned that sleep=Mommy or Daddy holding me.
That wasn’t sustainable. Everyone was exhausted, and the baby was incredibly fussy.
They scheduled a week when Mom had vacation to train the baby to sleep on her own. Sure, she cried a lot, but she learned to sleep! And suddenly the fussiness went away, too. She was a much nicer baby to be with.
A lot of parenting literature tells you that you need to sleep with your baby, feed them whenever they want, and nurse them whenever they want at night.
Again, if that is working for you, that’s fine.
But it doesn‘t work for many parents, and I think that’s why parents get so exhausted. What your child really needs to attach with you is for you to interact with your child when your child is awake. Talk to the baby. Play with the baby. Laugh with the baby. Pay attention to the baby! All of that is so much harder to do if you’re chronically exhausted.
If something isn’t working for you, and if you’re absolutely exhausted, it’s okay to do something about it. It’s okay to teach your baby or toddler to not need you to fall asleep.
I read the most riveting story by a woman who wrote about just this–how she ditched attachment parenting, because they got to the point that the baby would only sleep while lying on top of her with the breast in her mouth. Soon no one was getting any sleep. She had to give up her ideas of what being a good parent was, and realize that it wasn’t selfish to need sleep. When she did that, the whole mood of the house changed.
I’ve written a lot about exhaustion this week, on this blog and on Jessica’s. And I really think that the key to keeping marriages fresh is simply getting enough sleep. So if what you’re doing with your baby or toddler isn’t working, it’s okay to help them learn to sleep on their own (once they’re past the newborn stage). Talk to your doctor–all family docs and pediatricians can help you with this! (Trust me, my husband is a pediatrician). And get some sleep. You need it, and so does everybody else.
Let me know in the comments: What mistakes did you make getting your babies/toddlers to sleep? Or what challenges do you have now? Let’s talk about it!