Today marks the beginning of the fourth week that my 2-year-old has been resisting sleep. Everything starts out fine, and then he wakes up screaming and crying after a few hours of sleep — which in turn usually leads me to end up screaming and crying out of sheer frustration and exhaustion.
I now understand why sleep deprivation is used as a torture tactic. No other parts of my brain or body are able to fully function (that is being generous — I am operating at less than 50% these days) on a mere few hours of broken sleep spread out over a 10-hour period. Waking up time and time again to a child who is riddled with exhaustion but refuses to sleep and who screams to eat but then won’t eat anything is a new form of patience-building. And it’s one that I can’t honestly say is to my liking.
What I have learned about myself over these past four weeks is that I am an emotional mess when I am tired (which between the 2-year-old and being almost 6 months pregnant has become a staple in my life), and that feeling of helplessness you get when you can’t soothe your baby turns to hopelessness after repeated attempts to console are to no avail.
Before I ever became a mother, I had a general (or so I thought) understanding of what I was getting into. I had babysat many kids throughout my life, and I had taken a turn raising my teenage niece for a year after her father died and she needed a change. I thought that the teenage years would be the hardest with hormones, attitude, boyfriends/girlfriends, school drama, and the list goes on and on. Little did I know that those parenting hardships would pale in comparison to sleepless nights, sleepless days, bartering with a child to eat one of the close-to-five different options offered at dinner time (as a first-time parent, I have not yet mastered the art of getting my child to eat most of what I make when I make it), cleaning up toys, and let’s not even talk about potty training.
I have cried more tears into my cupboards and coffee cups than I care to admit after another unsuccessful attempt at dressing my child, getting him to eat or put his toys away, or basically anything else you can think of that involves a child listening to what is being asked.
I have exchanged reasoning for bargaining (you can watch Paw Patrol after you eat your breakfast) to no avail. We have tried co-sleeping, no sleeping, crying it out, blackout curtains, essential oils to aid with relaxation and sleep, sleep training, reading books, watching how-to videos, and pretty much every other trendy piece of advice I can find in my desperate scouring of the internet and infomercials during the dark hours of the night. Nothing seems to work long term, and when we magically stumble upon a parenting hack that does yield results, it is short-lived and my excitement is quickly overshadowed by emotional despair once again.
Parenting is hard — like really, really, really hard — and everything is magnified by a lack of sleep. Typically I would say that I have a positive attitude with a generally optimistic outlook on life and the ability to take on each day willing to give my best. But lately, I feel like each passing day is taking the best out of me and leaving me a hot mess crying into my coffee. Getting frustrated and angry doesn’t help the situation (though in the moment, often it feels unavoidable) and leaves me feeling like I am just as much a child as the child I am parenting. Maintaining patience, keeping composure, and offering love over anger is almost as tough as being a parent in general.
I really thought that over the years of being tested as an adult, I had learned how to manage my emotions. After all, I have worked with grown men who often acted like children and needed to be babysat, and I was able to control myself. Something about this is different though. The testing of wills (mine seems to be the weaker of us two), boundary exploring, and pushing the limits is much harder when the other person involved cannot actually verbalize what they want or need, and you are left guessing which toy is the new favorite today and wondering why they hate bananas today when yesterday they were a hit.
Emotional exhaustion can take on many forms such as crying, pleading, bribery, leaving the house with mismatched shoes and accessories, lack of makeup and general self-maintenance, eating cold leftovers from who knows when, living off of caffeine and uneaten snacks, and falling asleep whenever and wherever there are a few minutes of interrupted silence. I understand now why some people look alarmed by my appearance, as I can’t often recall the last time I was able to shower and wash all my parts before my sanctuary of hot water becomes a free play area for my kid.
It’s not all that bad though. You do get woken up with sloppy kisses and hugs around the neck, as well as having someone who constantly wants to tell you how much they love you. It is hard to comprehend that the pain is worth the reward, but when you look into those little eyes begging you for another five minutes of your time and attention, or you catch them in a moment of free play and see the beauty of imagination at its finest, the reward is indescribable.
I have a built-in entertainment system that follows me everywhere I go, cracks me up when I’m about to crack, and reminds me that no matter what I have done in this life, I have created something that is incredible and amazing — and that deserves some mad props.
It is the single most difficult adventure of my life, and we are still in the infancy stages of parenting. I know that there are many tough times ahead, but I also know that seeing those little faces light up when you walk through the door as they beg to give you a hug and a kiss is enough to make the emotional exhaustion seem not so bad after all.
I am an exhausted, emotional mama, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
To all of you tired moms and dads — keep on keeping on. You are doing the best you can. And remember this when times get tough: “All you can do is all you can do, and all you can do is enough.”
One tired mama