My Kids Are Older, But I Still Have Sleepless Nights

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
parents of teens
Sergey Mironov / Shutterstock

When my son arrived, I got a crash course in parenting. Sore nipples, diaper blowouts, and an infant who nursed constantly made me realize quickly that I was in over my head. My nights were spent wearing a path in the nursery room rug as I walked miles bouncing a screaming newborn. Sleep was a luxury, and I wandered around looking like a yoga-pants-clad zombie. Six months into my first gig as a parent and I was exhausted. I was also convinced I’d never sleep again.

Fortunately, I had friends who had survived the nightmare of infancy and toddlerhood. They offered advice on nap times and sleeping schedules. They babysat so I could nap on the days when I was so tired that I couldn’t see straight. They’d hold my son, taking in deep breaths of his newborn scent and smile knowingly. “Don’t worry,” they said. “It gets so much easier when they are older. You’ll sleep again when he gets a little older.” Because I couldn’t imagine a life without sleep and I felt slightly deranged most days, I took their word for it.

I’m pretty sure my crazed hair and lunatic eyes made my friends decide to withhold the real truth to protect my sanity. I should have realized that their knowing smiles were code for “She has no idea what’s coming when her kids are teens.”

My kids are teenagers now, and yes, it’s true that I haven’t had to replace a pacifier or wipe a hiney at 3 a.m. in a while. But after 13 long years, I’m still not sleeping at night.

It’s almost worse than when my kids were infants, and I’m calling bullshit.

What parents of teens don’t tell new moms is that teenagers have social lives — very active social lives that occur after dark in fact. Seemingly overnight, teens have plans that keep them out well past when their mothers would like to be tucked neatly into their own beds with a good book — the books that we were promised we’d have time to read when our kids got older, mind you.

Instead, parents of teens are forced to keep our eyelids open with toothpicks as we await curfew time. I find myself snoozing on the couch, checking the clock every so often, waiting for the sound of my teenage son’s key in the door lock. And of course, he doesn’t want to go to bed right away because, as everyone knows, teenage boys are hungry every single minute of every day. I watch him wind down with a sandwich as the second hand of the clock slowly ticks right past my idea of a very late bedtime.

If I have to pick him up from a late night activity, my precious slumber is delayed further because I have to actually drive somewhere to pick him up. I can be found clad in my pajamas in my darkened car waiting for my social butterfly son to emerge. I silently fist-bump the other moms in the parking lot in a show of sleep-deprived solidarity. No one told me I’d be sitting in darkened parking lots, annoyed and crabby, waiting on my kid to finish up having the time of his life on a Friday night. I’m old and I need my sleep, dammit.

As if having to wait up at all hours for my teen isn’t enough, worrying about my teens is a full-time job. When they were small, I listened to the baby monitor for sounds of choking or cries of hunger. Now, I lie awake at night worried that they’ll experiment with alcohol or sex when I’m out of the house for the evening. I toss and turn, wondering if we’ve taught our kids well enough to know not to fool around with a gun if they find one with their friends at a party. I pray that they’ll call me if they are drunk and need a ride, rather than put themselves and others in jeopardy. I have trouble falling asleep at night when they are away at sleepovers, convinced that my tween is watching an R-rated movie or that my teen is playing spin the bottle. (Kids still play that, right?)

My kids may be sleeping through the night now, but I feel less rested than I did when they were infants. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that in a few short years, they will be off to college, living away from our home and not neatly tucked into their beds safe and sound. How am I going to be expected to sleep when my kids are in an out-of-state dorm room? I’m tired just thinking about the college years to be honest.

As I watch them grow, I long for their cribs, that soft safe place I used to place them for the night. I knew where they were, and I knew if I closed my eyes for a few minutes, they’d be right where I left them. Teenagers are not able to be contained, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lie in bed and listen to hear if he and his buddies are sneaking out of the house when we host sleepovers. I really think baby monitors for teens should be a thing.

So, to the moms of infants who are exhausted, I’m here to tell you the truth: Get sleep while you can because sleeping in a house full of teens is exhausting.

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