This Is Why Advice To 'Sleep When The Baby Sleeps' Is So Bad
A few years ago, while chatting with one of the college students who worked for me, I mentioned how little sleep I’d gotten the night before. My wife and I had a new baby at home, and so, of course, we were up every couple hours — holding the kid, feeding the kid, and changing the kid.
The student was probably about 19 years old. She had no kids. No real responsibilities outside of college classes and the part time tutoring job she held for me. She was, by nature, a helper. That’s why I gave her the job, so, naturally, she thought about what I said, mulled it over, and said, “Why don’t you just sleep when the baby sleeps?”
She gave me a half grin, the kind that someone gives when they feel like they’ve solved a big problem with a very simple solution, and I’ll be honest, part of me wanted to smack her in the mouth. I wanted to give her the finger. I wanted to call her a stupid butthole with no tangible ideas about real life and obligations. I wanted to drop my baby off at her house for 24 hours, and then, the next morning, when her eyes were bloodshot and her body ached from being weary, laugh in her smug helpful little face.
I was so tired, and obviously it was making me moody.
My eyes were blood shot. I felt a deep weariness in my bones. I’d gotten up every night, for several nights, and I knew that I’d get up several more nights, for who knows how long, probably years, probably forever. That’s the issue with kids and sleep, it all kind of feels like when you get a nasty brain freeze, and you suddenly are left wondering if this one will last for ever. You wonder if you will never actually sleep again.
And yet, here was this young woman sitting across from me who just the other day said, “You know when you sleep too long so you are really tried the next day?” She yawned and then looked at me for sympathy. “I’ve got that going on right now.” (I kind of wanted to smack her then, too.)
Back in my office, she smiled at me, and waited for my response to her brilliant suggestion, and I wanted to remind her that I work full time, and during those naps, I am at work, which makes her suggestion completely ridiculous (all working parents know this pain). But if that wasn’t enough, I wanted to tell her about how when I am home, and the baby is sleeping, I have two younger children to watch after who don’t care one bit about how much sleep I’m getting. They care about screen time and snacks and arguing about who gets to sit in the easy chair. Dishes need to be done, along with laundry and vacuuming. Bills need to be paid. Bathrooms scrubbed. Meals made.
I wanted to tell her that all of those responsibilities don’t go away when the baby is sleeping, and when the baby is up, you can’t get shit done because they are clinging to your body with all their needs and wants and poop. And sure, I could wrap the kid on my body, and that’s great and all, but then, she didn’t like to be wrapped. She got fussy when she was wrapped, so I’d just have to hold her in one arm and try to get things done with the other. But one hand is not nearly as good as two, and so I save all the things I can for when the baby sleeps, making me tired and frustrated and ready to punch helpful college students in the mouth!
(Sorry. I went a little wild there. But a lack of sleep can do that).
And if all of that is done, and the baby is still sleeping, then sometimes you just want a few moments when someone isn’t clinging to your body. Sometimes you want just a few moments to get online, or read a book, or really anything that makes you feel like you did before parenthood.
But naturally, she didn’t think about any of this. Because the sad reality is, most people don’t. Before having kids, parents would tell me they were tired. But they never went into the details of how wonderful, and yet consuming, having a young baby can be. And you know why that is? Because they were too tired to tell me.
So I said things like, “Why don’t you just sleep when the baby sleeps” as if I’d solved all of their problems. And they looked at me with a death stare. In their minds, they thought about burying me in a cold grave. But then, they said something like, “Yeah… I’ll think about that” because they were too tired to explain how tired they were.
And so in that moment, as I sat across from this young woman who wanted to help, but had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, I said exactly that. I told her thank you and that I’d consider it. She smiled a hearty grin, and I began to nod off a little in my chair.
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