In the past two weeks, I’ve received two messages from mothers who are fed the fuck up with their baby’s sleep situations.
Or, perhaps better said, lack thereof.
They are tired, overwrought, and at an absolute loss for how to go forward. They tried sleep training, realized it wasn’t for them, while also realizing their current situation of, um, not sleep training, is also “not for them.”
A motherfucking quandary indeed.
They asked me how I survived it, and I started thinking about how I endured that exact situation. And I mean exact. I have been precisely there, multiple times, for months. Years?
And I’ll tell you what I did: Nothing.
Well, no, I tried shit occasionally and then returned to the “fuck it” place.
Eventually, I gave up the fight – the methods, the approaches – and accepted that some aspects of parenting simply suck ass, and we don’t have to do anything about it.
We can just let it suck until it passes.
We can not love it and take no particular action to fix it.
Incidentally, I believe the enjoyment of my parenting is in direct correlation to my acceptance of the bullshit I cannot change. OMG I sound like a 12-step meeting.
And holy shitballs does this disturb and appall the parenting expert brigade.
YOU DO WHAT? NOTHING? THAT’S NOT PARENTING. IT’S LAZINESS.
But is it laziness? Or is it a realization that all relationships involve a level of bullshit we cannot eliminate, and our misery only increases when we fight it, fruitlessly, for years, running ourselves ragged for the silver bullet, the key, the Thing That Will Solve the Problem Once and For All.
Anybody ever, oh, I don’t know, tried to be married?
Mmmmkay, you see my point.
I have one kid, George, who liked sleeping alone in cribs. One. And I mean she preferred that shit. It was very weird.
But the other three? They were somewhere on the spectrum between “I prefer to sleep next to you” to “IF YOUR NIPPLE IS NOT RESTING ON MY LOWER LIP I FEAR I MAY DIE.”
Human pacifier? I’ve been it. Arm numb from baby head on it? Yes. Lying there feeling like I’d give my left lung to not touch a small sweaty baby? Nailed it.
I have slept in a bunk bed. On a couch. My husband has slept in other beds, or on a couch, so I could have a night with some space from the baby. We’d have a kid on the floor, two in the bed, him on the couch, me pissed off in the bed. One kid with us, two in a twin somewhere else. We have created all sorts of ridiculous arrangements to get some sleep and not go insane.
Were they shitty solutions? Of course they were. Did I know they were shitty solutions while we were doing them? Of course I did. Were they not actually solutions at all, but instead, sad bandaids? Um duh.
And of course I didn’t adore it. I’d wake up with the exhaustion like lead across my cheekbones, my frustration gathering in a knot at the base of my skull, pain from the tension pulsing behind my eyeballs. I’ve felt delusional. I’ve felt insane. I’ve felt defeated and hopeless.
“We have to do something!” I’d scream into the cold, dark night. I’d text friends. I’d read blog posts. I’d read books. We’d set out with great determination to sleep train. But at some point, quite early on, I would hear the wails of my baby and know it was not for me. It just wasn’t. It can be for you. I truly don’t give a fuck what you do with your baby, and we all need to do what we need to do in the context of our lives.
Ultimately, I accepted that my disdain of sleep training was greater than my disdain for my exhaustion.
And when I finally let that settle, when I settled into the fact that I would not sleep train, AND I would be fucking tired, I got happier. The fight was gone, and thus, a lot of the suffering.
I knew it would pass someday, and I knew that it could just be kinda shitty until it did.
I gave myself permission to not fix it.
Because really, that’s the mental torture, isn’t it? The idea that we have to “fix” it, that we have to read and work and strategize and get it under control, that there is some holy grail out there that will make infant parenting and kid parenting and teenager parenting smooth and chill and uniformly successful. Or at least manageable.
It’s a lie. It’s a sales tactic. At least it has been in my experience. What I’ve learned is that my power is limited, and I am in a relationship with an autonomous human being, and I can discipline and support and love and teach, but there will always be something occurring between us that I cannot manage, cannot perfectly comprehend, and, by God, CANNOT FIX.
We do our best, we learn and try, but some things will just be hard, really hard, until they’re gone.
The truly irritating thing here, friends, is that I sleep as little now as I did when I had infants in my bed. My four-year-old comes in at 3 or 4 in the morning some nights, but most of the time, I’m on my own, just me and insomnia, thinking about things and solving the world’s problems.
I’m not saying we check out of our parenting lives, that we say “Meh, not my job” or “Can’t fix this,” or whatever the hell as soon as a problem presents itself.
What I’m saying is that I think we (or “they”) really try to convey parenthood as a thing that can be contained, managed, and organized if we just read enough books, buy the right gear, listen to the right teachers.
And they sell this idea of the way things “should be,” of the way families “should look,” and we work and work and work and work and it never fucking looks like that, so we figure we need to work harder, try harder, buy more shit, read more books to get the outcomes they promise.
What happens if that messy bullshit IS the way it’s supposed to look? If my husband and I playing musical beds is, well, what mostly works for us? What if it just ain’t that big of a deal? If sleeping next to a baby for a year or two is not that big of a problem when taken in the context of the 80 or so years of our lives?
I want to punch myself in the face for just saying that, because I know how those years feel like eternity when you’re in them, and I sure as fuck ain’t over here going “Oh, honey, it passes so fast, enjoy every moment.”
What I’m saying is that now, 16 years later, with no babies in my bed, I still face “problems” every day that baffle me, that take my breath away with the weight of their complexity. One child’s tantrums and my questionable reactions. Another’s schooling and dyslexia. Another’s gender presentation. They’re massive. They’re bigger than me. I feel like I’m scrambling up the face of a rock wall sometimes, a panic to get to the top, to do it right, to fix it.
I think sometimes we just have to sit down, look around, and love – because from there, the way becomes clearer, and maybe we remember we have what we need, and always have, to parent the children who were meant to be ours.
NOT DOING SHIT?
I have not always been the shining star of humanity I am now.
I realize this may be hard to imagine.
And I definitely give a shit about you reading this book.
I’m going to set up a live Q&A discussion FB situation next month, so get the book and read it and ask me anything. I shit in a bag and kept it.
I will talk to you about anything you want. The shame ship has fucking sailed.
Also, HEY! I have four author events coming up, the first one is tonight. Hope you join us so I’m not sitting there speaking to myself and maybe my mom at the local ones. Yay!
Kramerbooks, Washington DC, 7/11 at 6:30pm (tonight!)
BookPeople, Austin, Texas, 7/13 at 7pm (Friday!)
Books On Stage, Cloverdale, CA, 7/19 at 7pm (I sorta grew up here!)
Barnes & Noble, Folsom, CA, 7/20 at 6:00pm (Why can’t I stop with the fuckin parentheticals!)