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.
DID YOU KNOW I SPENT A GOOD PORTION OF MY LIFE
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!)
AnneWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 13:38
Man, what an ending. I thought this was just going to be about sleep but you’re right, the problems never end. And sometimes the best solution is to just keep going.
LaurelWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 14:52
I remember a friend telling me soon after the birth of my first, that once she finally “gave in” to being a mom, it got so much easier. My prior decades of living without a child firmly attached and dependent on me made giving in hard, but it was true – once I accepted that my life had forever changed, it became so much more enjoyable and easier. I stopped fighting it. Neither of my kids were sleepers, and my husband spent a year on the couch for one of them because he kicked so much, but also had to be touching me at all times. It’s hard, and the hard becomes different. Once you start sleeping better, your kids start making you halfheartedly long for lack of sleep being the only hard part. But parenting is great! Lol.
BeckyWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 14:58
THANK YOU. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As a mom of a 1 year old, I feel like there is pressure all around for all kinds of different methods to MAKE her sleep through the night. I don’t feel right doing any of it. It’s so nice to hear that I’m not the only one who feels like much of the parenting advice out there is all kinds of bullshit and definitely is not one size fits all. Certainly becoming a huge fan of the CTFD approach to parenting. You help me with that. Cheers <3.
KarynWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 15:28
I seriously needed this validation today, at this minute. I have three teenagers, and I’m pretty sure most days that I have done absolutely nothing right as a parent. I’ve been wrung out especially over my 16-year-old daughter, who is defying me and her father in every possible way, consequences be damned. I am out of ideas. I am out of energy. And I’ve been thinking I’d be the worst parent EVER if I said I am out of fucks. I told her the other day that she has to change herself and who she wants to be because there’s nothing I can do to make her *do* the right thing and make good life choices. Oh, and this is the same child that I couldn’t sleep train or wean from nursing, either. She did her own damn thing as a baby, and she’s doing it now as a teenager. Shocking, I know.
NaomiWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 21:27
Oh my god, I am SO feeling you on this. I have told my teenagers that I am legally and physically responsible for them until they turn 18, so as far as things like going to school, not breaking the law, or getting chilldren’s services to intervene, I will have final say by necessity. But if they want to be independent otherwise, then they get this time to make decisions and see how they turn out. Letting my kids fail, or have to navigate their own mistakes, or even just figure out when and how they need to ask me for help… Have at it, kid. At ages 14-25, there’s time to fuck up big time, and get your shit together amd fix it too.
DesireeThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 5:27
I am going through the same thing with my daughter. I told her pretty much the same thing. She is the only one who can change her life and the way it is going. Me and my family have tried so hard to lead her in the right direction. But, she is going to do what she wants. So , I am just going to be there and be supportive and stop trying to control everything.
JoleeWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 15:52
This is the best thing of yours I’ve ever read! It’ so very TRUE! Sometimes kids need to learn something and you, as a parent, can’t speed that along while they work it out. During that time, they can be an unholy little asshole. But I guess experience can only be gained by doing. Babies lack experience. Let them do it. You ARE doing something. You’re being patient while your baby learns something. Fuck those overreaching know-it-all mommies! My feral kids would fucking eat them and their “rules” for lunch. Not everyone thrives under authority, even babies.
Paul EdwardsWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 17:46
Don’t just do something, stand there!
Ashley VeniottWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 17:49
So true that we do what we need to and can do at the time. I thought I would spend years in the rocking chair in my sons room, then I went back to work and 15-20 mins of crying became so much more bearable because I just couldn’t go without sleep. Now he sleeps great, but if not going back to work I would’ve never made it happen. Cheers to all, regardless of the path you’re on!
AnnaWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 18:26
I told a friend today that I no longer believe in magic. I think I have to take that back after reading this, on this particular evening, after feeling like I am repeatedly running into a wall at this particular stage of raising my 8-year-old. Thank you!
renegademamaThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 8:37
Love this. So glad it came your way at the right time.
ChristinaWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 18:56
My 5yo is being super super weird/annoying right now. I’m constantly googling trying to figure out what’s ‘wrong’ with him. This has helped me to remember I don’t have to fix him I just have to love him.
John HanleyWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 19:49
This is a *great*distillation of the CTFO School of Parenting, Janelle, probably/maybe the best I’ve seen from you yet. The fact that it could be subtitled Late-Stage Capitalism Parenting only adds to the appeal, Brava, lady, Brava!
renegademamaThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 8:36
LATE-STAGE CAPITALISM PARENTING! sorry for the all caps, but you know I love that shit.
AthenaWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 19:53
I absolutely needed to read this today. For the last 7 months I’ve been sleeping on a twin mattress in my son’s room because he can’t sleep on his own, in his own crib, that’s crazy talk! He has to sleep next to me, nipple in the mouth, head on my arm or there will be hell to pay. But we also can’t sleep next to my husband because the SECOND my son sees his daddy it wakes him up like a shot of caffeine. So we keep separate beds and my husband’s just gotten used to using our Labrador as a snuggle buddy instead of me. The point is, every time someone asks, “oh, is he sleeping through the night yet?” And I respond with semi-hysterical laughter and an explanation of our current arrangement, I get everything from pitying looks to, “you’ve gotta bite that in the butt or he’ll never sleep on his own!” And I’m just so over it. So thank you for writing this. I needed it.
GailSunday, 15 July, 2018 at 17:07
Athena, I had non sleeping children and my daughter has the same. I have suggested to her that she doesn’t have to share the sleeping arrangements she and her husband have to get through the nights, or only with those that she knows will understand. That way she doesn’t have to listen to the judgemental comments which are usually made by those who have never had to deal with that situation. There also seems to be a huge discrepancy on the definition of sleeping through the night- for some that means 5 hours sleep, for others 10! I have always felt that those that slept ‘through the night’ were not the norm. Keep up the good work ????
CarrieWednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 21:04
My first midwife told me “If you ever want to get some sleep, co-sleep”. I did for four of my five kids. Did I get good sleep? Not really but I didn’t sweat the crying. They all sleep in their own beds (ages 18-9) and know if they ever need me, I am right there. But please don’t stand in front of my sleeping face. I almost hit a kid one night because they were waiting for me to wake up. The rule is, just get in bed and don’t wake me 🙂
KatieThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 4:19
So much yes.Surrender and acceptance are beautiful things (mostly mumbled to myself nightly during the first 2 years of my daughter’s life).
DorieThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 4:58
This is great; SO remember these days and I kinda came to this same place about it all, as well.
Interestingly enough–also, not interesting at all but rather horrible–this same thing kinda seems to be going on at the other end of the spectrum…the part where it’s hard to be a child to your aging parents…easy to get sucked into the idea that there is a “right way” it should go, that there is a “right thing” you can say to help your old parent/get them to understand/get them to do what you want them to do/get them to shut the hell up. Whatever, it can get a little ugly. I’m realizing it’s not just hard being a parent…it’s hard being a kid (as in adult kid of very old parents). I guess it’s just hard being a human. Of course, it’s also miraculously beautiful and even, quite often, just a damn lot of fun. Trying to live THERE, in that space, most of the time.
JSKFriday, 13 July, 2018 at 12:03
Right there with you. I have an 8 year old, who after several years of sleeping independently is now going through a phase of nightmares and needs his parents in the night again. Sleep training wasn’t for us so this post is on point – but I kind of thought were done with that, at least. It’s a rude shock after years of good sleep.
And then on the other side, we have terminally ill parents, one with dementia, who really need caring for but refuse our help, and from a legal standpoint there’s nothing we can do, so we need to back off on that side too. There’s a lot of conscious “doing nothing” going on and it’s freaking hard.
Jennifer PendergraftThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 6:19
i love you and i’m not your editor but its july mama (7)
renegademamaThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 8:34
HAHAHHAHA Mac pointed this out to me about an hour ago. I am really nailing life. ARE WE SURE IT IS JULY?
Cheryl SolerThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 10:15
THANK YOU. I hate all the sanctimommies who will judge because you don’t do things their way. Guess what? My 13 year old has anxiety. For her to go to sleep at night, I lay on the couch in her room. Sometimes, I leave after she falls asleep. Sometimes, I fall asleep first and stay there until I wake up again, whether that is 2 am or when my alarm goes off. I’m FINE with this.
Everyone else? not so much. But I gave up trying to be “the perfect mom” long ago because they don’t exist.
KaydeeTuesday, 13 August, 2019 at 10:10
I have to stop you right there. I think this is EXACTLY what a perfect mama does for her child. You are awesome for doing this and everyone else can fuck off.
JenThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 16:46
I have four kids. I sat in a parenting meeting at my youngest child’s preschool one time, after everyone was sharing tips and strategies and ideas for FIXING their kids, and I said, “You know, maybe they’re just doing what they need to do developmentally. Maybe they don’t actually need to be fixed. Maybe we should just let go a bit and be there with them. Kids aren’t a math equation.. you can’t just add this strategy with this empathy and get that resikt. But you can do ALL THE RIGHT THINGs, and they will still struggle, still fail, and still drive you batty. So maybe the right thing is to not try so hard to change them.” That was the end of that meeting!
Melissa LaurelThursday, 12 July, 2018 at 19:52
MY GOD MY GOD! Thank you for this. I want to tattoo it in its entirety on my forearm so I can reference it, basically, constantly.
JenniferFriday, 13 July, 2018 at 23:04
The irony is not lost on me, that I’m reading this while my two daughters and husband sleep next to me and I’m on a sliver, A LITERAL SLIVER of mattress.
Anna HaynesSaturday, 14 July, 2018 at 0:22
Somethings can’t be “fixed” you just wait for them to pass or live with them if they don’t.
Also I love all your crazy ways of sleeping. I took 2 hour naps whenever someone had the kid for months instead of sleeping though the night. My boyfriend and I slept on wood floors. I built pillow walls in an attempt to not be kicked to death. My toddler once flat out punched me in the face in her sleep. I remember being so tired my head was numb but my face hurt. I’m with you lady.
HeidiSaturday, 14 July, 2018 at 3:51
100% this. Sometimes all we can do is hang on and go for the ride as much as we hate it. My 2 year old still partially bed shares. She likes to fall asleep with me but once she is out she is out and can be moved. Sometimes daddy moves her when he comes to bed, sometimes he wakes me to move me from her bed. Sometimes I move her or myself. Some days I hate it and just want to read her a book and hit my own bed with my own book. Some days my heart swells with love as I watch her sleeping and realize that she is the most perfect asleep. Some days I want to cry becuase she is so independant and this is the only time she needs me. All you can do sometimes is just hold on for dear life as you get through it. The best “solution” is whatever works for your family.
Marina IvankovicMonday, 16 July, 2018 at 4:21
As always, spot on.
I have one of those kids that needs my nipple to sleep, and after I’ve accepted that fact, and that we will be sleep deprived for the next few years, it’s like a huge weight dropped off my shoulders.
I don’t want to push her into something she isn’t ready, by letting her scream for a few hours. I’m glad that for now, my boobs can solve all of her life problems and make her happy. Soon, that won’t be the case.
ErinMonday, 16 July, 2018 at 14:06
Very timely post for me, thank you. Currently going through phases with our 18-month old where she happily goes to sleep alone and sleeps 10 hours straight and then has a string of nights where she screams if I or my husband leave the room and wakes up repeatedly throughout the night. As a parent, you start searching through your knowledge base…teething, growing pains, fear of her autonomy and independence…but the truth is we just dont fucking know and probrably never will. All the hypotheticals and theories and experiences of others mean nada, zilch in those moments. So I try to just take the deep breaths, give her the extra hugs she needs (even when she diabolically, magically starts giggling seconds after I reenter the room) and remind myself she wont always need me like this. Sure, she will need me in millions of other ways for years to come and when I think of that, I realize this sleeping situation is but a very small bump in a very long road.
LindaTuesday, 17 July, 2018 at 10:33
I’ve been reading your blog for years, and this may be the best post yet. At 67 years old, with four grown children out there in the world, I have been there with you with the sleeping situation, and came to the same conclusions. I am still trying everyday to remember what you said in that last paragraph.
Jenny @thebrickcastleFriday, 3 August, 2018 at 3:39
I love this post. The older and wiser you get, the more you realise people really do worry mainly about completely inconsequential shit that will go away by itself or no-one cares about. We make it too complicated by thinking that we all have to behave in a certain way about pretty much every tiny aspect of our lives, when in fact, as long as it harms no-one, we should just do whatever keeps us all sane and happy.
My kids all slept in the bed with me until they were about 18 months, then when I got bored of it, I made it uncomfortable until they decided they were too big and needed their own bed. Win all round and no screaming.
KaydeeTuesday, 13 August, 2019 at 10:12
Yes. This. All the way.
But also, how did you make your bed uncomfortable for your toddlers????
CandaceTuesday, 28 August, 2018 at 5:24
Just a simple Thank you. I needed to read this <3