Moms

A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about working the 3rd shift?

The “no sleep” phase with kids doesn’t end with infants.
The “no sleep” phase with kids doesn’t end with infants. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The mother is rocking her newborn in the middle of the night in a peaceful scene of bonding and love . . . but that’s not the whole story.

You want the truth about sleep deprivation with kids? I think you can handle it.

Everyone knows that when you bring home baby, you kiss blissful nights of deep slumber bye-bye. Babies need to eat a lot to grow, initially every couple of hours, during the day and throughout the night. (And, as it turns out, also on weekends and vacations and other times that you used to like to sleep in.)

I remember thinking that I should be fine with this deal because: I survived college, I worked at a 24-hour residential facility post-college, and I’m a night owl. Isn’t that cute? Guess what –the fact that you used to boogie until sunrise on Patterson Court many years prior has no bearing on how you’ll weather waking up to crying every couple of hours now. In fact, you may have compromised your mature adult stamina with all of that earlier silliness.

There is a harrowing cumulative effect to waking constantly for many nights in a row. Throw in an early-rising toddler sibling and you have all the elements for a perfect exhaustion storm. I developed a questionable coping mechanism of going to bed at midnight to minimize the number of times I’d have to endure the pain of waking up. It made sense at the time (but I was really, really beat when I devised that cuckoo plan.)

Unsurprisingly, not sleeping well for long stretches can have unfortunate consequences (Mommy brain and mommy fashion will be discussed later.) Ironically, at the moment when you are the most bleary-eyed, you are shouldering the most important responsibility of your life.

Here’s the other thing: the “no-sleep phase” with kids does not end with infants. Or it does, oh-so-briefly, and you breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe you have stretched three or four blissful nights of decent slumber together and you are all Yes! Made it! Don’t do your victory dance yet, Mama Mia. Because then your baby will learn how to turn over - but not how to turn back - and will wake up every time he rolls; or she’ll start teething; or he’ll get sick; he’ll decide he hates his big boy bed; she’ll need to go potty; he’ll have bad dreams. We are talking years, people! Years of not getting enough shut-eye.

In a related bonus, the sleep-deprived fog of motherhood impacts all perception of time. Minutes and hours aren’t experienced as they once were, but take on a new value somewhat akin to dog years. In this new alternate universe time moves incredibly slowly and insanely fast simultaneously.

With this new normal every morning with your little one lasts 100 hours, but then you turn around and realize that six months have somehow passed. All of their childhood continues on like this at increasing warped speed until you are suddenly helping them pack for college when you could swear it was just yesterday that you were slicing grapes to go in their snack dish for three -day -3’s.

And when that day comes you would do anything to have just a few more precious moments with them – even at 2am. But the truth is that today, what you want most in the world . . . is a big ol’ fat nap.

Want a better handle on sleep and kids? Check out Dr. Rhonda Patt’s thoughts on sleep aids for little ones, John Rosemond’s take on tired teens, and this trailer for Homeland (once filmed here in Charlotte) - a fabulous choice for marathon binge watching if pregnancy insomnia has kicked in (but only watch this if you really don’t plan to fall sleep again!)

Bess Kercher, M.A. explores the reality of motherhood at www.MomsCharlotte in her blog "A Few Good Moms...Can You Handle the Truth?" Bess lives in Charlotte with her husband and two sons. You can read more of her writing at www.maemucho.com or email her at bess@maemucho.com.

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