In February 2016, Emily Writes and I started a monthly parenting podcast called Dear Mamas. Our manifesto is no bullshit, no judgement, and we hope to build friendship, support and community. You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or Stitcher, or listen on Emily’s blog. I’ll be posting transcripts of each episode here for anyone who’s unable to listen.
In this Mother’s Day special we tackle one of the classic parenting topics: sleep! We don’t have an expert guest, because we’re just not ready to hear any more sleep advice! Instead we talk frankly about our own experiences with kids who don’t sleep, and offer our own gentle suggestions (never advice!) about how to support mums who are in this situation.
Holly: Welcome back to another episode of the Dear Mamas podcast!
H: we’re meeting during the day for the first time today.
E: Yes, with coffee instead of wine.
H: Which is very appropriate given what we’re here to talk about, which is sleep.
H: Such a fraught topic.
E: Yes, it really is.
H: And we don’t have a guest today, partly because we had to organise this at the last minute, and partly because we kind of didn’t want to have an expert talk to us about sleep because it is such a fraught topic.
E: Yeah, it just is, and I think one of the things we will probably cover today is how hard it is to be an expert in sleep and what that means, and giving advice on sleep is just really not a track I want to go down.
H: Yeah. We are certainly not experts! And you probably wouldn’t want to follow any advice that we could give you. But we will talk about our own experiences with children’s sleep, and our own sleep, and how we cope with sleep deprivation, and just maybe have a bit of a rant and a cathartic cry.
H: And hope that it resonates with some other mums and dads and parents and caregivers out there.
H: So, Emily, how did you sleep last night?
E: Like shit, Holly. Really shitty. Which is a bit of a sixteen month journey for me, now, with not sleeping.
H: What was it like with Eddie? Did Eddie sleep ok?
E: Eddie was not a great sleeper. But I think there’s like good sleepers, and bad sleepers, and not great sleepers, but then, like, next level super trauma, and Ham is that level of just… Because Eddie always slept during the day, so he had really good solid naps. And you know the things we had for him — you know, we altered things like routine and that helped. There were things we could do with Eddie that would help. And there were also really clear reasons why Eddie was not a great sleeper. He spent a lot of his first year and a half, two years in and out of hospital having surgery, stuff like that has a huge impact on sleep, anybody with a child with a chronic illness will be able to tell you that, it’s really difficult making hospitals an environment that…
H: Is conducive to sleep
E: Exactly, because the lights are always on, it’s noisy. Nurses — I love nurses, don’t get me wrong, but it’s really difficult for them when they’re really busy to say things like don’t begin procedures or checks until my child’s awake, because if a baby wakes to being given a needle or something it can just… yeah, but anyway, Eddie. It was a big journey getting him to sleep well, but it didn’t feel like the relentlessness of Ham.
H: And remind us how old Ham is now?
E: He is 16 months, and so he’s slept through the night about 3 or 4 times in 16 months, but for the last 2, 3 months, it’s been.. yeah, he slept through the night a couple of times just in that last 3, 4 months, but the last couple of weeks it’s just been every 45 minutes, again. I actually think he sleeps worse now than he did as a baby. But it’s just, really — I think when you’re just day to day, and each day you wake up and you think hopefully tonight will be better, and you do little things, you do tweaks and all that as you go along, but then I think it’s just — my husband and I kind of hit a wall and went “how is this still happening at 16 months?” And I think it’s just almost like that elephant in the room or something, you acknowledge it, and then you can’t not acknowledge it. It’s like holy fucking shit, we haven’t slept in like…
H: A year and a half.
E: … fucking forever! And it’s just become really hugely challenging for us, particularly in the last month. And it’s really good timing with this, because we really hit a wall on the weekend. We went away to Auckland, and the sleep was the worst it’s ever been. Understandably because we were in a new place.
E: But we didn’t have any reserves to have two nights of no sleep after a whole year of not much sleep. So we really hit a wall, and have actually had to say we need to change things, now, in terms of how we look after ourselves, and each other, and our marriage.
H: There’s nothing like sleep deprivation to put your relationship under…
E: Exactly! I mean how the fuck do marriages survive having little kids? I mean, me and my husband are tight, we’ve been together since we were 17. It’s so funny cause you’re like those ridiculous couples who are like “oh, we never fight” and then you have kids and you’re like “I could stab you for taking the last bit of milk or leaving your towel on the floor.
H: Yeah. The rage that sleep deprivation induces…
H: … it’s just insane. In me at least. My partner Dave doesn’t appear to get ragey, but I get ragey.
E: Yeah, both of us get ragey. And I mean, I think that’s really…. Where we’re at is I, in a fit, said “we’re getting a sleep consultant”. Which is really funny to me because I’ve said publicly how I feel about sleep consultants, and I think maybe that’s been a little bit misinterpreted because I’m not against sleep consultants, or anything like that, I’m just a little bit concerned at some of the messaging from some sleep consultants which is around eight-week-olds needing to be sleep-trained, or little babies needing to be sleep-trained, and there’s something about the term sleep training which I find a bit confronting. But, I think it’s really difficult to have that conversation without saying, you do whatever you need to do to get some sleep, god, I’m on your side, and I know what it’s like, you do what you need to do, and that’s between you and your family, what needs to work for you. But I think what’s hard is if you say anything like that, and I’ve spoken before about it, I get all these emails saying “well your baby doesn’t sleep because you don’t do anything to try and get him to sleep.” And I’m like, um excuse me, go into his room, there’s fucken white noise, a lula doll, a vaporizer, those sleep blanket things that apparently magically make them sleep, I’ve been to a GP, I’ve done every fucking thing that you can do, every shushing, patting, rocking, co-sleeping, not co-sleeping, cot, floor bed, there is nothing I haven’t done.
H: And ultimately, you just actually can’t make another human being fall asleep.
E: You can’t! You can’t.
H: You can’t.
E: And also some babies sleep and some don’t. We’re in such a rush to say, well, you need to do this or you need to do that, and you know, I get constantly “well you have to do cry it out”. I always get “once you’re tired enough, you’ll do it” and when I hear that I just — like, no offence to anybody who’s said this to me, but — I want to, like, throttle the people saying that, because, you know, one, he wakes up screaming every fucking time, and we’re so exhausted it takes forever to get out of bed so we are doing…
H: He spends plenty of time crying!
E: … controlled crying anyway by sheer fact that you cannot move very fast when you haven’t slept in forever. But we did a period when we tried, just the five minutes type thing, and he vomited immediately from screaming. His level of crying never went down at all. But we got a sleep consultant, and she looked at our routines, everything, said there’s nothing really to tweak except maybe move his day nap by half an hour or his bedtime by half an hour. But she said we’re doing everything right and the controlled crying or whatever wouldn’t work. She suggested going to a chiropractor, which was very challenging for me as a sceptic, and my husband said “I allowed us to see a sleep consultant” (which he doesn’t believe in), “so you have to let me take him to a chiropractor” (which I don’t believe in), so I said “ok do it,” cause, god, every second comment anyway is “have you tried a chiropractor or an osteopath” and I know people are trying to help, I’m not having ago. So my husband took him, and he was like “it was really amazing, he just tapped him” and all this, and I was just trying so hard not to start a fight, being like “oh well, if he tapped him I’m sure it will work” and when he got home Ham slept for like, two hours or something, and I was kind of furious, I was like “now I can’t say the chiropractor was full of shit!” but his sleep hasn’t improved at all despite a couple of visits to the chiropractor so we’ve stopped doing that, but I guess all I’m trying to say is we’ve tried every single thing, and I totally think that there needs to be some empathy for parents, that, if you’re going to go down the route of “well have you tried doing this.” Chances are they have.
H: They have, yeah.
E: So just leave it the fuck alone and be like, do you want some coffee?
H: Do you want a hug, here’s somewhere to lie down.
E: Exactly! And can I take the baby for a walk, or like, take you out, or I don’t know, something, can I sit with you and have a glass of wine while you cry. I don’t know, whatever. But I think it’s just being publicly someone who talks about lack of sleep can be quite hard.
H: It really opens you up to a lot of people.
E: Yeah, because I get a lot of that “just leave them”, you know, like by GP told me to leave him to cry from 7pm-7am. I really found that — I go back to the advice that I have always tried to follow, around the framework I have for advice about my children, and a lot of it is, is this something that I would feel comfortable doing to an elderly person who is as fragile as a baby? You know, somebody who can’t verbalise any other way other than crying, things like that. And to me, that 7-7 shut the door thing, that doesn’t feel like something I could ever do, because it wouldn’t work, and it just doesn’t sit well for me.
H: And if you wait long enough, they can open the door.
E: Exactly, right?
H: So my daughter’s 2.5, and yeah, I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to because she just gets up and opens the door whenever she damn well pleases.
E: And I think there are some things that I look back on with Eddie, and I hope this will be the same with Ham, sometimes a little glimmer that gets me through the day, and that’s that, with Eddie, we let him come into bed with us, we did all the things that people say promote bad habits, and then we said Eddie, the new baby is going to be coming soon, can we pick out a bed for you, and do you want to have your own room. And he said yes, and he went in his own room, and he slept through, and he would go in there and not get up during — and you know, he would only come to us at night when he had wet the bad, or he had had a nightmare. And those are two times when I want him to come in.
H: You’re happy to be woken up.
I want him to know that he can come any time and things like that, and it does mean that like last night, I was up and down up and down up and down with Ham, and then Eddie started crying, I went in and saw him and a monster licked his forehead, you know how it is, but I’m like that I can — there is a level that I can cope with, that I feel like I am comfortable with, and that is having my child come in when they are wet or cannot…. You know, to me the whole idea of self-settling, that’s all well and good, but there are times when they need you, and that’s like wet beds, monsters licking your forehead, stuff like that. So I want to be able to say with Ham, when he gets to that age that Eddie is, or whatever age he sleeps at, that he still knows that there’s this. It’s really hard to talk about this stuff, I really want to be really clear that I have so much love and solidarity with all the mums out there trying to make their way with sleep, and I don’t judge anybody or any choices or anything, I’ve done, like fuck, I get it. I think so many times maybe I should leave him in his cot, because I wonder if he can feel that anxiety and stress and fear, and my anger, my rage, I really worry about that. So, fuck, I’m not trying to be like, at all, that this is the right way or anything. I just want to be like fuck, I understand what it’s like, and doing anything and trying anything, and I will never be that person to say you shouldn’t have gone to a sleep consultant, or you shouldn’t have listened to that fucking bitch who said that modern mothers have lost the plot. That’s shitty and I got sent that a million times, and it made me cry because it felt like people were sending it to me to say that I’d lost the plot and I just know how hard it is, and how, just your day is a little bit grey.
H: It’s really tough when you can’t look forward to the evening. I remember feeling like this when Esther was a newborn, and just being completely overwhelmed by all the change, and all that that involves and the lack of sleep and all that. Just that, usually, when you’re exhausted and you’re having a really hard day, you can get through it because you know that it’s going to finish and you’re going to go to sleep. And not having that — I remember a conversation I had with Dave quite early on where I was like “I just dread the nights.” There’s no comfort, there’s no relief, it’s relentless, it’s 24 hours a day. And that is really tough I think, when you can’t rely on the night falling and you being able to sleep as a time to get some respite. And I’m in that same situation now even though my kid is now two and a half years old, and yeah, last night was a prime example. Although actually she slept ok last night, but it’s really hard… so she’s in that place where she’s dropping her afternoon nap. We’ve been in that place for a while now. And it’s really tough. If she doesn’t have a sleep, she’s ratshit by the end of the day, but she will go to bed quite early, like 6.30, but she’ll only sleep for about 7 hours at a stretch. So if I put her to bed at 6.30, I know she’s going to wake up at 1 or 2 in the morning and she’s going to be ready to go. Like, she’s awake. She’s happy, she’s not particularly upset — like she’s quite charming — but she’s wide awake and she’s ready to read stories, get up, watch TV, get dressed, have a banana, like the whole nine yards, at 1 in the morning. Most nights, if she hasn’t had a sleep during the day, that’s what happens, she’s up for 2 or 3 hours in the middle of the night. Or, we let her have a sleep during the day, which means she’s up until 9.30 at night, we have no evening. And then she might sleep through till 4 or 5 in the morning. But I usually have stayed up really late because I’ve waited for her to go to sleep so that I can have an evening — which is what I did last night — and then I’m actually only getting like 4 hours sleep maybe by the time she wakes up. So it feels like lose-lose really, both of those situations, neither of them is particularly better than the other, and what it does to me is give me this seething, boiling underbelly of rage, which takes, like, not very much to come to the surface. And is usually directed at my partner, because it’s not legitimate to direct it at my kid!
E: Exactly! That resentment, that kind of undercurrent. I mean fuck, just you talking about that, I was so there with Eddie like a year or two ago, and a part of me thought like at least I won’t have that with Ham because he never fucking naps during the day! But do you know what it just says to me, it’s so much like, sleep is a fucking battleground, day, night, anything, because I remember that thing of like dropping the afternoon nap, and they’re so cranky and shitty, and they fall asleep eating dinner or they don’t eat a good dinner cause they’re so tired. And you’re like, oh, do I let them go to sleep?
H: And it feels like torture right, like we torture human beings with sleep deprivation, and I feel so cruel on those days when we don’t let her sleep because by the end of the day, you know, she can’t function, she can’t stand, she’s toppling over hurting herself, it’s awful.
E: I so remember that, and it’s like one of those things that I always was like — pre-kids, when you don’t know anything — like I was like, “well I believe that you just let children sleep when they want to sleep, that’s the respectful way.” Like, that is stupid, to say that because yes, you can function that way, you can be like, we go to bed…. You know I read this amazing post from a really great mum about how she doesn’t have a bedtime for her kids, she lets them decide and all that, and it works for her family and all that, but part of me reading it was just like “but what about your evening!?”
H: When’s your time, yeah.
E: And for somebody who, like, my writing is kind of like my work now, and so how do I not ever have time in the evening to work.
H: Not being able to rely on that time as well, to plan, to say I know I’ll have three hours in the evening on Wednesday night in which I can do that post, that task, whatever.
E: Yeah, and what it does to your marriage, this is the big thing that I’m struggling with, my partner and I, we don’t have that time in the evening any more to reconnect as partners and talk about our day, and debrief, and just fucking hold hands while you watch some stupid TV show or something. Instead, it’s who’s getting up to the baby, because he will keep waking up until we go to bed, there’s no — you know, once we put him down, we don’t have a big gap to watch something. So it does turn into this who’s getting up, who’s getting up? And then, if I go out in the evening — because I’m a real extrovert, I need that — then my husband is at home getting up and down, and resents me for getting to go out. If he goes down to the shed, which is his preferred activity, to clean his lawnmower or something — that’s not a euphemism, that’s like, actually — but you know, if he does that, then I’m sitting up here seething because I’ve just started to write something and I’ve got to go down and resettle the kids and stuff like that, so it just really impacts your marriage, not having that time.
E: And I guess that kind of works into what we talked about that we wanted to discuss here, about what kind of things you can do without giving advice obviously, and I suppose for me, my thing is, I’ve tried every single sleep aid, sleep way or whatever, and what I’ve come to realise is. I mean, we’re going to the doctor today, for the second time. I mean, my husband and I are both going to the doctor with Ham, and we’re basically going to say we’re not leaving until you give us a referral or until you help us, because we’re not coping with this lack of sleep. But aside from that — you know, causing a riot in the doctor’s office — aside from that the one thing that we have had to do, based on where we’re at, is accepting that we’ve tried everything clear of getting medical help with this. But it’s saying we’ve tried everything so we have to change.
H: Yeah, it’s almost like reframing the issue, not from being how do we get this child to sleep, but how can we take care of ourselves in the situation that we’re in.
E: Yes, and I got some really great advice from a really clever friend of mine on Twitter, and she said to me about maybe accepting that Ham is going to change when he’s going to change. Cause I am a believer that sleep isn’t a behavioural thing, I think it’s developmental, I think it’s like learning to walk. You can get them the little soft shoes, you can make a clear space, you can make sure it’s flat, you can cheer them on…
H: But they’re the ones who have to take the steps.
E: And they walk when they’re going to walk. Some babies walk really early, some don’t walk until they’re 18 months, you know. And that is how I view sleep. All the things we’re doing with making the cot all snuggly and warm, having a vaporizer, sleep doll, every type of thing, white noise, all of that is the cheering on from the sidelines.
H: Yeah, creating the conditions. It’s actually a bit like what Saya said to us about the eating thing, right, like, you decide what’s on the table and when you’re going to eat, and they decide to eat. And it’s kind of like that with sleep, you can create an environment that’s conducive to sleep, you can have a good routine, you can reassure them, but ultimately they’re the ones who have to close their eyes and fall asleep.
E: Yeah. And you know, that’s how I really view sleep. I don’t believe that it’s behavioural. I know on my worst days I think — is this me, is this my fault, but I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that me and my husband, as second time parents who’ve been through this the first time and had very different kids and all of that, I don’t believe we are causing Ham not to sleep. I believe he will get there, and when he does we will have to look back and say how did we handle this. And in a way sleep is your big challenge as a parent in the early days, to try and set yourself up for the kind of way you want to parent. So what we’ve really come to realise is that we’re not coping, and saying that out loud has been useful for us, because we’ve been floating day to day hoping each night will get better, and it won’t. So one of the things that’s really helped us is… so I wrote the blog post about crying in the bathroom. And it was really, like, all of the comments I got were amazing and made me feel really less alone and really incredible. But I went down to kindy and the head teacher there gave me a hug and said can we take Ham for the morning, and I just was like — my head said no, but I was like “I’m not coping, why am I saying no to someone who wants to help me?” And I need it. So I said, I sat there and had the afternoon at kindy, and I sat in the sun, closed my eyes and kind of drifted off leaning against the little kindy gate while my boys ran around happy, and I felt so relaxed and so much better, and I thought “I have to stop turning down help. I need help.” And the help I need isn’t people telling me “leave him to cry, or have you tried this,” the help I need is somebody just giving you a hug and saying “it’s hard, can I help, can I take him for a bit.” And what we actually got to is the kindy said “we can actually have Ham, we have space for him for a couple of half days” and that’s what we’ve done.
H: Fantastic. Well done!
E: Yeah, well it’s been really hard. The first time I cried and I said “how can we not look after our child, he’s one!” you know, he’s too young to be at kindy. And my husband said we look after him, he’s happy, we do this, but we’re not coping, and we have to do something, and that first day I got a message on Storypark, and they’d taken Ham down to the little community gardens and they’d fed the eels sausages and it said you know Ham was so excited that he tried to jump in the water with the eels. And I just sat there crying. I felt such a huge weight off my shoulders. I don’t have the energy right now to parent. Like, that’s basically, like for a couple of hours two days a week, so that I can try and get some sleep, so that night I can deal with the fact…
H: You’ve topped up your reserves.
E: Yeah, so that I don’t snap at a baby who is just like having the worst time because he can’t sleep. And he’s tired and cranky. I mean, I’m not sleeping, but he’s not sleeping. So, you know. That was huge for me to just say… I think like, I was like, am I a really bad mother for doing this, and I think it’s like, you know what, whatever choice you make you’re sitting there going “am I a bad mother” and stuff, and it’s like, you do what you can to try and make the best choices so you can be a good mother.
H: And I think any time you’re asking yourself that question the answer is always no. Because you are thinking about it and you are trying to do the best that you can.
E: And I think it’s like, you know, when I weaned Ham oh god I spent so many nights crying, thinking I was going to breastfeed for as long as he wanted to, and here I am weaning so I can get sleep. I was like “I’m a shit mother.” And then it’s like, no! I got way more sleep after I weaned. Not a lot more, but I was so close to…
H: Anything more was really important.
E: Yeah, and that’s kind of where I’m at, you have to make choices sometimes that aren’t what you thought you were going to do, but I think of them as like, it’s like I’m trying to rebuild a little track to get to where I want to be.
H: Absolutely. And it’s like our self care conversation that we had too, where until you take care of yourself and your own actual physical, mental, and emotional needs, you’re not a position to really take care of other people.
H: I reached a similar point of kind of like, right we’re not coping, something has to change, when Esther was just about a year old, nearly a year old. At that stage she was sleeping in a cot, but we were co-sleeping basically, it was right next to my bed and the mattresses were the same height so she was sleeping with me. She was breastfeeding, and she would just breastfeed all night.
E: Yep, been there.
H: Like, if I was in her proximity, she would just feed all night, and I could sort of doze through that, but I basically wasn’t getting any actual sleep. And I had, up until really close to that time I’d been in Parliament trying to work full-time in a crazy job, and I basically, like I lost my mind, I did actually lose my mind for a while! And so our, I reached a desperate point where I reached out to somebody that I didn’t know, but I knew had some sleep expertise and sent her an email, and was like “this is the situation I’m in, what can I do?” And what she did, she didn’t try to solve the problem for me, she didn’t try to give me a prescription of what I should do that was going to fix it. She gave me empathy. She said, wow I can’t believe you’ve been doing that, that’s so hard, you’re incredible for doing it. And she basically gave me permission to think about doing it differently. And that was what I needed, I needed somebody to say it’s ok to not be coping, and it’s ok to think about doing things differently. And we did end up doing a version of “sleep training” and I’m putting that in quotation marks because of all the problematic associations with that term, but we needed, I needed, to get Esther into a cot in her own room that wasn’t with me. To do that, we moved her cot into her room. And we put her down, and we went in after five minutes, after ten minutes, and subsequently after 15 minutes, every 15 minutes until she fell asleep.
E: Oh gosh.
H: And the first night that we did that, it took 5 hours for her to fall asleep. And she was crying her little heart out for those five hours. And that is probably right up there with one of the worst experiences of my life, that night, I was beside myself with guilt.
E: So hard.
H: You know, it’s really difficult to listen to your child cry…
E: Of course!
H: And wait 15 minutes before responding. And then when you do respond, your response is just going in to say “hey you’re ok, I’m still here, but I’m leaving the room again.” Like, it was so hard. And it did help a bit. After a few nights, instead of waking up every 45 minutes she would sleep for three or four hours at a stretch. And I’m really grateful for that! Because at that time — I didn’t get a lot more sleep, but I got a bit more sleep, and it was
E: Enough to function, yeah.
H: Enough to make me cope a bit better, yeah. But it didn’t solve all our problems. Like, she’s 2.5 now, she still wakes up multiple times a night. She still breastfeeds! So if I go in, and I’m exhausted, and I lie down next to her thinking “I’ll just give her a quick feed so she goes back to sleep, then I’ll go back to bed,” I’ll often wake up two or three hours later cause I’ve fallen asleep, and she’s still on the boob, and I’m just like “oh my god, when do I get my bodily integrity back.”
E: Yeah, yeah, totally!
H: So a lot of that journey has just been about acceptance as well. Like this is a kid who doesn’t need as much sleep — you know how you have those guides that say, at this age your child should sleep 12-14 hours a day…
E: Ugh, fuck those guides! Oh my god, fuck those guides. Some babies do not need…
H: I just don’t think she needs as much as that. Because she certainly doesn’t get it!
E: Ham wakes up happy as anything, regardless of — I mean yes, he can be really grisly, and that’s one of the big challenges for us when he’s really overtired and grisly it’s like trying to make a connection with him, have a really good relationship when he’s often pissy and we’re often pissy. But you know, he definitely does not need as much sleep as Eddie does. But the other thing I’ve really come to understand from having two kids is, how sleep needs change, constantly. One of the things we’ve had to do with Eddie is have him spend every second weekend, third weekend things like that at my husband’s mother’s house overnight, because Eddie is, it’s really getting to him, the crying really hurts him, stresses him out with anxiety and all that — another reason why leaving Ham to cry all night is not an option even if we wanted to…
H: There’s someone else in the house to consider!
E: Because there’s someone else, a little boy who doesn’t understand the concept that babies just cry. To him every time Ham cries it’s his little brother is upset, and how can Eddie help. And we are trying to be like, you can’t help buddy.
H: And that’s really helpful in the middle of the night!
E: Exactly! I mean, the very worst, when I actually thought I’m going to have a nervous breakdown is one night Ham was crying and crying and crying, and I heard this sort of little bang noise, and I said to my husband you go into Ham, I’ve got to check this, and I found Eddie in his wardrobe crying, with his hands over his ears…
H: Oh god.
E: … and I just thought, how are we going to live like this? And I just felt so guilty. And then I immediately, the next morning, we rung my husband’s mum and had a chat to her, and we got a plan in place about Eddie going to stay with her and stuff like that so he gets a break overnight. And when he goes and stays with her, he will sleep in sometimes till 9 in the morning, just from not having the wake ups from Ham. My mother in law’s help is really, another part of that acceptance of, she’s taken Ham overnight, just after that episode, because we were just not coping. And she took him overnight, and she’s kind of like from this old school well they’ll cry and they’ll sort it out. But she said to us, he cried for two hours! And she just couldn’t believe it. Like, she has so much experience with kids, and she was like, he just didn’t let down. So you know, know she knows that you go in and “pat, pat” and he’ll go to sleep quickly afterwards, but he’ll wake every 45 minutes all night. But I mean, the point of it is that, you have to go — when someone offers you help, say yes. And also, reach out.
H: And don’t be afraid to ask for help, yeah.
E: I said to my mother in law… it was really hard, like I want my mother in law to think of me as a really good competent mum, and I think she does, but it was challenging for me saying to her “hey, we really need your help, I’m not coping.” And for my husband as well, to say to his mum we need help. But I’m so glad we did. Because we got a plan in place, we feel like we have her full support, and without family support, or friend support, or however — you need that other person. She will come sometimes in the morning and just take both boys to the park or something like that, and this weekend actually me and the two boys are going to stay with her so my husband can have a weekend off, because he hasn’t had a night off, at all. And the same with weaning, I went and stayed at her place. So, it’s the village thing, of course, but it’s also saying actually, when your kid doesn’t sleep, it’s a different kind of thing. You need actual, like, real, concrete, tangible, practical help. And it’s hard to ask for it, it’s hard to accept it, but it’s not forever. And this whole sleep thing is not forever. Like, I know there were times with Eddie when I felt like, he’s never going to sleep. And now I would say Eddie’s a really good sleeper, despite the fact that he often wakes up. And sometimes, that waking up all the time can kind of make you a really good parent as well, because when Eddie wakes up during the night like he did last night, I was exhausted, but he said you know, this monster licked my forehead, and we had a little talk about, well but was the monster your best friend actually, which is my usual way of reframing it, and so we had this whatever hour of the morning it was, little chat about how monsters can only be best friends with houses, which is a weird concept, but that’s Eddie’s view, and what we would do in the morning, we would draw a picture of the monster to help.
H: These little beautiful moments.
E: Yeah, and I think part of my ability to do that is because I’m so used to waking up and everything. And I also know that Ham will sleep through the night again. And he might sleep through for a couple of nights. Or he might go down to two wake ups would be awesome, or even three wake ups I’d be stoked with. But I also know that he’ll have a period where he sleeps really well, and then he won’t. And then he will, and then he won’t. And he’ll get to the age where Eddie is, when he wakes up when I want him to, which is when he needs me, because I still want him to be doing that. And I know that every parent I’ve talked to says you know, they have five year olds, six year olds sometimes who still don’t sleep through the night, or teenagers they can’t get out of bed. You know, this sleep thing is not ever going to change, so we have to work out ways to be the parents that we want to be. And If we can’t right now because of lack of sleep, try and create an environment, just like we do for our kids, we try and create an environment for them to try and sleep, we create an environment for ourselves as mothers to try and be the best mothers we can be. And that’s my advice that won’t ever sell books, but it’s at least a way to say, there’s no answer, there’s no one method, there’s no sleep aid you can buy online that’s going to change your life.
H: But what does change your life is accepting help and asking for help, yeah. And it’s appropriate, because we’re recording this right around Mother’s Day, people will be either listening to this, probably listening to this soon after Mother’s Day, and that would be my plea to all the people who have mothers in their lives that they support, is try to do that, react with empathy and offer practical tangible support.
E: Yeah. And remember every child is different, and every mother is different, but every mother’s trying to do the best that she can with what she has. And not getting sleep really depletes your resources. So if you can build a mother up instead of, you know. I think that, harmless as it may feel, like, you’re just trying to give advice, sometimes giving advice is just not what a mother needs.
H: And if she needs it, she will ask for it. You know, the times that I have had to ask for help, not just to help me, but for actual advice about how I can help Esther to sleep, I’ve been ready to hear it.
E: Yes! You have to be in a… you know, and I have put on Twitter before “I need help”, and I got a great list of all sorts of things, from having heavier blankets, all this stuff. It was great, and I tried every single thing, and I was open and ready to hear it. But I do not want your fucking advice any other time, I really don’t. Like just do not give it to me, ever. Like, I love ya, I’m so glad you’re in my life, but I don’t want to hear it. And you have to understand that sometimes people just want to, you know, it’s like if somebody’s talking about work, and how they’ve had a really difficult time with their boss, you wouldn’t immediately start saying “well, have you tried this, are you sure that your boss just doesn’t like you because you’re not doing this or that.” Like it’s a really bizarre thing we always do with sleep and children, is insist that there is some answer. And trust me, parents know better than anybody that there isn’t. And what worked for your friend’s kid, or your neighbour’s auntie’s uncle’s daughter or whatever is not the same thing that’s going to work for me and my child. Just, yeah. Mother’s Day wish: be nice to mums, build them up, close your mouth instead of giving advice. Give a coffee instead of advice. Give wine.
H: Both of those things always gratefully received.
E: Yeah. And for all that Mamas on Mother’s Day who are not getting sleep, I hope you get some sleep, I really do!
H: We feel you , we salute you!
E: We really do.
H: And we’re right there with you.
We are so with you. And I just — if there was any way to give all the Mamas some sleep on Mother’s Day. If there was a way, and we knew what it was… yeah. But just, love and support to all the Mamas on Mother’s Day. And if I can I just also want to say that my thoughts right now are with my friend Tiffany’s family. She passed away on Wednesday, and she worked so hard to support mothers through Mother’s Network and Strengthening Families and a lot of places, and I just want to send out some real love and light to her whanau, and just say I’m very sorry, and I’ve been thinking about you. And love to all the mums out there.
H: Love to all the Mums. We can’t clink our glasses today because we’ve got empty coffee cups, but we salute you.
E: We do.
H: That’s it for another month, thanks for listening. This podcast was produced and presented by me, Holly Walker, and Emily Writes. You can find all our previous episodes on Emily’s blog, under the podcasts tag. You can also subscribe in iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you find your podcasts, and please, leave us a review while you’re there. We’ll be back next month. In the meantime, hang in there, you’re doing great!