Over the weekend, I completed the standardising (where your marking gets marked) and started marking exams. I’m marking English Literature and one of the poems that the students could write about in the exam was “Poem at Thirty Nine” by Alice Walker.
In the poem, the poet talks about how much she misses her father, who has passed away. One of the lines jumped out at me:
“I wish he had not been so tired when I was born.”
Oh, I’m tired. I think every single parent is tired. My children wake up too early (a spectacular 4.30am start from Samuel today) and, although Ben is now sleeping through the night, it took until he was 3 for him to be doing it every night.
And this affects us in so many ways.
We compete about who is the most tired: the parent who is working full time, or the parent who gets up every couple of hours to feed the baby?
We blame everything on being tired: our irritability, our lethargy, our mistakes.
We accept, mostly, that being tired is part and parcel of early parenthood and having small children. We know that it will, hopefully, get better. But that doesn’t help when you’re up at 5.30am, knowing that there’s still 13 and a half hours of parenting to do before it’s bedtime.
Pass the coffee.
I remember my parents being tired.
Of course they were tired. I don’t think I’ve ever wished that they weren’t tired when I was young: I just accepted it. But I do know that there are times when I’ve been too tired to play with my children, or when I’ve just switched on the TV until the caffeine hits my brain.
There are times when I think my children would say, “I wish she wasn’t so tired.”
I’m not resolving to be some kind of super-mum, full on playing from morning until night. I think it’s good for children to learn to play alone, to learn to be bored, and to see their parents doing important parenting jobs. Instead, I’m going to:
- 1. Keep drinking coffee. I know lots of magazines try to convince you to give up caffeine, but surely those health editors aren’t getting up every 2 hours to feed a baby? No. I’ll have my 2 cups (I drink decaff for most of the day anyway as I’m breastfeeding) and I’ll enjoy them.
- 2. Try to be more ‘fully on.’ We had a minister at our old church who use to talk about being ‘Fully on and fully off’ – i.e., when you switch off, you completely switch off. I don’t think we ever completely switch off as parents, but I know there’s times when I’m definitely not fully on because I’m wishing my children hadn’t got up so early.
- 3. Get out in the fresh air. This is a massive one for me – I hate being housebound all day. Even if it’s cold and raining, I’ll feel refreshed by getting outside.
- 4. Get as much natural light as possible. That’s easy at this time of year, but in winter it’s much harder. Still, I’m sure it makes the tiredness easier to deal with.
- 5. Try not to think about how tired you are. This is a big one for me at the moment. I can actually cope with the disturbed nights. I mean, I’m not working as I’m still on maternity leave, and I don’t really have to do anything that stressful. As long as I don’t think about the fact that I’ve got up at least twice a night, often 3 or 4 times, every night for the last 7 months. Then I want to start sobbing in a corner. By ignoring how little sleep I’m getting, I can kind of ignore how tired I am.
- 6. Shower and dress. I’d much rather have this that half an hour extra in bed. In fact, one of the best things my husband can do for me is to watch the children so that I can have a shower. It just makes you feel much more able to face the day.
- 7. Try to do a bit of housework each day – but don’t worry if it doesn’t get done. I’ve mentioned before about how a messy house is a source of stress for me. It’s one of those things that becomes overwhelming if you are tired. So I’ve written out a bit of a schedule for me so that I can keep on top of it. If you’d like me to share it, please let me know in the comments as I get a bit self-conscious about sharing stuff like that.
- 8. Stop the competitive tiredness. This is a reminder to myself. Of course my husband is tired. He’s working full time, and his nights are disturbed too. There is no parenting award for being the most tired – but competing over who is the most tired isn’t supportive of either of you.
- 9. Tell the other parent when you’re exhausted. Sometimes we really need to point this out to the other one. Tim and I have to decide at the weekend who is getting which lie-in, or we end up both getting up or resenting the one who did get up. Sound familiar? I know parenting is about being a team, and being honest with each other is part of that.
- 10. Use the help. Samuel isn’t old enough to go and stay with family overnight yet, but when he is, we’ll be making the most of any offers! What I’ve learned with this, is that when people offer to have your children to stay, decide on a date. Pick the date straightaway if you can. Otherwise, you’ll feel awkward about asking them again – even though they offered. And then enjoy the sleep!