Response to a Sleep-Deprived Mom

“It’s so tough, but it’s worth it.”

I find myself growing very concerned with the number of people who have adopted the “No pain, no gain,” principle of bodybuilding and have applied it to parenthood.

Last month, Wendy Wisner, a mother, writer and lactation consultant, posted a photo of herself on Facebook, looking like she hadn’t seen a wink of sleep in days.

“Sleep deprivation. It’s real. It sucks. It causes deep bags under your eyes, dents between your eyebrows, headaches, short patience, stress, sadness.”

It does indeed, although the impact of sleep deprivation on both parents and their children are far more serious than inter-eyebrow dents. I can only assume she’s also aware of the myriad heart issues and risks of stroke, diabetes and obesity that sleep deprivation has been proven to cause, but regardless…

“And yet, it’s part of parenting. It’s the stuff of parenting, actually,” she continues. “It’s parenting in its most basic, primitive form.”

Sleep deprivation is real, I agree. It sucks, absolutely. It causes of stress and sadness, you’ve got that right. But the stuff of parenting? I disagree.

I’m not talking about the newborn phase, obviously. You are going to get up many times a night to respond to your infant baby’s need for food and comfort. That’s a given. It’s tough, but you’ll pull through. I’m also not saying that you’ll never have nights where you child wakes you.

Maybe they are sick, running a fever, perhaps you’re sharing a hotel room and your 10 and 11 year old can’t agree on whose foot is touching whose. (All. Night. Long.) Or maybe they’ve had a bad dream. What kind of parent would you be if you said, “Nope, not coming. Go ahead and cry in a puddle of your own vomit. I’m made of steel.” Come on. No reasonable person would ever do that.

Is it “worth it”, as so many people say? Sure it is. Parenthood is worth the sleep deprivation, the frustration, and the endless responsibilities. It’s worth losing an eye, but of course, that’s not a requirement.

Luckily, neither is sleep deprivation, although you wouldn’t know it from reading Wendy’s post, or the comments of her supporters.

“So comforting to see how a “real mom” looks.”

“Hopefully will make some mamas feel less alone and validated.”

“They can’t understand that this is part of it. Being a mom. A “full-time” mom.”

Instead of offering help when a fellow mother posts an image of herself looking like she’s on the verge of a breakdown, people chime in with comments of, “Yep! That’s parenting done right!”

Sacrificing your mental and physical health is not “parenting done right,” and enduring through exhaustion is not “the stuff of parenting.” It is unhealthy, imprudent and unnecessary, and we’re not helping anybody by condoning it.

“It’s important for mothers not to feel alone,” I can hear people crying. “We’re offering support! Stop shaming mothers whose kids don’t sleep well!”

I’m amazed at how often I see people accusing those who would help people in need of “shaming” people as bad mothers. I cannot imagine a similar scenario in which offering someone advice to rectify such a significant problem would be termed as “shaming.” Are you shaming a homeless person by offering them food? Would you be shaming an alcoholic by suggesting they take steps to quit drinking?

As for the suggestion that they are offering support, I wholeheartedly disagree. Although that may be their intention, they are dismissing a serious health issue as a passing inconvenience, and even go so far as to guarantee the sleep-deprived mother that she’ll miss these days once they’re gone.

Occasional nights of poor sleep, I’ll agree, that is a given in this parenting journey. I will happily get up on occasion to deal with my beloved children.

Every night though, for months or years. No way!

It’s not necessary, it’s not helpful, it’s not admirable, and it’s not healthy.

I think Arianna Huffington put it perfectly in my interview with her last month.

“Sleep is challenging for new parents, and there’s no way to get around that. But, at the same time, it’s like they say on airplanes: Secure your own oxygen mask first. By taking time to care for yourself, you will be more effective in caring for the ones you love.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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