The morning she asked me to come over early, I sat there at her kitchen table and watched her fill her large travel mug with coffee. I wondered aloud how she did it all.
“How much sleep did you get last night?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I think I finally went upstairs at 1:30.”
“So that’s like less than 5 hours?!”
“I’m at a point in my life where I’m not going to get to sleep much. I just have to accept it.”
When I was working my way through graduate school, I nannied for this amazing woman. She had three kids, 5, 3, and almost 1, and a very high power, demanding job. The oldest child was enrolled in multiple extra-curricular activities. Her husband also worked what seemed like more than 40 hours a week and sometimes had to travel for his job. This particular morning, she had asked that I show up at 6 am so she could get to the office early. I knew she had been up late, hunched over legal books and her computer until all hours of the night. I think she was probably running on an average of 4 hours of sleep for the past few months. To top this off her baby, less than one year old, still slept in her room, and still woke a few times a night. She was, and remains, a modern day super-mom. Driven. Determined. Passionate. Intelligent. Compassionate. Brilliant. Exhausted. Her plight is not as unique as it should be.
It doesn’t matter how many jobs a mom has, if she stays at home, or works 6o hour weeks. Moms are exhausted. I’ve often said that if you do it right, motherhood is the most rewarding and most draining job you can have. Kids can be like little dictators. Demanding all of you and then some. And people with and without children like to give us advice. I have 3 kids under 5 years old and I have heard all kinds of advice on how I could be less exhausted.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps.” (Even if I could sleep during the day, when would I get anything done? When would I shower?)
“Let the cleaning wait.” (Till when?! Sure, I’ll let it wait. It would be fun to live in a sea of filthy clothes, toys, and dirty dishes.)
“Ask for help.” (As if getting a babysitter to stay up with a crabby baby through the night is so easy. As if getting someone to come over and watch the kids while I clean and shower sounds like exactly what I want to do if/when I can get a sitter for 3 kids.)
“Sleep train your baby.” (Don’t even get me started….)
You give me the advice, and I’ll give you ten reasons why it is a bunch of baloney.
Of all of the advice I’ve ever read or been told, the best came from that mom I nannied for. “I just have to accept it.” Sometimes, our situation is made so much worse by refusing to accept what is going on. You can’t fight the awful sleep deprivation that is parenthood. You might be able to temporarily run away from it, if you have an amazing person in you life that will allow you one night of sleep. But you eventually have to go home again. You most likely cannot change it. Babies do not sleep. I believe they are not supposed to. They learn how to sleep, eventually, no matter what you do. But in the meantime, it is hard. It is hard to stay up all night, for the fourth night in a row, rocking a screaming baby, who wants to nurse but can’t because her nose is too full of snot. You might be so tired and worn out that you can’t even muster the energy to cry along with that baby. You might want to run away, and as soon as that thought enters your mind you’ll probably feel guilty and stare down at your baby with so much love that your heart could burst. But even then, you’ll still want to sleep.
For me, motherhood can sometimes feel like my least favorite yoga poses. Don’t get me wrong; I love all of yoga, every moment of it. I love all of motherhood too. But both can be really friggin’ hard. We can have those practices where we wonder why in the world we came to yoga today. (Why did I decide to have three kids?!) It can challenge us. (Sleep deprivation anyone?) But fighting the pose just makes us more tense. (Try fighting a sleepless baby.) And running away, out of the room and back into the chaos of our lives accomplishes nothing. (You can’t really run away from your kids.) Yoga reminds us to breathe when things get hard. You look right at the muscles that are screaming, and calmly stay. Accept the hard work, the sweat, the tight muscles, and places that you still have to grow. Somehow, you get through the class. (Somehow, you get through the night.) And you always feel amazing on the other side. (All babies sleep, eventually.)
Yoga might help you be more tired in the evenings, and find it easier to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” It might balance your metabolism. It can improve the quality of your sleep. But more than any of that, it gives you the strength of acceptance. You simply cannot control everything, especially your kids. You might barely be able to control yourself, let alone all of your responsibilities. Let go of control, and begin to accept. Through acceptance you can find peace with your situation. It doesn’t mean you won’t hope for change, or that change won’t come. It simply means there will be a little less struggle and a little more peace along the way.