Parenting Through Sleep Deprivation

mindfulness  positive parenting 

By Ashley Patek

Parenting Through Sleep Deprivation

I haven’t slept in four years. Not well anyway.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I took a positive parenting course and I had all of these ideas about how I would be this zen mama who validated her son’s big feelings while being his sturdy leader. 

I quickly learned that all of my note-taking and practicing on the dog couldn’t prepare me for the reality of raising children. Two words. Sleep. Deprivation. 

What is it? To me it’s like: 

  • Being awake but feeling like you’re not really there. 
  • Brain fog so thick that you can’t remember two minutes ago. 
  • Impulsive frustration, anger, and snapping. 
  • Resentment. 
  • Rage, especially when my children push back on naps. 

At times I have felt like an empty shell, a mom-zombie walking around reacting to the people I love most, and then feeling guilty about it, not understanding why I am so triggered by things that wouldn’t normally tip me off. But there it was, sleep deprivation. It’s hard, no matter how it’s served. 

Up every two hours ...

Co-sleeping … 

Having little ones slipping into your room two … three … four times a night … 

It may all feel hard.

Feeling that anxiety settle in when you’re scared to close your eyes, knowing that when you do, you’ll be woken again … yea, that feels hard, too. 

The truth is, since becoming a mama, my sleep has never been the same. It’s fragmented, either by my children or my own racing mind. While I expected to be tired during the baby stages, I am now raising a toddler and a four-year-old, and I must have somehow missed the “how-to” class on raising champion sleep fighters. 

And for those who say, “Where is your partner?!” Well, he’s sleep-deprived too. This isn’t just a mom thing, although it certainly can be. It’s also a parent thing. An anyone raising small children thing. And it makes this parenting stuff hard. Sometimes I feel like my loving intent is drowned out by the sheer mental, physical and emotional debility that comes with little to no sleep. 

I have realized that sleep is a need. And not having it is a trigger for me. When it’s lacking, I find it harder to pause before I react to my children’s behavior … harder to validate emotions … harder to be the parent I want to be. 

Our little humans are mirroring back all the parts of us while also having their own thoughts, agendas, and feelings. And I have asked myself on many occasions, How do you stay in your center when you can’t even find it? 

But here’s where something special happens … the realization that part of parenting is releasing perfection. When I am sleep-deprived, I am truly doing the best I can at the moment. And I have an opportunity to share my feelings, set boundaries, ask for help, delegate, and, if needed, model to my children how to repair when I have exploded. 

I am allowed to take care of myself. 

I am allowed to notice and voice my needs. 

I am allowed to love myself through the self-inflicted guilt. 

Because what they see is a parent who is giving it their all. 

A parent who is responsive to their cries and needs. Their safe place. Their night light when they are scared. Their pillow to rest. Their boo-boo healer. 

They see you in a different light than you see yourself. 

Two things can be true ... 

These years are hard. And they will pass. 

They are sleepless. And they are worth it. 

They are draining you. And their love fills you. 

You are tired. And you’re parenting the best you can. 

You want to do it all. And it’s okay to ask for help and set boundaries. 

Sometimes you snap. And you’re still a good parent. 

Someday you will sleep again. And you may look for the shadows of where they once laid. 

Whatever you are feeling is valid. 

You are not alone. We stand in solidarity. One sleepless parent to another. 

•  •  •

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