Haven’t slept in what feels like decades? Yeah. Me, too. Here’s how to cope when you’re absolutely exhausted, especially when you’re parenting differently-wired kids.
Contrary to what the parenting books tell you, there are older children who have a hard time learning the secret to peaceful sleep. It doesn’t matter what techniques you try, what routines you put in place, or what sort of professional assistance you seek out:
Differently-wired kids are differently-wired. This includes the brain’s approach to sleep.
Given the amount of thinking, talking, moving, and doing your children do, you’d expect them to sleep like the proverbial rocks. But they don’t, and all the reasons they should sleep are exactly why they don’t sleep.
Busy minds and busy bodies fight their owners when it’s time to shut off.
This sort of sleep deprivation is hard for you and for the kids. Regular, restful sleep contributes to a number of physical, mental, and emotional processes. Skills like emotional and self-regulation, executive function, working memory, and verbal/nonverbal expression can be compromised. It’s a recipe for disaster, for sure.
I’ve written here about possible solutions for your children’s sleep problems, but in this post, I want to focus on you. I want to help you weather those days when you’re exhausted but still have to be on as a parent. Here’s some insight from my own personal experience, plus tips from some Not So Formulaic community moms.
How to Parent When You’re Exhausted
Yep, you heard me correctly. By all means, put things off. Most of your daily tasks really can wait until you possess more mental acuity. When you haven’t slept, you’re more likely to get confused, forget things, and make (completely understandable) mistakes with whatever requires your attention. Tasks, chores, and responsibilities can wait a day or two until you feel more yourself.
“[I] drop all the expectations I can of myself and my children (hard-won knowledge from a lot of pushing through) – no cleaning, no structured homeschool stuff, just hanging out and eggs on toast for tea.” – Community member TH
(But what if this sleep issue is chronic? I have a few suggestions here.)
Lower Your Expectations:
While procrastinating has to do with certain tasks or responsibilities, lowering your expectations takes a more global approach. The laundry can sit. The house can be messy. The kids can eat food off paper plates and napkins so you don’t have to do the dishes. Let what you think you should be doing, go.
“Dish reduction meals. Frozen pizza served on cloth napkins. Carving board with crackers and cheese and salami and cucumbers and apples served on cloth napkins. Sandwiches…. served on napkins. Not having to load and unload the dishwasher again helps a lot with my mental load.
With young toddlers, if no other needy kids are around: nurse with toddler facing the TV, put on cartoons, nap. Keeps them occupied longer and you know they aren’t getting into mischief.
When you start the day burnt out: leave the house. Go strap into a stroller or shopping cart and spend time away from home with contained children and then when you get back the house didn’t get any messier than it was.” – community member KS
(What if this makes me feel like a failure? Newsflash, lady. You’re not.)
Call in Reinforcements
This is the time to call in that favor or ask someone for help. Send the kids to a friend’s house. Call on local family members. Tell your husband you need help, and pronto. And yes, you can rely on screens.
“Throw the kids in the bath so you can sit there while they play. Drive through for lunch. Watch movies.” – community member JE
“I vastly lower expectations, particularly for housework. We keep on top of dishes/kitchen and washing the laundry but not a whole lot more on a regular basis. Phocus sparkling energy water is a little pricy but my favorite afternoon pick-me-up. TV time for the kids every afternoon to give me a little break.” – community member AB
(But what if my kids need me all the time? Yep. I can help with that.)
Be Gentle With Yourself
This is not the time to beat yourself up. Remember: you are only human. Even Jesus rested, and it’s okay if you don’t want to do much around the house or entertain the kids.
“It’s so hard but give yourself grace. I battle chronic illness which can wipe me out physically and emotionally. On some days, I’ll let them get their own cereal and Lunchables. I give them a free day to watch movies while I rest. I rest on the sofa where I can see/hear them. My daughter helps pick up around the house but I just let it go until I’m well enough to catch up. I have been doing better with prayer and time reading my Bible first thing in the morning. It truly helps!” – community member AR
“When I am struggling we have a “me day”. We will do facials, nails, massage, relaxation, movies, books- whatever relaxes us that day. I hope that when they are older it will also show them how important self-love is. We need to learn to give ourselves grace. I felt like a failure the first time, but my girls absolutely LOVE not having any expectations on what we HAVE TO do so its really nice.” – community member JG
(What if I struggle with negative self-talk? You aren’t alone. Click here.)
Rest When You Can
I know. That’s kind of like saying, “Nap when the baby naps!” or “Fold laundry when the baby folds laundry!” But really, take every opportunity you can to rest.
“I have always taken a nap at lunchtime, even when I was single! But when I’m caring for children and haven’t slept, I need to add in a few extra mini-lie-downs, even just to close my eyes for ten minutes. My mom calls these ‘one eye open naps’” – community member SS
“I mother from bed and my oldest help a lot…” – community member MH
(What if the kids make an absolute mess? What if they get into everything? Try this.)
And no, you don’t have to walk if you don’t feel like it. Throw some balls in the yard, turn on the hose, or tell them to find five things that are green (or orange. Or yellow). Just get outside and breathe in the fresh air.
“Go for a walk – alerting for mom and can help regulate the kids.” – community member LW
“I send the kids out to play and then I sit and watch.” – community member EM
(But I’m so rattled I can’t think of anything to do! It’s okay. I got you, girl.)
Be Mindful of Despair
This is when the noonday devil creeps in. Remember that this season will pass. You will eventually sleep again. It is hard – so hard. I know, because I live it. But God has you, and this is growing and stretching you in ways you’ll see in retrospect. Trust Him to see you through.
I know you’re tired. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted, too.
But what I do know is that you are strong enough to weather this and be an amazing mother to your children. Go easy on yourself, lady.
Don’t pay any mind to those parenting books.
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