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You don’t understand tired until you become a parent

There were times in my twenties when I thought I really knew what tiredness was.

One week stands up as a pinnacle of awfulness – working 20+ hour days, crying in the shower in the morning with exhaustion but still managing to go out an party on the Saturday night at the School Disco before heading back into work on the Sunday for more of the same.

Except whilst that was tiredness it wasn’t really the same as the unrelenting, bone deep exhaustion that seems to come hand in hand with parenthood.

I read somewhere that the human body is able to cope with a couple of days of sleep deprivation before suffering too much.

How about a couple of years?

Although I should be fair here, Bigger used to not be a bad sleeper.  In fact I don’t think we’d have either managed to have conceived Littler or even considered conceiving her if she had been a bad sleeper.  As it was, with the occasional blip for illness or separation anxiety or before something changes developmentally, she largely slept ok.  She slept even better when we stopped faffing around and let her carry on sleeping in her cot.    And to be fair, once we have got through the nightly battles to get her to go to sleep (yes, to a three year old the world is very exciting, especially when there is another episode of Octonauts to watch) and the requests for water, various soft toys and exactly the right sort of lighting, then generally she does sleep well.

The trouble is that when she doesn’t sleep well, she REALLY doesn’t sleep well.

She does being poorly in dramatic style, spiking temperatures overnight and refusing to sleep unless physically attached to one or other of us.

Luckily for me, after an epic night time battle last year, she at least will behave in bed with me, knowing that if she doesn’t she’ll be back in her own bed before you can say kick in the ribs.

And then there are the night terrors and nightmares and sleep walking.  Yes I know they are linked to her brain trying to process too much at once but oh my goodness they do make for an exciting evening. 

And she doesn’t do any of this quietly. 

She has one night time volume and it is LOUD.

Which wakes her sister.

Who again is generally a good sleeper but very easily woken and currently in training to be a bat – I reckon she can hear anyone creeping upstairs no matter how deeply she is sleeping.

So the point of this.

Not much.

Or to sympathise with others – there is nothing like the exhaustion you have as a parent.

Nothing like it at all.

I’m currently at the would quite happily cut off an arm in order to have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep…

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27 comments to You don’t understand tired until you become a parent

  • Jem

    Yes! And the worst of it is, that despite knowing we all have different tolerance levels I find myself getting pissed off at parents complaining that their kids sleep through but “get up at 5am”. That sounds like fucking bliss! Try being woken every 20 minutes by a child who can’t sleep for screaming because her stomach is so bloated and painful due to stool withholding!!!

    Er, sorry, got a little carried away there.

    • Muddling Along

      Oh you poor thing – that sounds beyond awful

      And worse you are supposed to get on and survive and carry on and all you want to do is curl up and sleep for a week

  • I totally agree there is nothing quite like tiredness until you’re a parent. It’s quite a shock when one of them has a do in the night and it completely wrecks me for days.

  • It does come back! I promise…I have one horrendous sleeper who is now 5 and whilst she does still wake most nights, it’s now usually before I even go to bed. She also is an early riser (at one point she woke regularly at 4.30, ready to start the day) but these days she’ll read in her room or play with her toys until a very leisurely 7.30. So rest assured it really does come back! I’m planning revenge for when she is a teen

  • Hi there, nice to meet you. came though Met Mum. I always loved that expression used by Alsion Pearson “deep sea diver” tiredness, says it all!. We did the Contended Little Baby Book and went out every Sat night, but still I was knackered for years…

    • Muddling Along

      Hi – pleased to meet you

      Never heard deep sea diver but it completely covers it – and years oh yes it is years… sigh

  • Juliet

    I feel totally overwhelmed today by exhuastion. Nothing is wrong nothing is bad, everything is good, I cannot blame anything on lack of sleep … I’m exhausted by that box I fit in. I think I feel a bit trapped and a bit tired of being a Mum (but now Mothers guilt has kicked in with those words and of course I love being a Mum, but I’m a bit tired of it … oh god, to get it right?)

    • Muddling Along

      Ignore the guilt, its not guilty to want something more and to admit that actually small children can be terribly hard work and a bit, well less engaging that you’d like (yes darling I so want to open the Octohatch another zillion times) and that is exhausting

      Have you checked your iron levels? Think I’m anaemic and that isn’t helping much

  • Redbedhead

    I feel your pain. F is still waking lots. Lots and lots. Until a fortnight ago she was averaging 10 times a night. Now we are down to 5 times a night. I pray it starts to reduce and quickly otherwise I am going to seriously struggle when they expect me to use my brain at work.

    • Muddling Along

      I am utterly useless without sleep – and falling asleep in meetings is really not terribly professional… not that I do that of course

      I hope it gets better

  • I’m planning revenge for the teenage years too. So looking forward to it. As I will, by then, have been conditioned by my children to get up at 6 every single sodding day. Mwa ha ha ha.

  • nikhk

    I remember J going through a rather brutal phase of poor sleep, culminating in a night where he slept for no more than 30 mins at a time. Zombie ain’t the word.

    I’m struggling with another variant on parental tiredness at the mo though – first trimester wipes me out completely, but it’s oh-so-much harder when you have a lively toddler to entertain too.

    • Muddling Along

      *whimpers* that sounds beyond awful – you poor thing

      1st trimester tiredness with a toddler is a whole other thing – remember going upstairs to change out of work clothes and falling asleep on the bed because I’d been silly enough to sit down for a minute

  • Annabel G

    Yes x I’d be a different parent if I had sleepers, I’m convinced of it. And that makes me sad.

  • Charlotte

    It’s always irritated me when parents take the righteous high-ground in saying to non=parents: “when you have kids then you’ll understand about x” (x being: tiredness, busyness, stress, multi-tasking, being a real grown-up who we can let into our ‘club’ etc.). Now that I have a 15-month-old I try to be really careful not to fall into the trap that I used to hate. In any case, I still rate my worst exhaustion as living in a tiny London flat above a drug dealer who used to play LOUD music at all hours of the day. It meant that you absolutely had no control over whether you would be able to sleep/work/think at any time – and never knew in advance whether the morning/afternoon/night would be a time of peace (rare) or slamming-loud-impossible-to-sleep-or-reason-with noise. The police didn’t care (and the neighbour was not the sort of person you had a friendly ‘chat’ with – I heard what happened to his girlfriends). At least as a parent I have some control over whether my child sleeps or not (at this age anyway) and can plan in advance when I might get my sleep! It was the complete uncertainty that threw me with the noisy neighbour (like having a newborn).

  • The worst thing for me is having someone kicking me and taking the covers all night! I’m quite strict about Baby B being in her own bed but for quickness, my husband will just let her in with us. I am lucky that he lets me lie in though…swings and roundabouts!

    • Muddling Along

      Having been woken by Bigger kicking me in the head at 6.30 this morning I so agree – there are some nights when I just really cannot bear the fight, which is probably weak and pathetic of me but hey in the middle of the night its difficult to stay strong

  • Before I was a parent I thought I knew tiredness. When I was younger I used to have a weekend job and on some weekends I’d have to start at 5am. I would find myself out clubbing until the early hours then not sleeping but getting home, watching telly for a bit then going off to work. That left me rather tired.
    I also find I can’t sleep on aeroplanes so long haul flights often leave me completely jet lagged and so very tired.
    However, nothing but nothing can compare to the tiredness I felt in those first newborn months. The word tiredness doesn’t even cover it – they need to invent a new word for how that type of sleep deprivation feels. I am so grateful that my daughter is a pretty good sleeper now.

    • Muddling Along

      Its that bone aching tiredness that sucks out the will to live – and you are so right, tired doesn’t really cover it

  • Bumbling

    You know, as a parent with a sleeper, it’s not just about the night time sleep! Your level of intensity, all day every day, really takes it out of you.

    So I just cannot imagine what it would be like to be operating on that level, with no sleep either…

    My thoughts are with you lovely!

    • Muddling Along

      That is a really good point – the intensity is really draining, I hadn’t really realised that beforehand (and hadn’t realised how much it increased with two… ooops)

  • Kirsty

    I cling to the thought that we will get there eventually. My eldest is now 33 months and he wakes at some point in the night. OH will go and see to him and they share a bed until morning. But with OH away or when he stays at my parents’, he will sleep though. I think my big mistake was that the first night I had away from him was when I was in hospital giving birth to Baby2. I haven’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep in 33 months. But in a few more months, the little one will be old enough to stay over at Granny’s too – I’ll be going to bed at 9.00 pm and sleeping until 10.00 am!

    My brother and his girlfriend had a week off work last week. They spent the week lazing around; one day they had a Marvel movie marathon, watching X-Men (all three), Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman… all in one day! Can you possibly imagine having that much free time to relax and do as you please? My mind was boggled.

    • Muddling Along

      Time away is definitely a good idea – business trips have definite benefits!

      My brother and his girlfriend are the same, they sleep into about 10am and I just couldn’t imagine how nice that would be… strange how life changes

  • The problem I’ve found is that even with the opportunity for a long sleep (“long” being perhaps six hours if I’m lucky), I’m now such a light sleeper that it takes me half an hour to actually fall asleep and I wake at the slightest noise – it must be my mummy radar.

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