When the topic of kids comes up, oftentimes the topic of sleep soon follows. Someone brings up how their 3-year-old randomly dropped naps and now the afternoons drag or another person laments about their every-two-hour wake-ups they’re getting from their newborn. The most well-rested in the conversation will likely keep that to themselves, so as to not cause any tired tears or become the victim of anyone’s personal voodoo doll.
Parents are sleep-obsessed when it comes to our kiddos—nap schedules, bedtime routines, favorite blankets, sound machines, books on sleep, sleep strategies—all of it. We’re obsessed because we want to crack the code of this great parenting mystery so that we can sleep, too. We’re tired. Always.
To put it plainly, we want sleep and we want it now.
When I think back to my pre-motherhood, late-sleeping, deep-sleeping days, I feel like I didn’t appreciate it enough. Want to take a nap now? Forget it. There are 500 hurdles to jump before I’d even be able to consider a nap now, versus when I used to be able to just drop what I was doing and plop into my bed.
But before I became a mother, I didn’t know. Like anything in parenting, you need to experience it to understand it fully. Sleep is a prime example. There is so much about sleep I thought I knew (or simply didn’t even know it was something to consider/think about) before I had kids of my own, and I’m here today to say: they were lies. Mean, cruel lies.
5 things I believed about a baby’s sleep schedule before having a baby
1. I believed that they would… you know… sleep
I thought you might just hold the baby for a little while, then shush them and gently place them into their crib or bassinet, and—voila!—rock a bye baby, they’d be asleep. I didn’t realize the room needed to be the perfect temperature, they’d need a sound machine at just the *right* sound level, they’d need their favorite pacifier with extras scattered around them and their coziest swaddle.
I also didn’t realize that sometimes they just didn’t sleep at all. That for some reason, when the stars didn’t align, your baby may say, “forget it all! I will stay up until 3!” and that the exhaustion that followed would be overwhelming.
I never realized how complicated sleep could be.
2. I believed that once you got it down, it’d stay that way, nbd
I thought okay, once any challenges were faced it would be smooth sailing. Once you put in your dues and the sleepless nights, you would be rewarded with… sleepful nights. But, my friends, that just isn’t always the case. Because then there’s teething and growing pains and bed-wetting and nightmares and crying at 11 p.m. because—and I quote— “my face is annoying my eyes.”
Sleep does get better. For real. But it’s still tricky.
3. I believed snuggling in bed with your kid had to be heaven on earth
And it is. Just maybe a slightly more uncomfortable version of heaven on earth.
We have a queen-size bed and we are not small people. I am 5’11” and my husband is 6’2″—there is enough room for the both of us to fit comfortably in the bed. But when you add in one, two or three of our children on top of us it’s basically a pile of people. The tiny people nuzzle their way into comfort and zen as they snooze away the rest of the night or early morning, and the big people twist and turn and try their best to relax their tired old bodies enough on the mere inch of space they have to catch a few more precious Z’s.
I honestly do love feeling my baby beside me in bed, but the wistful beauty of it all seems to go out the window on the twentieth or twenty-fifth kick in my back/head/ribs/face.
4. I believed people who struggled to get their kid to sleep must be doing it the wrong way
LOL. As a new mom, I quickly learned that you do what you need to do to get (safe, of course) sleep. That might look like nursing your baby to sleep, letting your kiddo use their pacifier into ages you never thought you’d allow, co-sleeping, sleeping on the floor of their room next to their crib as they drift off to sleep, laying with them in their bed night after night simply because they ask… the list could go on and on.
Lesson learned. You’re not doing anything wrong. Sleep is hard. And we’re all tired. Keep up the good work, mama.
5. I believed sleep training would be an easy solution
I figured, if we’d have trouble with getting the whole sleep thing down, we’d try some sort of sleep training. Easy enough, right? Turns out, for me, it wasn’t. It made my anxiety skyrocket and I couldn’t deal with it. Sure, maybe my kids would be better sleepers if we followed through… but we didn’t, and I’m fine with that. We did what worked for us. We’re doing what works for us.
And if there’s anything I’ve learned in my seven years of parenting it’s just that—we have to do what works best for our family. And we have to get some sleep. Somehow.
A version of this post was published March 8, 2021. It has been updated.