Am I delirious or merely a touch on the crazy side? Admittedly, the thought of being wide awake at 3am no longer worries me. These days I find myself more of a nocturnal participant in life, which is why in bidding adieu to the sun, strangely enough what I’m actually saying is hello to the night. At this point you may be thinking, what’s wrong with Farah? The simple truth is that in our age of baby monitors, I sleep with one eye (and one ear) open and waiting for the unmistakable din of my two baby boys crying in unison.
Let me begin by describing my two-and-a-half year old son, also known as the little boss of our household. Little man used to be the most angelic of sleepers, calmly telling both mummy and daddy how much he loves us, before sweetly wishing us ‘ni-night’. He would curl up in his crib, hug his little monkey and smile himself to sleep. But our serene world came crashing down when he graduated to a big boy bed. These days only a carefully choreographed routine of pampering, story-after-repetitive-bedtime-story alongside never-ending hand-holding can hope to lull him to slumber. And so begins our night… Like clockwork, every two hours we awake to blood-curdling screams as his yelling echoes through our halls, begging us not to leave him on his own.
As I comfort my sweet little boy and assure him that he can indeed sleep alone, my nine-month-old decides it’s time to join his older brother in a supporting role in our nightly orchestra of shrieking.
So why is this happening to us? Having not had a decent night’s sleep in nearly three years, I’ve been asking an endless stream of so called ‘experts’ for advice. To cut a long story short, here’s what we tried.
Advice: ‘Encourage your child to select his own “big bed”’
Reality: My son chose his bed by running into the store and jumping on top of the first one he saw, while laughing and chanting ‘my bed, my bed’. But just because he loves it, doesn’t mean that he wants to sleep through the night alone on it.
Advice: ‘Warn them sternly that their constant crying will result in a one-way ticket to the ‘time-out’ corner’
Reality: Yes, I’ll bet anyone that a half sleeping toddler gives a hoot about ‘time-out’ in a stressful late-night situation!
Advice: ‘When they cry, just ignore them!’
Reality: Pray tell, how does this work for my two-year-old son? If left to it, his standard response is to stumble out of his bedroom and wander the halls screaming until his voice is hoarse.
Advice: ‘Talk to him, help him to understand why he is waking up at night’
Reality: Mark my words, we’ve tried this. All it results in is a standard response of ‘mama stay with me’ (sometimes I get lucky and he says please!).
As you can see, these so called ‘experts’ have really narrowed down their guidance to a set of four pointers that make absolutely no rational sense to any parent during the early hours. Even worse, they make it sound as if you’re doing something wrong when these ‘amazing’ tips don’t produce the desired effect.
So what does desperate mummy Farah do in her time of need? Lucky for me, I can turn to a group of fellow mothers (let’s call them my ‘blunt mummy friends’). I love these ladies because they don’t beat around the bush. Their simple advice is ‘you’re not going to be sleeping for at least the next few years so embrace your life as it is and make the most of it... as a matter of fact, you’ll continue to sleep with one eye open at least until they head off to university at the age of 18!’ I don’t know about you guys, but I’d much rather be told the truth so I can deal with it, compared with lying to myself that a solution to my sleepless night has actually been discovered.
I guess that the puffy eyes mixed with that look of sheer confusion are exactly what parenting is all about. It’s about learning how to extract a hidden source of energy that none of us knew ever existed within us.
I say ‘hats off’ to the parents that balance what can sometimes be conflicting demands of work, social obligations and family.
In my view, it’s exhaustion that lies at the root of most our parental dissatisfaction, so I’ve put together some pointers which may lend a helping hand to fellow sleep deprived parents out there:
• Save your least demanding errands for the mid-afternoon slump when your eyelids are starting to droop.
• Stay hydrated! Whereas this may sound easy, the truth is that most of us don’t even drink half of what we’re supposed to.
• Eat balanced meals and DO NOT skip breakfast. As our mothers used to remind us, it is indeed a foundation for the day, especially if you are already exhausted from a long night with the kids.
• Shower in the morning, freshen up and ‘fake wake’ (as I call it!). Make a genuine effort into looking good and hopefully feel good.
• Never hesitate to remind yourself that you are doing all you can!
Ultimately, whenever my husband and I find ourselves totally wiped out, we take a quick pause to remind ourselves how privileged we are to be parents to these two incredible boys. We also remind ourselves that whereas our nightly sessions certainly take a toll on our daily lives, they are only just a phase. Once that passes us by we’ll never have it back again which is why we’ve finally learnt to welcome night-time with the Sawaf kids.
Mum of two Farah is founder of Soul Communications, and is also the kitchen goddess behind the Cooking with a Manicure blog, www.cookingwithamanicure.com