When it comes to sleeping, Emmeline is the worst.
I mean this quite literally; of the five babies we’ve had, she is, hands down, the one who has woken me the most at night.
And don’t even get me started on naps.
She’s adorable, of course. She’s a snuggly love-bug who has a smile that will melt your heart. And, for a baby who doesn’t sleep much, she’s generally happy and content.
(As long as I don’t dare put her down, that is).
And even if those things weren’t true, she’d be worth it.
Still, it feels just a teeny bit unfair. This many kids in, shouldn’t things be easy?
Sickness did a number on us this week.
(By “us,” I mean Jonathan and myself. The kids managed to come through relatively unscathed.)
(This is good for a number of reasons, not least of which being that neither of us were really in a great position to care for anyone else.)
Monday was the worst of it. Jonathan spent it in bed, feverish, drifting in and out of sleep. I felt somewhat better than he did, so I was in the recliner in the living room, rousing myself only to perform those child-tending tasks that were absolutely essential.
Everything ached. My brain was fuzzy. I had a low-grade sore throat and a medium-grade fever and a high-grade bad attitude.
Because the kids? They kept wanting things. Unreasonable things, like dry diapers and full bellies and responses to their questions. And I just wanted to sleep, just wanted to be left alone in my misery.
And so, in my humanness, I did not answer their wants with love or joy or peace or patience or kindness or goodness or faithfulness or gentleness or self-control. But even as I snapped and stewed and growled and grumbled, I knew this was not how I wanted to act, not who I wanted to be.
I’ve been walking with Jesus for most of my life. Or I’ve been trying to, anyway. This far in, shouldn’t it be easy?
Miles, in stark contrast to his baby sister, is a fantastic sleeper.
He would conk out on the floor, on his own, on a regular basis. When we put him into his crib for bed or for nap, he would lie peacefully and happily until he drifted off to sleep. I don’t remember him going through any of the dreaded sleep regressions.
(Though, in regard to that last one, I have to be honest: the infant days for all of my kids are a blurred jumble in my mind.)
What I’m saying is, when it came to sleep, he spoiled us.
(There were other parts of his infancy that weren’t nearly so easy, but we’ll talk about those another day.)
I was relating this to a fellow mom of multiple kids recently, and she laughed.
“Enough to give yourselves a pat on the back and think you had this parenting thing figured out, huh?”
I grinned. “Exactly. We thought, hey, why not? We can handle another baby, no problem.”
On Monday evening, at the end of our horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day, I texted the families who attend our small group to let them know we would need to cancel this week. I told them we were sick, and I confessed that I had not been the mom I want to be that day. I asked for their prayers–both for health, and for my own patience and kindness toward my kids.
They freely gave both, as I knew they would, in addition to offers of meals and errand runs and other means of help. And, in specific response to my poor attitude, one friend shared this encouragement:
“I pray you go to bed tonight embraced by God’s grace,” she said. “Tomorrow is a new day and God will give you what you need.”
There are a million and one methods to get a baby to sleep through the night, all of which are guaranteed foolproof and accessible for even the most sleep-deprived parent. Just search the internet. You’ll see.
You know which one I think works best? (She says from her vast stores of wisdom and experience).
(Well, that and a little luck.)
Oh, there are certainly ways you can help or hurt along the way. You can read your baby’s cues and establish a bedtime routine and put her down while she’s still awake and use white noise and give her a pacifier and dim the lights and offer a dream feed and, well, you get the idea.
You can (and should) do what you can to encourage sleep. It will smooth the way. And, for some, it might even result in that coveted 8-10 hours of uninterrupted rest.
But you know what? You might do all the things, and your baby still might not sleep. At least, not immediately. At least, not how you desperately want her to.
Which sounds defeatist and hopeless, except it’s not. Not really. Because two things are true:
If you are patient, if you keep working to encourage and promote good habits, if you provide the right environment for your baby’s growth and development, if you invite your baby to sleep, eventually, one day, it will happen. It might come gradually, slowly improving over weeks or months, or all at once in a welcome flood, but the rest will come.
But also? No matter how desperately you need rest (and trust me, I understand the desperation), no matter how excellent a goal it is, at this age, your primary task as a parent is not to get your infant to sleep for long stretches at a time. No. Your primary task is to be with her. To establish a deep bond and connection with her. To love her.
There are a million and one methods to be a better, kinder, more patient, more loving, [insert positive adjective here] parent (or person), all of which are guaranteed foolproof and accessible with the slightest bit of effort. Just search the internet. You’ll see.
I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to be better, trying to get it right. I’ve used church-sanctioned efforts: bible study and prayer, accountability groups, journaling. And these are all good and valuable things. Things that are worthwhile in and of themselves.
I do all the things, but still, I fail. I snap at my kids over stupid stuff. I get impatient. I have an ugly attitude. I could read my bible all day long and those things would probably still be true.
Which might sound defeatist and hopeless, except it’s not. Not really. Because two things are true:
If I keep working to build good habits, if I cultivate the right heart and soul environment for spiritual growth, if I invite the Holy Spirit to work in my life, eventually, one day, it will happen. I will be like Him.
But also? No matter how desperately I need sanctification (and trust me, I do), my primary task is not to be a better person, a better Christian. It’s not even to be more like Him, as excellent of a goal as that is. No. My primary task is to be with Him. To establish a deep bond and connection with Him. To love Him.
P.S. Emmeline, in an unexpected and unexplained twist, suddenly began sleeping better–much better!–last week. A part of me is waiting for her sleep to shift yet again, but this is grace, all grace, for I have desperately needed all the rest I can get.