Lyn and I have had a large number of different nighttime parenting arrangements. When I was still nursing Ira (and he was still waking up about ten million times a night), we traded full nights, each taking every other night. These days (now that Ira sleeps in until 4 or 5am, ugh), I’m officially “on” every night (which usually doesn’t actually involve a wake-up, but still requires vigilance), and Lyn nurses every morning at 5am. We alternate who is on after 5. Sometimes Ira goes back to sleep for an hour after the 5am nursing and other times he’s just up for the day.
Last night we decided to change our strategy. Ira has stopped taking bottles of breastmilk when I’m with him during the day and we still have some milk in the freezer. We need to use up the milk, so we’re going back to switching full nights. On the nights I’m on, Ira will get a bottle at 5am. On the nights Lyn is on she’ll nurse him. Last night was my first night completely off in a long time and I found I was nervous before going to bed (but very happy). I put in my earplugs prepared for blissful sleep.
Then in the middle of the night there was a disturbance. And then another. And I think a couple more for good measure. It’s unusual for us to have multiple nighttime problems (anymore). I found that I had two reactions.
First, I worried that Lyn couldn’t handle whatever was going on. That she’d be upset by lack of sleep or unable to handle Ira’s crying. As soon as I started having these thoughts it was clear to me that I had lost my mind and I rolled over and went back to sleep.
But then Lyn had to get up a few more times and I started to feel guilty. After all, the night shift is my responsibility. Why? Much of the time, it’s a non-job because everyone just sleeps until 5am. I figure that the times that I have to get up in the middle of the night make up for the fact that Lyn has to get up at 5am every single morning no matter what. It’s a way of balancing things out. So as Lyn got up again and again last night, I rolled around in bed trying to sleep through the guilt.
Many parents struggle with the same two issues that I tried to sleep through last night — feeling that we have to do the nighttime shift alone because we have some special qualification (ha!) or because we have to spare our partners the horror of nighttime wake-ups. But both of these are lies. For one thing, no one is really qualified to parent anyone at 3am. Lyn might have done different things than I would have when Leigh had a bad dream and woke up Ira, resulting in a giant two-kid screaming fest, but insisting that it be handled exactly my way is absurd, insulting, and has the potential to keep me from much needed sleep.
Secondly, imagining that Lyn’s sleep is more important that my own is…, well, um, can you say “co-dependency?” Parenting sometimes means going without sleep, and Lyn can handle that just as well as I can. So I’m letting go of my guilt. I’m sure there’s more in my future, but for now I’m just going to enjoy my nights off.