I don’t much like this article by Lucy Cavendish on why mothers of infants today supposedly get less sleep than their own mothers did back when we were infants. Magazine surveys as “research”, puh, are we even comparing apples with oranges here? Who knows, so I’m not going to read much into that. I’m a bit tired of magazine research, wake me up when we’ve got some proper data to talk about otherwise we might as well stick to anecdotes.
You’ll probably like this article if you’re a bit of a scheduler-mother, it’ll have some kind of common sense appeal (and if your system means you’re getting some good sleep then good for you). I do appreciate Cavendish’s overall tone that mothers should go easy on themselves, and babies won’t fall apart just because we take care of ourselves for a change. Well, actually babies will generally fall apart, they’re very unreasonable, it’s their job. As Nora Ephron once said – children would rather have a suicidal mother in the next room than a happy mother in Hawaii. So basically don’t ask your baby’s opinion on whether you’re coming undone, ask yourself.
Cavendish has some ideas on how to get more sleep. But for me, parking my baby at the bottom of the garden so I couldn’t hear her screaming herself to sleep while I got some down time wouldn’t have worked. Thanks anyway Mother of Ms Cavendish. I would not have been relaxing! I don’t buy all that stuff about how you’ll spoil the baby if you respond to her cries so I didn’t much go for the pearls of wisdom from older women quoted in this article either. These ideas might work for some mothers and if it helps them through a rough patch, then I’m right behind them.
But I’m not sure that the answer to all things sleep-deprivation has to be a contest between the mother’s and the baby’s needs. The article seems to make the argument that we should try anything, giving up breastfeeding for instance, but just don’t talk about equality. What about the elephant in the room? The one getting plenty of sleep. Oi dozy – wake up!
The other interesting finding is that fathers are getting plenty of shut-eye in those early months of baby’s life – an average of seven hours, in fact. Of those surveyed, 55% said that they “hardly ever or never” got up to attend to the baby in the night, while 23% said that their baby’s cries didn’t rouse them.
This is a factor I’ll bet hasn’t changed much over the generations and yet still mothers’ magazines aren’t really talking about the idea that fathers could be the answer to mothers getting better than 3 hours sleep a night. We can look at dummies and crying it out and wondering if today’s mothers are just plain neurotic but we can’t possibly change the division of night-time parenting, what’s with that? I found a great reluctance among mothers during that first year to consider sharing night-parenting with their partners. They were on the brink of insanity with sleep deprivation but they could still manage to find all the reasons under the sun why their partners couldn’t have a broken night’s sleep. Even Cavendish thinks fathers are programmed differently.
In our house I did all the breastfeeding during the night (because I have a specially designed chest for feeding babies) and my partner did most of the nappy changes during the night (because he has specially designed fingers for cleaning poo). It worked pretty well but not perfectly. Lots of people said to me – but that way both of you are getting interrupted sleep. That’s right, and that’s what it is to be the parents of a baby, I told them.
Anyway I’m off to bed. I’ll be less grumpy in the morning, sorry Ms Cavendish.