At 3 a.m. every night, my daughter starts patting my face.
The first time I mentioned this (here), there was a surprising reaction from moms around the world... it seems that face patting is actually A Thing.
Why did nobody tell me of this before I became a mom? Why wasn't I warned and prepared? Why wasn't I offered a hand of solidarity?
Don't get me wrong; I am no stranger to night wakings. Although I tend to call them "dark wakings," because any sleep-deprived mother knows all-too-well that there is no such thing as night. There is light and there is dark and we will stay awake, regardless.
So when the clock hits 3 and a little hand starts its pre-dawn cheek-patting ritual, I remind myself that I am not alone in my tired fog.
Not that we're supposed to believe this fact... this truth that we are often awake when the moon has risen... this reality that sleep commonly goes through a total overhaul once a woman enters motherhood.
No, instead we are told very clearly that there is a big problem with being awake.
Because sleep is expected. It's a goal that we must aim directly at and anything less than a win of at least eight hours straight is considered to be a total and utter failure. And whose failure is it, exactly? That would be mom's failure. Because the expectation is on us, fellow moms. The expectation is that we have the power to exercise some sort of Jedi mind control over our children and their sleep(less) habits. What's the one question that we are asked by every person we meet?
"How does she sleep?"
My answer has always been very simple:
With this one simple truth, my identity changed forever. Heads would turn when I entered my local mom's group and conversations would hush. I became...Sleep Mom.
I really needed a cape. Or at least a mask, you know, to hide the under-eye bags.
Sleep Mom became the antidote to the tired moms at the toddler group. Sleep Mom became the remedy to the mom who had woken (just) twice last night, and to the mom who had skipped a run because of a (singular) missed nap. Sleep Mom saw these tired facts and figures and raised them tenfold. Sleep Mom had a purpose and offered relief... relief that Somebody Was Awake For Longer Than Me.
Because there is comfort in solidarity. There is comfort in not being the only one. Sleep Mom offers a hand and a tired smile, because sisterhood is reassuring.
In those darker moments when we feel as if there is no other human being on the planet who is still awake, Sleep Mom offers sleep relief. In those panicked moments, when we convince ourselves that this is an isolated and scary case of sleeplessness that needs 'fixing', Sleep Mom offers comfort.
Sleep Mom offers a hand to hold, while 'experts' try to convince us that our child's normal sleeplessness warrants an (expensive) intervention. We can pay a few hundred dollars -- or maybe just buy the book -- to master these elusive Jedi sleep tricks and remorse over the undisputed fact that this is All Our Fault... because the Gold Star of Motherhood goes to those who get their nightly eight hours, right?
Sleep Mom calls Bull.
The one thing that these expensive programs forget is that babies are humans too. Toddlers are real people. Children are individuals.
We, as parents, can guide them and protect them and endlessly love them, but we cannot and should not expect to make them sleep. Because they are separate to us, with different and unique needs. There is, in fact, no universal sleep standard that all humans must adhere to.
This realization literally gave me new-found energy. This realization -- that it is not my job to enforce sleep, but instead, to follow its own specific and unique path -- took away a huge burden from my mommy shoulders.
Yes, it seems that being awake was not the only thing making me tired. My heart and my head were tired too... tired of being shamed for having a child who doesn't sleep... tired of being told that this was somehow my fault... tired of being sold methods to supposedly right my mothering mistakes.
Because it is never a mistake to meet the needs of your baby.
Whether those needs make themselves known at three o'clock in the light or three o'clock in the dark.
It is never a mistake to meet the needs of your baby.
Whether those needs make themselves known through cries or through face patting.
So to every Sleep Mom reading this, let me reassure you (just as you reassure others) -- there is no shame in being awake.
Yes, I can hear you... I've screamed it too:
"But I'm so tired!"
Tired means a different thing to me now. It isn't something to fight or be angry with, because I understand that sleep is a battle I will never win. We might think we're winning, but then time or illness or the freaking wind direction will take away our glory in a heartbeat. That's why I made the decision to break up with sleep... to let go of the pressure and to withdraw from the game.
For me, tiredness is something to work with. It is a gentle whisper in my ear to reach out and ask for help... to make the most of the seconds between tasks, to breathe deeply and reset my day. Tiredness is a nudge towards self-care, towards easy, quick and effective decisions that I can make on a daily basis to prioritize me. And so I wrote them down in an email series...simple ways to fill my mommy cup...and I'd love to share them with my fellow Sleep Moms (for free, of course.)
Because when my daughter points to my under-eye shadows and tells me sweetly that I've got a bruised face, I know it's time to stop and take a breath. Care to join me? We're in this together -- and that fact alone makes the fog a little lighter. Just knowing that others are walking the same sleepy path, or have walked the Road To Exhaustion many times before and survived, is a fact worth dancing to (if we had the energy to dance, that is.)
You can find Mama Bean on Facebook and find out more about the free 7 Days Of Sleep Relief email series here.
This post originally appeared on Mama Bean Parenting.