I will be the first to admit, I have anger issues. More specifically, I have anger issues when I’m short on sleep. This has been true of myself in childhood, adolescence, and even still into my late twenties. If I get less than that sweet spot of seven to eight hours in a night, the following day is just not going to be a good day. There’s almost no avoiding it. I have to apologize to my wife constantly about my bitchy, grumpy, rotten attitude every day that I’m running on less than my needed amount of sleep. I may as well put tape over my mouth in the mornings until I’ve had my coffee, otherwise only pure evil will come out of my mouth. Even after coffee I need time to brood and curse the morning when I don’t sleep enough.
To say that having a baby has been a bit of a test in the sleep department is a massive understatement. It’s a given that there’s going to be significantly less sleep as soon as the baby is born.
I Can’t Wait!
I remember the first night in the hospital after my son was born, I was so excited to get the baby at night, I told my wife, “No matter what, wake me up!” She had been in labor for almost twenty-four hours, so we were both tired, but I was well aware of the fact that she was absolutely more tired than me because she, you know, pushed a baby out of her. I woke up the next morning to find out that each time the alarm on my phone went off to feed my son, I would hazily stare up at my wife, mumble something unintelligible, and she would just call a nurse into the room each time to feed our son.
Once you get into the house however, there are no more nurses. There are no call-buttons to summon any help into the bedroom to feed your child for you. It’s all you. This time, I was so ready for it that as soon as we heard our son start to cry in the smallest of newborn wails, we went back and forth with each other, “No, I got him!” “No it’s okay, I got him!”
The excitement of holding my son in the night and feeding him was so intense and surreal. It would be 2 a.m. and there I’d be, grinning from ear to ear feeding my baby boy, singing a lullaby, rocking back and forth comforting my little man. I’ll never forget those blissful moments, just standing in the darkness with only my son and I, being his source of comfort and love, watching him drift back to sleep knowing that I would keep him safe. Heaven on earth.
That feeling lasted maybe a month.
The Struggle Bus
It didn’t take too long for the ordeal of nighttime feedings to become a chore from hell. I would wake up abruptly, if I had even gotten to fall asleep, grumbling, throwing off the covers, and stomping to the nursery a bubbling volcano of internal fury. For months, I was a cursing, grumbling, angry man with glazed eyes just trying to get back to sleep as quickly as possible. After a while it’s not just nighttime feedings either. There’s sleep regression, nightmares, blowouts, sickness, and all sorts of various growing pains that keep little ones up at night and by default, the parents. After over fourteen months, I can probably count on one hand the number of uninterrupted nights my wife and I have had. We’ve both gotten to the point of tired tears multiple times.
For months, I had been a grumbling, angry husband and father for every night that just wasn’t good enough. Exhaustion changed me, it chipped away at the positives and deformed my personality into something I did not like at all. And I know for a fact that if I didn’t like who I was, nobody else did either. Being argumentative, pessimistic, and emotionally unstable are just some of the side-effects of exhaustion. I had these in spades and everybody, including myself, suffered for my personality deformities brought on by lack of sleep.
I would get into so many stupid arguments with my wife, things that absolutely did not warrant snippy comments or vehement cursing, but happened anyway just because my patience was that thin. At times I would go to bed in tears, exhausted not only from lack of sleep but from being so angry. My wife told me at one time she worried about me being alone with our son because she didn’t know if I would lose my temper. Hearing her genuine concern broke my heart. I hated myself in those moments. My nighttime anger turned into a self-loathing rage at night, and exhausted depression during the day.
When Do They Start Sleeping?
Needless to say, I had an awful time adjusting to being a father to a newborn. I told myself so many times that it would all get better as soon as he started sleeping through the night consistently. Month after month would go by and I was constantly working on my anger. I’m still working on it.
But as I write this, I’m running on roughly five and a half hours of sleep, maybe less because of the three or four interruptions. I’ve taken care of my son all day by myself without having any breakdowns. I’ve been in a great mood all day, and I know that I’m going to be okay tonight when I wake up every few hours to calm my energetic boy.
About a month ago, one of my best friends and his wife welcomed a baby girl into the world. He talked to me with an infectious smile on his face and the bags under his eyes that I knew all too well. The conversation didn’t get too far before I asked him how they were sleeping. He gave me the usual answer, pretty good here and there. Some nights are not good at all, other nights are good enough. I asked him what he did to keep calm on the rough nights and the days where he didn’t sleep well the night before. What he said really made me think.
He told me that at first he was absolutely tempted to stay in bed when the baby cried. He was absolutely tempted to see it like a chore, because in many ways it can feel like that. He was absolutely tempted to just dwell on the exhaustion, the endless poop-filled diapers, the endless screams. But it was all about the perspective.
“When she cries at night and I get out of bed I think, ‘I don’t just have to do this. I get to do this.’ I get to go spend time with my baby girl.”
I Get To Do This
And that’s what changed. The attitude shifted. It hit me so hard, I had been struggling, and contributing to the struggle all around me all because I was looking at everything from the wrong perspective. Everything was a chore, everything was such a tiresome marathon, I forgot why I was doing it all.The insight of a new dad caused a paradigm shift in the way I treat everything with my son. It’s not that I have to do all of the regular baby-chores with my son because it’s a day-to-day job. It’s an opportunity to spend time with my son and treasure it.
This is never more true than at night when he wakes up whining and fussing. In order to calm him down, I have to feed him or hold him or sing to him or all of the above. When he wakes up at night, whether it’s from a nightmare, a full diaper, or because he’s hungry, it’s because he needs me.
He’s not going to need me like that forever.
There’s going to come a day where he won’t need me to sing him to sleep. There’s going to come a day where he won’t need me to bottle-feed him, carry him to bed, or tuck him in. And one thing I’ve realized as time has passed, the day where he won’t need me like this is going to come much, much sooner than I think. I don’t just have to hold him right now, I get to hold him. One day, I won’t be able to.
I think about how many months I’ve lost to the rage. Rage at the obligations, the exhaustion, the tedious back-breaking work. For what it’s worth, there are many parts of parenting that are not easy. It’s probably one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. But the attitude I was trapped in made it so much harder. I’m working on self-forgiveness because to be fair, I’ve never done this before.
The Position of Gratitude
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I switched places. For the first year of my son’s life, I worked at an office and my wife worked from home. With some new job offers, I’m now working from home and my wife is working at an office. Everybody was a little worried about just me, only me, taking care of our boy all day. I wasn’t worried. I’ve had a change, and I’m working every day to keep it that way.
There are days that are harder than others. I’ve learned when to tap out and let my wife take care of things. I’ve learned to try to give my own personal activities and hobbies some priority in my day. I’ve learned when to ask for help, and I’ve found that it’s more often than I used to think. I’ve learned that getting an iron grip on my anger won’t happen overnight, especially not a sleepless one. But it’s about making progress in the right direction as much as possible.
But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I do what I do with and for my son not because I have to, but because I get to. I make a habit of watching his little face very carefully whenever I carry him to his crib when he goes down at night. I get to do this, and it won’t be for long enough.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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