Napping was never her thing. Even at a few months old, she seemed to prefer crying to sleeping.
She had no apparent health issues. She ate pretty well. Responded to us like she should. My pregnancy had been pretty uneventful. She just wouldn’t nap. Which made me a very tired mama.
I read a lot of parenting books between my first pregnancy and this one. I knew how important sleep is to proper brain development. So her lack of sleep was doing more than just making me tired; it was stressing me out.
I believed very strongly that if I just kept trying, I could solve this problem. That however she was acting was a direct result of what I was doing or not doing. That I had some control over the situation.
I did not.
On a weekday when she was a few months old and my husband was at work and my older daughter was at preschool, I was trying to get my sweet baby girl to take a nap. She was tired. I was tired. And I don’t even remember which “method” I was using to get her to sleep, but it wasn’t working. And I was so tired. And she would not fall asleep.
And I was lost.
I just didn’t know what to do anymore. As I stood in her room next to her crib with her crying, I felt on the brink of tears myself. Tears and shame at the anger I felt creeping up inside. And so — though I’d been trying to use a sleep training method that did NOT include picking her up — I picked her up. And held her to my shoulder and started singing to her. Because it was all I could think to do. But she was still crying so loudly. And my lullaby disintegrated into a crying, crazed version of itself during which I was trying very hard to not just completely lose it.
It didn’t work. She was unfazed by my maniacal lullaby. And so I yelled. I yelled at my infant daughter. I yelled, “STOP CRYING STOP CRYING STOP CRYING!” in the same crazed tone with which I had just serenaded her.
And it worked. For half a second. And then she proceeded to cry louder and harder. I had scared her.
So I cried, too. They were big tears. I made sounds I didn’t even recognize. I’m sure there were moments when I was crying louder than she was. I was even more lost than I had been minutes before.
I just wanted to give up. I was completely defeated. By motherhood. By life. By my baby. I had nothing more to give.
In that moment of despair and frustration, I realized that the advice books were not written for this child or for this moment. There was no advice I could follow from those books or from the internet or from anyone that would solve this problem.
I realized that all I could do was love her. Pick her up and hold her. She was my child – my last child – and I didn’t have to follow the advice that had worked for my other daughter or that had worked for any other parent or child. I didn’t have to do anything but love her.
And so, I sat down in the rocking chair in her room and nursed her and held her in my arms until she fell asleep. And I prayed that she would have no memory of how I had yelled at her that day.
She’s about to turn four now. She never did get better at napping. But I got better at loving her first and foremost. (And she says she love me, too.)
|She insisted on holding my hand on a recent bus ride.|
Starting that day, my parenting “method” with her — and with my older daughter, too — became “to surrender to love.” It was and still is the one thing I know I am 100% equipped to do for my children.
That moment when I yelled at my sweet baby? It wasn’t pretty. But life sometimes isn’t pretty. Sometimes it’s just plain ugly and messy. But it has it’s beautiful moments, too. As tired and defeated as I was, I’ll always cherish the feeling of my baby falling asleep in my arms and while I stared down at her innocent face with my heart full of love.
Life is both messy and beautiful.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE.