One of the first things people say to you when you announce that you are to become a parent is something along the lines of “well you better get your sleep in now”. This happens again just before the baby’s birth, and then you are constantly asked “are you getting much sleep” for months after the birth. So clearly it is a well established fact that babies equal lack of sleep. And while I know people whose children have pretty much slept through from birth no one escapes with their existing sleep pattern intact (no one who maintains any parental responsibility that is).
What existing parents do not mention so much is that their sleep continues to be disrupted, albeit in a less regimented way, beyond the point where the child starts sleeping through. This is where a couple of pictures that have been doing the rounds on Facebook and other social media for a while now come in. They suggest that the difference between the perception and the reality of what it is like to share a bed with a toddler. I think that they are brilliant, and the reality bit describes many nights in our bedroom pretty accurately.
What perhaps is more telling is that the perception part of this illustration was what I had in mind before I became a parent. I imagined those idealised images of a mother coming into a bedroom and seeing the father and child snuggled up in a cozy and indescribably cute, yet somehow manly, manner. The reality is not like that, it is really really is not like that. But if it really is not like that then why do the vast majority of photos that I have of either Karen or myself asleep with the children more closely reflect the perception picture rather than the reality one.
Well it could be that when reality bites (or rather kicks, gouges and/ or burrows) I am in no fit state to start taking photos. Nevertheless, I seem to like to present some sort of idealised life through the photos that I post on Facebook, which, of course only perpetuates the perception to those not in the know. I also suspect that my friends and family want to see nice pictures of us being happy rather than some gruesome sight of us irritated and tired. Most of all, however, to post unflattering photos would not be fair to the children who do not have much of a say on such matters.
So while we present something of an idealised picture, the truth is that being the parents of small children means that a good night’s sleep cannot be guaranteed. Some weeks will go by without incident, while other weeks leave me wondering whether I will ever get a decent night’s sleep again.
As the youngest Sam is the most likely cause of disruption. On a good night he will slide in beside Karen in the early hours and go straight to sleep; and on a not so good night he will prowl about, toss and turn, and generally cause havoc for a couple of hours. He is also like a heat seeking missile and, particularly if there is only one adult in the bed, he will follow them around (generally taking up half the bed himself) ensuring that he gets his source of warmth. It has been know for me to be pushed out of one side and get back in the other on more than one occasion during a night alone with Sam.
Jake is far more settled these days, and tends to disturb us less; although he tends to find a night when Sam is settled just to keep us on our toes. Indeed, when they were younger I was convinced that they had a “disturb the parents at night” rota worked out between them.
The night becomes a very different place with children. It is busier, shorter and full of surprises. It is far removed from the perception illustrated in the above picture, and when I get seven consecutive hours of sleep I consider it a small, but very welcome, bonus.