As the time logs come in for Mosaic, I’m seeing a variety of family situations and time (and life) challenges. Most women get enough sleep, which is why I found “June’s” situation poignant. I wasn’t pleased with my response to her biggest challenge, so I thought I’d put it out here for better ideas.
June is a single, custodial mother of 3 young kids. June earns good money working for a tech company, and has a reasonable amount of control of her schedule. The kids go to daycare while she’s working. Their father can take them for a few hours at a time, and does for a bit on weekends, but for various reasons, isn’t going to be much of a resource for helping her on her biggest issue.
Which is this: The kids don’t sleep. The two littlest ones (2-year-old twins), that is. She was in bed from about 10:30-6 or so most nights, which in theory should be adequate, but she was always up at least once with one of the kids, and one night she was up 4 times with them. The twins don’t wake each other up, it’s just that they both wake up at least once during the night and since there are two of them, this starts to add up. They go to bed all right (she invested a lot of time and effort in getting them to go down regularly at 8/8:30), but they do not stay asleep.
This constant sleep interruption is obviously taking its toll on her. She would like to work a few more hours, but the normal approach — split shifts, and work from 9-10:30 pm after the kids go to bed — doesn’t work when she’s so exhausted. So she spends this time in front of the TV or surfing the web instead until she falls asleep.
When we talked, she was starting to do a couple of smart things to manage her energy. She hired a housekeeper for about 9 hours a week to do the cleaning, laundry, lunch-packing, etc. She’s taking a yoga class twice a week during the times the children’s father has them. She normally eats lunch at her desk, so I suggested she force herself to take a 20-minute walk instead. A little bit of fresh air and exercise can perk you up during the day. She can move brainless emails from this lunchtime slot to her TV time at night (just answer a few on the smart phone during commercials). She has enough time to grab an hour-long nap in addition to her yoga class when the kids are with their dad. She did this once during the weekend she logged, and I suggested she make it a regular thing. That’s not the time for paying bills, puttering around the house, etc.
She can also try to go to bed earlier. When it’s impossible to sleep in, you can “sleep in” by getting to bed earlier. She spent 90 minutes to 3 hours on TV or internet at night. Trying to hold it to an hour or so would give her decompression time but also let her log a few more hours in bed before the wake-ups started.
Hopefully, the wake-ups are not a permanent thing. Her 4-year-old was only up once during the week, so presumably the twins will grow out of it too. There will be light at the end of the tunnel. But I spent some time on the phone with June trying to brainstorm ways she could get, say, 1 night every 2 weeks on her own, uninterrupted. She currently doesn’t have to travel for work, but this is something that could happen eventually, so she should be thinking about it anyway.
One option is calling in extended family chits. Again, we’re just trying to get through the next year. While asking people to visit mostly because you want them to lose a night or two of sleep may seem like a big ask, people may be more willing to help than you think. At least a few nights over the next year might be doable. She also has a number of friends, and while, again, it seems like a big ask, people might be willing to do one night.
She could also hire an overnight sitter once every few weeks. June had prioritized outsourcing housework, and with three children in daycare, she already felt like a lot of money was going out the door. But this could be an option every few weeks.
Obviously the big win would be if the 2-year-olds learned to get themselves back to sleep. The problem here is that when you’re so exhausted, lying awake listening to them call for Mommy for an uncertain amount of time is tough. It seems easier to get up, shush them back to sleep, and then go back to bed yourself.
I’m curious if others have suggestions for June on how to cope with this situation, and hopefully start getting more rest. I know I have readers who are single parents, and also readers whose kids don’t sleep well (and some Venn diagram overlap between the two). What can June do to claw out from exhaustion?
Photo: My 6-year-old snapped this shot while playing with my iPhone while I was out shoveling snow.