It was a weeknight about four months into parenthood. I had work the next day. It was the third time I had gotten up with my baby that night — and I lost it. After he was fed and changed and rocked back to sleep, I slumped in the glider chair and had myself a good cry. I was exhausted, frustrated and disappointed. My baby was nearly 4 months old. Wasn’t he supposed to be sleeping through the night by now? All my friends were boasting about their babies sleeping for longer and longer stretches at this stage, some for as long as 12 hours.
“My baby is boring now,” one friend said of her 4-month-old. “All she does is sleep.” Another friend’s newborn was already sleeping six hours straight. Yet another said their little one only woke once in the night at 2 weeks old. It was all I could do not to burst at the seams with jealousy.
My kid was an expert waker. He was brilliant at getting up several times in the night, sometimes mere minutes after falling asleep. There were nights when we’d put him to sleep at 9 p.m. and he’d wake up at 9:10 p.m. wanting more food. Then he’d fall back to sleep and wake up at 9:30 p.m. wanting to be rocked. And then again at 9:45 p.m. needing to be rocked yet again. And of course, he often woke up crying just as I had finally started to drift off to a much-needed sleep of my own.
I Googled the hell out of our dilemma. Was I doing something wrong? Was there some magic trick to getting him to sleep better? Most mommy forums and baby sites told me my little one should be sleeping eight hours straight by now. I read comment after comment, article after article about babies the age and size of mine sleeping much better than mine was.
Each iteration from someone else gave me both hope and dismay. I’d prepare each night with optimism: Maybe tonight is the night he will sleep through the night. But it didn’t happen.
It was incredibly draining. I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster with a 300-foot drop — one that I fell down every single night. Then my wife said four words that changed everything: “You can’t have expectations.” (Well, that and she told me to call off the web searches.)
Those words hit me like a cannonball to the gut and obliterated all the layers of worry that I had been carrying since our son was born. I mentally washed away all those anecdotes from other parents, all the comments on online forums from anonymous moms with bad grammar. They were not me. Their babies were not my baby. Of course it made no sense to compare.
I realized that my expectations had been ruining beautiful moments with my baby since day one. I had expected him to do what I thought he was supposed to based on books and articles and friends’ encounters. And because of that, I hadn’t been able to accept him for him — his own unique behaviors and personality.
From that moment on, I made it a point to check myself every time I went down the rabbit hole of expectations. Now, every time I start to plunge down that path, I pull myself right out and just enjoy my time with my baby — even if it happens to be at midnight (and 2 a.m., 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.).
I rock my baby to sleep each night and enjoy the feel of his soft little body in my arms. I savor those middle-of-the-night feeding and cuddling sessions even if I’m exhausted and only have two more hours until I need to get up for work. Because I know those tired, precious moments are limited — and I won’t ever get them back.