Fix my bad attitude towards my baby’s sleep
July 15, 2019 7:47 PM   Subscribe

This was me. My daughter is 8 months old and sleeping much better! However, she has the occasional bad night or more than occasional short nap. I know logically this is so normal and I’m not looking for sympathy because I think we actually have it better than many. But I can’t help but become pretty mad when she has a bad day of napping. I’m grumpy going in there to get her and she’s grumpy because she had a bad nap and then I feel guilty, which makes me mad and it’s a shame spiral until dad comes home to take her off me. What can I tell myself or do to change my bad attitude?

All the things I tried to search around this on the internet is mainly about fixing short naps. We don’t have this issue. We’ve done all the homework and I’d say maybe 75% of her naps are an hour or more. I know, so lucky! But it doesn’t help in the moment of the 25% of the time she has 40 minutes or less. Telling myself that she usually has okay naps only makes me more annoyed!

Why am I annoyed? For one, her naps are the only times I get a break in very long day as a stay at home mom on maternity leave. I love schedules and routines and a short nap throws everything off. She’s a grumpy pain in the butt when she’s tired so the shift is just not very pleasant if she hasn’t had proper rest.

I know that all these things come with the territory. I know this. But are there any mantras to tell myself or things I can do to cool my head and be more sympathetic to her needs, ie just be a good mom? Please do not tell me “they grow up so fast, cherish these moments. It has the opposite effect and it just makes me wish she already grew up and didn’t need to nap anymore.
posted by like_neon to Human Relations (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Damn I sympathize. Nothing like a six minute nap to really mess up your day! When that happened, it helped me to simply acknowledge that it sucks, and talk to baby about it too.

I know you are upset, I’m upset too, this is not ideal, but let’s try to make the best of it and it will get better. Or whatever similar sentiment.

Point is life is hard and babies are hard, don’t deny it; try to acknowledge and move through it together.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:07 PM on July 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think people are afraid of "misappropriating" this word, but: you experienced trauma. And as an extra layer you experienced it at an extremely vulnerable/wiped out/physically low-on-resources time. So when you get reminded of those circumstances, you have a physical, visceral, neurological response. (Literally: triggered. It's a trigger.)

I think it's worth taking a moment, when it happens, to acknowledge you went through some shit and it's understandable to flinch at even the hint of having to go back to that place. Also acknowledge that YOU are doing a GREAT job, and she is doing her best, and y'all will get through this AND if it does get especially bad you got through it last time and you will again.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:22 PM on July 15, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: What are the healthy self soothing tools you have? Is there a smell that helps you improve your mood? A texture? A song? A mantra of some sort? Is there a person you trust you can call who will say ‘yes, that sucks, do you want me to come over some evening this week and take the baby for a walk so you and partner can have a break together?’

And of course, are you well hydrated? Is someone ever able to spell you for your own chances to take naps or long quiet showers?

I second the suggestion to calmly explain to baby that short naps are hard for them and for you, that this tired feeling will pass and for now you’re both going to muddle on through and be as nice as you can to each other. Tell your baby you love them and that someday they’ll learn how to fall back asleep when they wake up. Tell your baby that someday they’ll stay quietly in bed when they wake up and don’t want more sleep. It’s ok that today is not that day, and these steps of being loved even when baby is cranky are developmentally appropriate but that doesn’t mean you like doing the tasks involved.

A mom I know tells her kid ‘you’re having a hard time’ instead of ‘you’re giving me a hard time’ and that framing really seems to help the mom. The baby can’t communicate why it’s hard or would make it less hard for the baby. Sometimes this mom comes up with absurd suggestions like ‘do you need steak and potatoes and a glass of Merlot?’ (Baby has no teeth and obciously doesn’t drink wine) or ‘would a nice long run make you feel better? How about you go get five miles in and then you’ll nap like a champ!’ (Baby does not crawl, certainly is not going for an unsupervised run.)
posted by bilabial at 8:25 PM on July 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

I agree that it’s okay to be grumpy about this. Short naps stink! And just because others have it worse doesn’t make it stink less!

I’d try to let go of the guilt (hahahahaha I know) rather than the grumpiness if you can. Nthing talk it out to your baby (even if it’s mostly for you) along the lines of, “Aw man, such a short nap is no fun! I bet you’re still really tired and so am I. Hopefully the next nap will be better!” And then go do something fun that feels slightly indulgent. I know different parents have different thoughts on screen time, but for my (20 month old) son and I, a failed nap is a good excuse to watch a few episodes of Puffin Rock and both de-grump together.

You’re doing great. This stuff is so hard. It gets better - hang in there!
posted by bananacabana at 8:34 PM on July 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is kind of a dark mantra, so disregard if it doesn’t resonate.

But the mantra that got me through those days was: “it doesn’t make you a bad parent if you WANT to chuck the baby out a window. You’re only a bad parent if you ACTUALLY chuck the baby out the window.”

It took me a long time to realize it was ok to be mad at a baby sometimes. You still have to do all the physical caring jobs, but you actually don’t have to enjoy every second. I mean, if you felt that way all the time, it would be wise to seek mental health care, but occasional mental bursts of OMG FU BABY are 1000% normal. It’s just that the rainbows and unicorns people don’t tell you that. I used to have a lot of shame about it, but as I started to realize what a normal feeling it was, the shame evaporated a bit. I strongly suggest a bit of offbeat humor as a coping mechanism - dryly suggesting to the baby that it have a steak and a nice Merlot is right up my alley - as well as finding some other parents to vent to. TOO much complaining is bad for you, but a properly vented spleen is essential to life with a baby, as is laughing in commiseration with other people’s travails.
posted by telepanda at 9:14 PM on July 15, 2019 [16 favorites]

Totally ok to feel the feelings you are. I wonder what happens if you leave the baby in the crib for a bit and let her fuss? Alternatively, you could allow yourself the time you need, and have a spot to pop her instead of only focusing on her- I am not sure what the equivalent is now, but when my youngest was that age, we had hand me down exersaucer- which was a wonderful spot to park her when I needed some me time. 8 months is an age where you can buy a little time with a toy or something else, so you don't feel the pressure to be "on" as soon as she wakes up.
posted by momochan at 9:55 PM on July 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Short naps could be a sign of a growth spurt (mental or physical) - so keep in mind that she’s going through something might help you feel compassionate for her.

I’d also dig into why you need the nap schedule to go a certain way. Practically of course you want predictability and a rested baby, but emotionally if you’re shame spiraling over this then something else is getting triggered and it’s not really about the baby. So take some time to think about what thought chains are happening - what do bad nap days mean to you emotionally? Why do you get angry at the loss of predictability and control? Who do you imagine is judging you as a mother? Get detailed here and don’t gloss over.

It does not break your bond with your child to be annoyed at them. It’s actually healthy for you to show up as you are, not as some imagined ideal parent. This will model for your kid emotional honesty. So you can telegraph: gee little one I wanted a break and you’re just not giving it today are you!

Recognize that you’re doing your part but she needs to do hers! If you’re setting up the best conditions for sleep (routine, schedule, dark spot, comfy bed etc) and she still won’t nap then gosh darn it, she’s not pulling her weight here. This is what I say to myself when despite the best conditions my lil baby won’t nod off. It’s not my fault and she’s just not bringing her A-game today.

You’re mad because your expectations are being thwarted. So you can remind yourself that children will give you lifelong thwarting of expectations, nap time is just the beginning! So thank you baby for training me to learn to accept you as you are (instead of on my schedule).

Good luck you got this.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:02 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a bunch of kids. None of them have been happy, easy sleepers. I think it is a wonderful thing that happens to some lucky parents, but it is not the norm, and you shouldn't shame yourself.

There is no magic trick to make a baby sleep, just as I have no magic trick right now to make myself sleep. You are not doing anything wrong.

You are in the trenches right now, mama. You will get out of them. My only advice is what I did with my first: take a nap when baby takes a nap, and then babywear when the little tyke wakes up.

Good job.
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 10:57 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I feel you. Is there a consolation prize Plan B? Like, for me it was to take baby on a long walk in the stroller while listening to a podcast, with a bakery as the destination (where I'd get myself a treat).
posted by slidell at 11:31 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think what's missing from the media messaging for modem new mothers is the fury. It is SO hard to be the parent of an infant and no amount of love and research and time tested methodology removes that difficulty.

My daughter was pretty happy to follow the Happiest Baby on the Block's 5 S strategy, but she was pretty insistent that the "shooshing" had to come from me instead of a white noise machine and if I was willing to add in some patting, well, all the better!

I felt so trapped in the mundaneness of the art and technique of getting a dang baby to sleep that I developed a visualization that helped me weather it: I pretended I was a robot mama programmed specifically to raise this child. It is absolutely bananas but it helped me so significantly. I would visualize myself as steel and chrome, pleasant and dispassionate and programmed and the buzzing would leave my ears and my heart would stop pounding and my breath would return to normal.

I felt like an absolute fraud as a parent--- I had to pretend I wasn't a parent sometimes to be a parent-- until one day I told my therapist what I was up to. She laughed, clapped her hands, congratulated me on finding something that worked and reminded me that my baby had no idea that I was pretending to be a robot.

This is SO hard. SO relentless. You are way up in it. Good work!
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 12:22 AM on July 16, 2019 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Omg my kid is 6 months old now and I feel you so much. These moments are uncherishable, wtf is wrong with people who tell you that sort of unhelpful bs.

Sorry, tired.

Anyway! Seconding/adding what works for me on bad sleep days re:attitude adjustment:

- Framing it as “the baby is trying its best” and “we, as a family, are having a hard time”, even if obviously you are the one beating the brunt. The baby would sleep better if it could, it wants to, I have to remind myself it is not doing this to me intentionally. Or at least it makes me feel calmer.

- Yes to asking the baby “why won’t you sleep, you doofus?”

- Did you know you can get a lot of frustration out while doing a nice loud shhh? For garden variety High Annoyance this works! (Not so much for full on Anger, you’ll have to try giving yourself a break with baby in a safe space for that one.)

- If the baby is awake and not screaming, and I’m just really really exhausted, you can lie down on a safe surface (bed with barriers so baby can’t roll off, or soft floor), give baby a toy, drape one arm over baby and one arm over your face, and just go limp and shut your eyes for as long as baby will tolerate. Sometimes you get real lucky and baby falls asleep. Top tip: ensure your hand or arm covers your eyes because you are going to get hit with the toy, it’s okay, go with it.

Good luck and godspeed, sister.
posted by Concordia at 3:11 AM on July 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Ugh, yes. I've found that the better sleep gets overall, the more power the occasional sleep struggle has to completely throw me off. When every day is chaos, you kind of live in it; when most days are like clockwork you come to really resent that wrench in the works! One thought: do you use any sort of baby tracking apps, like to record sleep sessions? If so, maybe hold off on that for a while. I had to stop tracking because I found it was just making me insane and anxious and contributed pretty much nothing of real value to my life or my baby's sleeping.

Otherwise....definitely treat yourself in whatever way you can and ensure your baby knows you will be filing a formal complaint with the sleep department if her behaviour does not improve. ;)
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 4:07 AM on July 16, 2019

Why am I annoyed? . . .

She’s a grumpy pain in the butt when she’s tired

Sounds like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! ;-) It’s normal to be grumpy when you’re tired. Maybe you can commiserate with her—you’re both tired, you’re both grumpy, you’re both new to this whole thing and wondering what the heck is going on. Maybe it can be grumpy bonding time.
posted by sallybrown at 4:33 AM on July 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe the dread and grumpiness comes from anticipation. You're waiting for her to nap longer and when she doesn't your mood is affected, which can affect hers. Instead, let it be. No expectations. You know that she is a short napper sometimes. Maybe stop waiting for her to be a long napper all of the time? What else can you do besides let it be? Don't set yourself up for disappointment.
posted by loveandhappiness at 6:02 AM on July 16, 2019

I think I said this to your last question but “this too shall pass”. Baby and toddler stages are short, and parenting feels completely different at every stage. Think about sleep difficulties as like a time-limited assignment at work? It might be a year, but it’s almost certainly not your job going forward permanently.

I had an easy time with infants, school-age kids have been terrific, but toddlers and preschoolers made me a little miserable, and what helped me was separating out how I felt about my individual kids (loved them) from how I felt about caring for toddlers (really unenthusiastic), and not beating myself up for not enjoying toddlers.
posted by LizardBreath at 6:23 AM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This happened/s to me.

I realized that I was storing up all my "me time" things for nap and that just wasn't going to work. There are two basic things I MUST do everyday for myself: shower and work out. I had to figure out how I could do those things while on Mom duty, instead of save them up for nap. Same with doing chores that I was saving for nap. Basically, nothing can get saved for nap because if nap didn't happen I would feel SO ANGRY and sad that I "couldn't" do the things I needed to do. I still do chores and other me time things during nap, but I consider naps bonus (rather than necessary) time now.

It's hard and adjustment and took a lot of exploring to figure out how I could do things with my child and/or ask my child to wait.

Wishing you all the best. You are not alone in feeling this anger/grumpiness.
posted by CMcG at 7:24 AM on July 16, 2019 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Hello, I have a 10 month old and while I only had 3 months maternity leave (USA), this kind of baby shenanigans was a big, big reason why I went back to work. She often takes itty bitty bullshit naps and it is THE WORST. It was EXTREMELY THE WORST when I was at home with her 24/7 and not just weekends. She's tired, I KNOW she is tired, and yet she does not sleep for longer than 30 minutes, long enough for me to confirm she's actually asleep, go pee, and maybe make & eat half a sandwich. Unexpected short naps are awful and you are right to be mad about them.

What helped me with the AAGH BABY WHY U NO SLEEP rage:

-my own mantras were "it's hard to be small," "the baby can't read my mind," and "this is as bad as it gets," kids in general become easier or at least less constantly needy as they age up. My 4yo has his own challenges but he is on average much, much easier to entertain and care for than my 10 month old.

-always assume it will be a shitty nap, be pleasantly surprised if it is longer than 30 - 40 min. Do not spend another 20 - 30 minutes trying to get baby back to sleep, this will just make you even more frustrated.

-babyproof and cordon off a room or space where baby can just crawl around and play with minimal supervision, or get a playpen. Having a safe , entertaining spot to dump the baby while you go use the toilet or eat a bagel or switch out a load of laundry is great and will make you less reliant on baby's nap being the only time you can get anything done. Have a few boxes full of safe interesting objects and switch out the box any time baby gets bored/fussy. Wooden spoons, a cup, a spatula, a small pot, doesn't have to be toys specifically. Once baby gets more into solids, you can often buy some time by sticking her in her highchair and giving her a bunch of finger foods to squish around.

-plan some rewards for yourself if baby ends up taking a short nap. If she wakes up too soon, you both get to take a walk down to the coffee shop for a nice drink and pastry, or to the corner store for a magazine, or you're going to drive to the mall and wander around, whatever.

-walks in the stroller, trips to the store, or playing in the tub/kiddie pool are all good at cheering up (or at least quieting) my grumpy tired baby. She really likes a change of scenery. Playing music for her also seems to help.

Good luck!
posted by castlebravo at 8:54 AM on July 16, 2019 [8 favorites]

So, I'm not a parent, but I am a lifelong insomniac. Here's some stuff that's helped me dealing with my distress around my own sleep problems, feel free to disregard if you don't think it's relevant.

It sounds like you have a problem that's similar to one I have: a Second Arrow problem. That's a Zen concept in which something bad happens (the first arrow hitting you, which can't be avoided), and then you suffer more than is necessary because of your outrage at the bad thing that happened (the second arrow, which can be). For me, the second arrow makes a sleepless night so much worse.

Something that helps me is basically to remind myself, "this has happened before, and it was unpleasant, but then later you were fine." It sounds like you're mostly telling yourself that things are usually not this bad which, as you say, is backfiring. So you might try instead saying to yourself "this is the worst, but the last time it was the worst everything was back to normal the next day."
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:42 AM on July 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think it's okay to embrace being annoyed and grumpy! At least for me, it makes me even more upset to try and convince myself that I should feel a different way. It is LEGITIMATELY frustrating and awful when my toddler won't nap or wakes up screaming in the night, and while of course I don't want to take that out on her by yelling at her or whatever, it's okay if I feel pissed about that or if I need to take a break -- at 8 months, she really will be okay if you put her in her crib or a pack and play with some toys for 15 minutes while you take a shower (even if she cries).

Also -- you mentioned you're on maternity leave. Is it possible to start going back to work at least part time now or to otherwise get some childcare into the mix? I went back part time (2 days a week of childcare) at 9 weeks and honestly I was so ready. I went back full time at around 8 months, and again, was very ready. I love my child, but I also love my career and I am truly not cut out to be a full-time stay-at-home parent. I feel like we get cultural messages that mothers should truly want to be around their children 24-7, and only work if they "have to." But actually it's okay to want and need other things in life to fulfill you, and it can be great for your child to connect with other caregivers and to see her mom being happy and fulfilled in a variety of ways (including but not exclusively through parenting). No one would question a dad who loves his kid and his job, and who doesn't want to be home alone with his child for months at a time. It's okay to go back to work if you're ready to do that, even if you technically could take more leave.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:52 AM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Awwwww, I’m very sorry for you. When my 2nd was tiny (until ear tubes at 13 mos) he napped no more than 20 minutes at a time. I was beat and nursing seemed like one 24 hour event. Also, when he did sleep, he had to sit straight up. 40 years ago we didn’t have great devices like now to prop babies safely so he slept on my chest sitting straight up. One day I was completely spent and for about 3 or 4 seconds, I shook him, and then cried. Within minutes I got an ear ache! I don’t remember ever having one before that - or after. The pain was unbearable and for about 20 minutes I thought my ears would explode. Then, it was over... and I learned something that at least kept me sane until he finally got ear tubes. Not Accepting our (his and my) circumstances was my biggest problem. I just had to accept the situation as exactly how it was at the moment. He was in pain - mentally, physically, emotionally, or maybe even spiritually. And so was I. For my part, I just had to give it up and calm my attitude about it. I still had very hard times for many months until we finally found out that his Eustachian tubes in his head were very small, and they were clogged most of the time. My understanding was that it’s a very painful condition. Sometimes I need a pretty big jolt to get it, and from that day on, I’ve learned so much about acceptance and the freedom it brings. I don’t know what’s going on with your sweet young gift, so I have no advice about that, but for you (a loving, giving and obviously devoted mom) I can only direct you back to your own words. “Change your attitude” about the situation by practicing “Acceptance.” You and your baby both deserve it. By the way, I don’t insinuate that you’ve done anything wrong so far - you may have, just not been aware of the power of acceptance. It happens to all of us until....... *please accept my love and hope for both of you while you weather the storm*
posted by surely at 9:58 AM on July 16, 2019

Digging into my anger and trying to understand it was one of the best things I have done for myself as a parent (and essentially as an adult). I think that consists mainly of observing it and having some compassion for myself (and I suppose some compassion for my mother, whose quick access to anger was a model). My anger was (is) not explosive, out of control or dangerous, but experiencing it made me feel like a Bad Parent. Everyone has different triggers and lack of sleep is very compromising in the early phases, but I can assure you that there are a lot more anger triggers to come.

I'll tell you two things that help me a little:
One is giving myself 2 or 3 moments to sort of play act out my anger. This probably more helpful with tantrumming toddlers, who sometimes can't help but be amused (though sometimes it also just pisses them off), but kind of making a dramatic joke out of it helps me let off some steam and get some of the angry feelings out of my body.

I try to be more mindful in the good moments. There are those parenting moments that are like, 'Oh hey, isn't this pretty nice right now. This is sort of what I thought parenting was going to be like.' I try to observe and enjoy them a little and try to pay attention and notice more of them in general. These make me feel like I'm doing something right, and I think help keep me from thinking everything is all work and no joy.
posted by vunder at 10:35 AM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Could you call in reserves on those days? E.g., could your husband leave work a little early? Could you go to the baby play gym or somewhere with other parents to commiserate with? I think you'll still be angry -- one of the key causes of anger are unmet expectations, so having a promised treat like a little alone time taken away would understandably be a key cause of anger -- and having been in your shoes, I have totally felt the same way. But I wonder if planning out two or three options for the no-nap days will let you feel more routine about them, like those days follow Routine B.
posted by slidell at 12:16 PM on July 16, 2019

Oh! Another technique I like for handling my own distress is called ‘opposite action’

If I feel like yelling I’ll whisper
If I feel like throwing something (rare for me but whatever) I’ll pick up and gently place things back down
If I feel like kicking something I’ll dance a little
When I am listening to the mean voice in my head I will say nice things about myselfnout loud
When I’m thinking mean thoughts about someone else I’ll try to think of nice things about them

So I also just had a thought. Can you get a cape for the baby that isn’t a choking hazard? If so, you might get a laugh out of putting it on her when she’s ‘super tired!’

See, now the baby is a super hero. Wearing a cape. Also works for hungry and cranky and whatever other feelings babies have.
posted by bilabial at 12:33 PM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Wonderful insight and support, just what I love about this place.

All great answers but just marked the ones that really resonated with me. Especially the point about reflecting *why* I get upset at the short naps. Basically I thought I was an easygoing person but compared to what babies are like I guess I’m a bit of a control freak! I need open my mind to parenthood as a way for me to grow to become a more flexible, accepting person.

The shame spiral, upon some reflection I know what this is about actually. We went through great lengths, heartaches and cost to bring this baby to our family. I think I still feel some guilt whenever motherhood isn’t going well because we tried so hard to become parents, I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I know it’s silly. I’m now a parent just like any other parent no matter how we got here and I know I have as much right to complain and have a shitty day, but to really know it and know that I can be grateful and also really annoyed at the same time? I think I have some work to do there.

I also want to approach naps as a shared problem because y’all are right. She’s not having a bad nap at me. She doesn’t like them either! And treating her as a full person and partner in this journey we’re on together is exactly the way I want our relationship to be like and you have reminded it’s not too early to start that.
posted by like_neon at 2:40 PM on July 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: And wow yes I do use a baby app to track her sleeping. It was useful when we were still trying to establish any sort of routine back in the 4 nap days (shudder) but I’ve probably become fixated at her “stats” like average time slept and become overly focused on that. (Hello control freak!). I’m going to make myself stop using the app for a week to see if that helps.
posted by like_neon at 2:47 PM on July 16, 2019

This might be inappropriate but, if you can afford it, go back to work! Being home miserable with a baby is the worst. You will still be a great mom. I find babies incredibly boring and when they don't sleep they're both boring and miserable. My kids are better off with a happy Mom and professional care. Just because you get 12 months (or whatever) of maternity leave doesn't mean you have to take it.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:50 PM on July 17, 2019

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