As it’s approaching Valentines Day, I thought this was as good a time as any to have a little chat about Mum and Dad. We’re all so focused on our kids, it can be really easy to lose sight of ourselves, let alone our relationships with our partners! (Mum’s, if you haven’t already, maybe you’d like to have a look at my previous blog about Mummies? Dads, don’t worry, your turn is coming soon!).
We all know maintaining relationships takes some work, they don’t just happen. Communication, compassion and compromise are pretty important ingredients for a good one, but these are just a few of the many things that are affected when we’re sleep deprived.
Why are people so stupid?…
What is it about you having a lousy night’s sleep that makes everyone around us so awful?
It seems that way, doesn’t it? You have a night of broken, interrupted, just plain lousy sleep, and the next day people are driving like they’ve been lobotomised, kicking off about their Starbucks order in front of you, and asking you the same stupid questions at work that you’ve already answered half a dozen times….arrrgghhh!
Seriously, is the universe out to get you? Is there a hidden camera somewhere and a group of sadistic YouTube pranksters sending these cretins your way?
Maybe. I’m not saying that it’s totally beyond the realms of possibility, but, a more likely explanation is that your lack of sleep is making it impossible for you to react rationally to frustrating situations, regardless of what it was that caused your poor sleep. Of course, if it’s just one night, we can usually bounce back pretty quickly, but if it’s an ongoing issue, perhaps thanks to a little sleep thief in your house, then it’s quite a different story.
I’ll not go into too much of the science on this one (you know you can always message me for more geeky info!), but basically the part of your brain that’s most affected when you’re sleep deprived is the prefrontal cortex, which also happens to be the area of the brain responsible for ‘executive function’ including how we express our personality, decision making, and how we conduct ourselves socially. Meaning we’re more likely to respond negatively to all things emotional, more likely to be aggressive than we usually would as well as more likely to take risks we wouldn’t usually take.
So some of the things our partner does that may (to those of us who are well-rested) seem pretty innocuous, like leaving the milk out of the fridge (AGAIN!), or not putting their shoes away (REALLY?!) could be ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back’. What you feel was a perfectly reasonable tone to use to your partner could be misconstrued as just darn right rude. Throw into the mix that when we’re sleep deprived our empathy is reduced as well as our emotional recognition, all may not be well on Planet Mum & Dad.
You may have heard me say before that I hated my husband when my youngest wasn’t sleeping, (thankfully now we’re all well rested I actually quite like him again). And actually, talking to other Mum friends, they’ve all said that they felt the same way (some to a lesser or greater extent, of course) at some point since they’ve had kids when they’ve just been sooooo tired.
Important conversations + Not much sleep = Disaster!
It’s all very well having our hypothetical conversations with our partners when we’re pregnant about how we’re going to raise our kids, but the reality can actually be pretty different for lots of reasons. I’m not afraid to say, at times, I’ve found it can be pretty scary! Regardless of how old your little one is, you’re making decisions for them which could impact the rest of their lives; are you going to breastfeed or bottle feed, which immunisations should they have (the basic ones offered on the NHS or a few extras), will they go to childcare, and if so, childminder or nursery, which school should they go to etc etc, the list is endless. But then imagine trying to make these decisions as part of a partnership when you’re tired…it’s tough!
Maybe that’s not a huge leap for you, as you are tired and you are having to make those decisions while fighting with your other half about it? And maybe the weight of these decisions is keeping you awake at night? So the little time you do have to sleep (between your little darling waking you), you can’t sleep anyway. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, it’s tough.
So here you are, faced with all of these decisions, all of which need to be approved by you and your partner, you’re frustrated because things aren’t quite what they once were anyway, and to top it all off, your ability to recognise and respond to each other in a rational, civilised manner has been seriously compromised.
Two people forced to debate the most important decisions they’re likely to make in their lives, and they’re psychologically primed to blame one another, get angry, and less likely to play fair or accept responsibility…yeah, that’s not exactly something from a Disney film is it!
I guess I could sit here suggesting you get more sleep, but I’m pretty sure you’ve already thought of that. But maybe something you haven’t thought of is sitting down and chatting to your partner and being totally honest about how you’re feeling. I’m not suggesting waving a white flag, but maybe lay out some ground rules before-hand, allowing you each to talk without being interrupted. As I’ve already said, when we’re sleep deprived we’re far less tolerant of other people’s behaviour and far quicker to think someone is blaming us for something, when that might not actually be the case at all. If you can, just take some deep breaths and really hear what your partner is saying without reading too much into it. Try to treat your partner the way you want to be treated, lead by example. Let them feel validated (even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying).
Or, what about a trusty ‘date night’ if you have someone nearby who could babysit? Go out for dinner, to the cinema, or some other activity you used to enjoy doing together before you had kids. If a babysitter isn’t an option, you could always have date night at home. Have a TV free zone for an evening giving you a chance to just chat, or maybe cook a nice meal together or binge watch your favourite show on Netflix. Whatever you decide, try not to lose sight of who you are, not just individually, but as a couple. You’re not just Mum and Dad, you’re still the same old people you always have been. Usually there was a reason that made you decide to have a family with that person, sometimes you just need a little nudge remembering what that was.
So before you commit to couples therapy, before you move to separate bedrooms, before you even get into one more heated argument over which route to take to daycare, try taking a week to commit to getting your little one sleeping through the night and see how you feel once you’re all getting the rest you need.
Alas, I can’t wave a magic wand (believe me, I would if I could), and make it all better, but I can help your little one sleep, meaning you’ll get a little more sleep too (and maybe regain a little tolerance). Don’t forget, I even provide gift vouchers!…what better gift for your sweetheart than the gift of sleep? And who knows, maybe you’ll rediscover the fact that you actually quite like your partner too!