I have a confession to make – I sleep around. A lot. I may be a married mother of two, but that is no barrier. In fact, that’s the root cause. I guess using the word “sleep” is a little misleading given there is not much of that going on. Bed-hopping is a better way to describe it. Yes, I’m more of a serial bed-hopper.
A friend recently confided that she and her husband had not slept together since they became parents 13 years ago.
Those of you with kids probably know where I’m heading. It’s a familiar story. Each night, I start off next to my two-year-old. We read a book, have a cuddle and then, despite my best attempts to channel my inner Supernanny, I am sucked in by her impassioned pleas to, “Peeese, mummy lie!!!!” Before I know it, I’m lying next to her, hostage to her iron-clad grip and an hour has passed before she’s finally asleep.
After I’ve somehow managed to creep out of the room, it’s often the six-year-old’s turn to demand I snuggle for a bit. This is met with either an exhausted surrender or a frustration-fuelled diatribe of how “Mummy needs time OUT and you are old enough to fall asleep alone and if you don’t you can forget about going to (insert upcoming party/event here)!” When I regain my composure and the guilt sets in, I usually just get under the covers anyway.
Once they are both (finally) asleep, it’s only a matter of time until one of them stirs. There is bound to be the need for a visit to the toilet, the retrieval of a lost dummy, a drink of water, a chat, or reassurance after a bad dream any time from about 2am. I spend most nights going back and forth between them. The intention always is to stagger back to the marital bed sometime before sunrise, but that is happening less and less. And I may not find my husband in it anyway. He too is often on bed-hopping duty, an exhausted but handy wingman when they both wake at the same time. I told you there wasn’t a lot of sleep happening.
A highly unscientific survey of friends with children (read: venting session) shows this is a common problem. There are the children who make multiple trips from their bedrooms to that of their parents, undeterred by being refused entry just five minutes earlier. And then there are others like mine who call out for room-service.
The extent of the problem is backed by the 25,000-plus sites that flash up when you do a trusty Google search on “how to get children to sleep alone”. There’s no shortage of plans, but do they work? We have left lights on (does anyone know where I can find a decent night-light that isn’t either ridiculously dull or so bright it may actually confuse a 747 approaching Melbourne Airport), slowly retreating further from their rooms during the course of several nights, using so-called sleep-promoting lavender oil and even controlled crying (OK, I lasted about three minutes). Of course this is all in addition to the usual bribes and threats.
But after six years of broken sleep, I am beginning to question whether this approach is really worth it. Should we bother? Is it better to go from reluctant bed-mate to happy roomies just in the hope of getting some much-needed sleep?
A friend recently confided that she and her husband had not slept together since they became parents 13 years ago. She hastened to add that everything was fine with their sex life, after all they had since had a second child. But when it came to sleeping, she happily shacked up with the kids (no longer the teen, however) in the marital bed, while hubby made use of the spare room. As for intimacy, she swore things had never been better. Apparently absence really does make the heart grow fonder when you take snoring, fights over the quilt and an obsession with checking one’s fantasy football team in the middle of the night out of the equation.
A friend of my eldest daughter’s also recently swore her to secrecy after revealing her mother sleeps with her each night. It seems to be a taboo approach when the emphasis is usually on getting kids to sleep alone, but I have a feeling this arrangement is a common one.
No one can deny the enjoyment that comes with having a gorgeous, chubby toddler hand lovingly draped around you, but having some kid-free time and snuggling with your partner instead definitely has plenty of appeal.
Perhaps I had better take a closer look at that Supernanny book my neighbour lent me, after all. She’s either sick of me venting about my lack of sleep, or also fears that the bright light coming from upstairs at night could be an aviation hazard.
Mary Papadakis is a mother-of-two, freelance writer and Master of Teaching student.