by Lee Stewart

When they don't sleep through the night

This is for the mama who doesn’t know if she’s letting them cry too much or too little. For the mama who loves the schedule or hates the schedule. For the mama who is somewhere in between and maybe having an identity crisis because she’s not really an attachment parent, a helicopter parent, a Babywise parent, or a Ferberizer. She doesn’t know what category she fits in at all!

These thoughts are for all you moms.

In 2008 I had my first baby. I had labored through the night and my head was spinning, but the minute the doctor put that baby in my arms it was happiness, big and plain. I just knew the euphoric bliss would never end. But as the adrenaline wore off, the sleep deprivation began to shove its way into my little dose of euphoria. It did not take very many hours for me to be sorry for myself. It wasn’t that I thought I was failing—no, that would imply I knew what to do and was simply falling short of it. It was that I had NO IDEA WHAT FAILURE LOOKED LIKE and NO IDEA WHAT SUCCESS LOOKED LIKE! I just felt clueless.

Motherhood is intensely innate. Even my body parts declare my motherhood! So why, oh why is there such a HUGE learning curve? I made it about three hours before I felt depleted. Conversations in my head went like this: “Awesome, Lee. Your threshold is like three hours long. You know you have 18 more years to go, right? I can’t believe you need a nap already.”

The days went by and I tried to handle my wobbly emotions, with postpartum hormones barking at my soul. I’d feel mountain-moving confidence one minute and vulnerable uncertainty the next. I was just about to get a grip and hold my head a little higher when people started asking how my baby was sleeping. Ah ha! A measurable mark of success. Let’s see, he eats around the clock and wants to be held around the clock. When he cries I want to throw up, so I try not to let him cry. Ever. Oh and there is no schedule.

For several months this was how I answered the sleep question. I mean we eventually had more structure with nap times and feedings, but the night waking went on and on.

So I turned to books, and friends, and to Google. Some things helped, but some things flopped. Whenever I tried going against my instincts, I hated it.  But when I prayed, sought God’s strength, and did what seemed to work in that moment, it gave me the boost to keep going.

You know what happened most of the time anyway? I would face some gray area that the books did not address. I had to tweak and adapt and figure out what was going on, but it wasn’t necessarily a textbook problem (therefore no textbook solution).

I eventually decided if my gut tells me something and I have no medical reason to go against it, then I won’t. And that decision stuck with me through all three children.

This decision has been a good fit, but it wasn’t without its glitches. When I had my third baby, my “go with your gut” route got bumpier. My instincts had always been to nurse on demand, establish a regular bedtime, and avoid CIO methods. But my third child had a more intense personality than the other two and his night waking was more frequent. I felt the effects in a way I wasn’t prepared for—both mentally and physically. Yet I still felt conflicted about actual “sleep training.”

Around the one year mark, I began to question my instincts altogether. So we tried (and failed) at some crying-it-out, but in the end, the night waking continued. I didn’t seem to have the stamina for my own instincts, but I couldn’t find a workable alternative either. WHY DO I STINK AT ALL THE METHODS? Where do I fit in? I have no category.

Then literally overnight things changed. At 18 months that sweet baby boy finally decided to sleep. All the live long night.


If I could do it all over, I’d probably handle the night waking in much the same way. BUT I wouldn’t necessarily hold it all up as a standard for someone else.  Sleep deprivation is no joke, and 2015 was the closest I ever got to the end of my rope. Even so, I wouldn’t try to talk a mama out of the road I walked, if that’s the road she wanted to head down.

I’ve been a mother for eight short years, but if you’ve been one for five minutes, you still have a connection to your baby that goes beyond me. Your instincts are smarter than mine when it comes to your baby. I love seeking advice from fellow moms who are farther along the road than I am. But sometimes there is no awesome solution—there is simply the next step.

The struggle doesn’t have to mean we’re failing. No one ever said motherhood, if done correctly, will leave you always rested and always certain. Motherhood isn’t some parallel universe where basic life principles don’t apply. Life requires work and wisdom and motherhood is part of life. Life is bliss and struggle in the same context, and motherhood is too.

I find that whether I feel like I’m failing or succeeding, I always end up reaching for God, feeling desperate for His strength to pour through me. He always finds a way to call me higher and higher—to stretch me whether I stumble or whether I hit my stride.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

Lee Stewart



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