Before I was a mother, I fell completely for the idyllic picture television commercials provide of parents rocking infants for pleasure. Once I had my own baby, however, I learned the true Hollywood story. New parents rock babies because they are sleep deprived and teetering on the boundaries of sanity.
Google the word “exhausted” and you will very likely find a photo of a tear-faced, screaming toddler and a parent ready to take a hostage.
One night, when my eldest daughter was two, I boarded a red-eye flight from Seattle to DC believing that – being night time – she would sleep peacefully. Unfortunately, the plane departed later than scheduled and, having passed her routine bedtime, she spent the first hour kicking and crying instead. When a man on the flight hollered at me “Shut that baby up,” I glared back at him and asked – in a tone that made Dirty Harry’s “Make my day” delivery sound like Doris Day – “She’s two, what’s your excuse?”
Thank goodness airport security searched passengers for “all possible weapons” before boarding.
I would like to say that episode was sufficient for elevating the status of sleep on my personal list of priorities. The truth, however, is that it took the birth of my second daughter – and a short visit to a mental hospital – for me to truly get the message that sleep matters much.
Desiring to spare my daughters the pains of my own steep learning curve, I mandated “no electronics – only reading” – after 7:pm when they started grade school. Since the Harry Potter series had yet to be written, this actually served well for getting them to sleep on time. So while fellow parents debated means to get their children to rise and shine each morning, my girls simply woke on their own.
The discrepancy between my personal education in sleep deprivation and knowledge levels of fellow parents revealed itself most glaringly during their high school years and climaxed with an event called Grad Night. Popular in schools throughout the US, parent organized Grad Night celebrations aim to provide an alternative option to private parties and reduce death and injuries caused by underage drinking and driving. Grad Nights are typically all-night events and students are mandated to remain on campus till morning.
At my daughters’ school, I learned, students not only drove themselves to the event, they also drove themselves home.
Despite years of popularity and concern for teen safety, no one had ever made anyone aware that not sleeping for 24 hours impairs the functionality of the brain almost as much as two shots of alcohol. Fortunately God, in all her wisdom, spared my daughter the embarrassment of “mom” enlightening everyone by screaming from the school rooftop and graced me simply with the invitation to serve as Grad Night Chair. The year was 2005 and students have been required to be dropped off, and picked-up, from Grad-Night every year since.
Editors Note: Huge hugs to all the Sleep Coaches and Consultants educating individuals and families on the importance of sleep from the rooftops of Parenting 2.0. Special thanks to Michelle Winters who attended our P20 Talks 2013 Washington DC event and graciously lent her company logo to this month’s post.