Illustration by Angelica Alzona.

Ask the Matriarchy” is a four-part advice series running on Thursdays.

Dear Matriarchy,

My daughter is nine months old and isn’t sleeping through the night. She sleeps a good first stretch from 8 p.m. to about 1 a.m., but then she’s up again at three and then at five she is up for the day. It’s making me so miserable. I’m getting migraines and having a hard time focusing at work. I can’t lose the baby weight because I am too tired to work out. And I eat like garbage. My husband and my mom want me to let her cry it out, but that seems cruel and I don’t know if I can. Also, even though no one believes me, she is actually hungry when she wakes up. Even if we let her cry it out, she couldn’t go back to sleep because she’s starving.

I hired a sleep consultant who basically told me to let her cry it out and offered to sit in the house while the baby screamed so I could go for a walk or hide in the basement. Which I thought was a little offensive. And my doctor is telling me that if I give her more solids she will sleep better, but I am breastfeeding don’t want to push her toward real food too soon.

I really do want to sleep. I just don’t want to be cruel and ruin my daughter’s development.

From,

Exhausted

Exhausted,

There are so many sleeping techniques that lie in between “get up with your baby every time she makes noise” to “cry it out.” There is the Ferber method, those crazy baby sleep sacks, pacifiers, and those stuffed animals that have the light up bellies and are supposed to soothe your child. There is also white noise and black out curtains and charts with patterns on sleep regression, which I suspect have been made up, but are comforting if you need something to chalk up your child’s inability to sleep on something else besides sheer cussedness.

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But I don’t think you want to hear them. You can find all those tips and suggestions in a simple Google search or a book, or from posting, “How do I make my baby sleep?” on Facebook. (I don’t recommend that, by the way, unless you really want to hate everyone.) In my experience, however, when someone asks for sleep advice for their kids, they don’t actually want it. Instead, they want to be told that their kid will sleep on their own and life will be good and you don’t have to change a thing.

Because after giving birth, sleep is the first demarcation line of the parenting battle, and how you confront this issue says more about who you are and who you wish to be as a parent then who your child actually is. I know parents who strictly regiment their kids with sleep schedules and cry-it-out routines that make boot camp sound like a spa weekend. I know families where everyone sleeps in the same bed every night, because life is a precious journey or something. Somehow, all these kids grow up and live lives of significance that have nothing to do with what bed they slept in. And yet, the sleep conversation is so fraught with uncertainty, a bizarre mix of studies and myths, news articles, parenting websites, and social media posts.

Your baby could just be biding her time, and one day she’ll start sleeping longer and longer. Then, boom: she’s asleep all night. Or maybe she is manipulating you and this is all a ruse to make sure she stays an only child. Maybe she is hungry or bored. You got to try every single thing you feel comfortable with and give it a shot. Find your routine with her.

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After sleeping like a dream from the age of four months until she was two and a half, my daughter turned into a monster. At night she’d kick the walls and flail, at one point knocking a picture off onto her floor and shattered the glass. We both cried that night. She’d scream, cry, and do it all over again. And this was all because I dared to give her a little brother. (I have three little brothers, and I agree this is a fair response.) But by then, we knew her, so we bribed the shit out of her. We made a chart with stickers and bought her presents at the end. She made out like a Russian oligarch, but it worked. She loves a good sticker chart. I am not saying a sticker chart will work on a nine month old, what I am saying is you are the mom, the master of your domain, if you want sleep, then by golly, find a way to get it. Does that mean co-sleeping? Cry-it-out? Fine. Get it done.

My son was the worst sleeper in the world. We tried to let him cry it out, he cried on and off for four hours. We got him the sacks, the pacifiers, Ferberized the shit out of him, and bought him a light up toy, and a white noise machine. Eventually, when he finally did sleep, he would still wake up at five in the morning. Now, he is three and he still wakes up early or crawls in bed with us at two in the morning. So now we have a toddler alarm clock and behavior charts, but they don’t really work. Because this guy can be bribed by no one. But we keep trying because I’m so tired.

Kids will act like they want to kill you and themselves, because they are constantly trying to drink cleaning fluids and screaming at two in the morning. In order to make your life with them work, you have to change and grow and adapt, you have to learn from them, learn what motivates them and then use that against them to manipulate them into staying alive and not driving you to the edge of insanity.

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The point is, you know your kid—if she’s hungry, start playing with her diet. Try the Ferber method. Set a timer, let her cry for 10 minutes, and then go in. Try each method for two weeks and then try another. Eventually, something will work and you will have two months of rest, before she starts all over again. If there were a magic solution to all of this the internet wouldn’t be full of articles about it and moms wouldn’t go to social media fisticuffs about it.

Because here is the hard truth about sleep with kids: It doesn’t exist. My kids are now five and three and, in theory, they sleep in their own beds. And in theory, they are in bed from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.. But in practice? A few nights ago, my three-year-old crawled into our bed because he had a bad dream that “Lions were in da walls,” and then sometime around two, my daughter came into our room asking why we don’t hang out anymore, like some bad date from my past. And when I said, “Hey, I love you so much. Let’s talk in the morning.” She wailed, “I want to talk about it now!” Her crying woke up her brother, who started talking and then my daughter wanted to come into bed. So, I let them both in, kissed their sweet faces, and then escaped to the guest room. But I was up an hour later anyway because I have a 5:30am workout class. I still haven’t lost the baby weight either.

What I am trying to tell you is this: Feeling well-rested is over. Forever. Even if you baby came out of the womb sleeping twelve hours, you’d still be tired because kids are exhausting. Even when my daughter was sleeping, which at the time, my husband and I attributed to superior parenting, I was still so tired. I told my neighbor, who had five kids that I didn’t understand why I was tired all the time because my baby slept and she just laughed and said, “That shit is exhausting!” This is now my mantra, my reason for giving myself grace on the days when I feel like I want to face plant on the floor: This shit is exhausting, so get up, eat some curly fries and keep going.

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I imagine that when our kids are older, we won’t even sleep then. We will be worried they are up texting boyfriends or bullying a classmate, or sneaking out, or getting into a car crash, or maybe reading American Psycho at the tender age of 10 and then having nightmares for years. When I finally get to sleep, is when my children have children of their own and are up all night. Then, I’ll be peaceful in my vengeance. But I’m sure I’ll be so old then, I’ll have insomnia or a broken hip and what the use is this bed anymore? But that’s the life we have.

Love,

The Matriarchy