The total immersion in family time, without the distraction or separation that work, school and ordinary life presents, is always eye-opening.
This time around I relearned a lesson I ought to know back to front by now.
We have three daughters and each arrived with a different setting: the difficulty level has varied dramatically.
Our eldest was, with the benefit of hindsight, a remarkably relaxed baby. Without the benefit of hindsight, and on account of being the first infant we were ever charged with rearing without so much as a manual, her baby days felt far from easy.
We had no idea what we were doing so it felt tricky.
But once we found our feet and adjusted to our new life, we then quietly assumed we were actually pretty fabulous parents because she slept so beautifully.
Our next child shattered that illusion. On taking delivery of our second daughter, it became clear that rather than us possessing any superior parenting skills, we had, until that point, simply been parenting a child who was fond of sleeping. Not so, second time around. Not even close.
Our third was, for the first twelve months of her life, one of those mythical creatures you hear about but dare not speak of. She slept from the minute she arrived. I came home from hospital positively rested. I spent the next six weeks waiting for her to “wake up” and start sleeping badly but it didn’t happen.
She was a bundle of contentment with a penchant for sleep. It didn’t last the whole first year of her life but with a little prodding she started sleeping through the night with relative ease.
However, there was one notable exception: when we are away she doesn’t sleep. She wakes often and early. She refuses to sleep during the day and spends the nights restless, one cough away from waking and taking forever to resettle.
It is rather torturous but on the two occasions we were away last year we sucked it up. We tag teamed taking naps during the day and grimaced through the nights. If this baby keeps us up at night for just two weeks in her first year of life can we really complain?
We figured not.
But I’m not going to lie. When the same habit emerged last week, we were less accepting. Not happy.
For starters she is over one now and is no longer being breastfed. Whacking her in bed for a little feed every few hours like we did on our last two holidays isn’t an option.
Trying to coax a loud and unbiddable one year old back to sleep in a small house, where there are other children and parents sleeping is a nightmare whichever way you cut it.
A baby not sleeping well during the day is one thing, but not sleeping overnight is another shade of torture. And when you are in the thick of it, it is impossible not to conclude that it is somehow your own doing.
We always end up asking ourselves, or to be honest hissing at each other at 3am, “What the hell is wrong with us?? This is our third child and we are still battling THIS!!!”
Feeling inadequate as a parent in moments like this is sandpaper against the soul.
In the light of day, it is easier to avoid the only conclusion that seemed viable at 3am that we are woefully unskilled parents.
The truth is small children don’t always sleep well, particularly not when they are in a travel cot in an unfamiliar setting. It’s not rocket science and yet after many years as a parent, and many many nights awake willing a small person back to sleep, it’s still easy to forget.
Sleep deprivation is a part of family life. It happens when you want it least but it’s unavoidable and it doesn’t last forever.
As we emerged each morning after one of those nights, the evidence that it doesn’t last forever was grinning up at us from the breakfast table.
Another one of our daughters who spent the first three years of her life battling sleep – which she still describes as “boring” and something she “hates” – now sleeps beautifully.
We spent three years genuinely wondering if we would ever sleep again. We questioned whether the kids bedtime would ever be straight-forward and free from angst. I wasn’t sure whether our mornings would ever kick off without a battle at 5.30am.
It wasn’t easy and it did take three (long) years but eventually those fears faded. It didn’t last forever and we emerged intact.
From where I stand parenting is a moving feast. It is rarely static and the pieces shift often. What is challenging one week, doesn’t register the next. The more children there are, the more parts there are that are always moving.
The trick is to also look at the bits that aren’t moving anymore. The pieces that somehow fell into place.
Of course the upside to a baby not sleeping on holidays means there is real joy in coming home. The return of sleep!
How are you surviving the school holidays? Or the return of school?