It’s okay, you can stop performing

I gave up, defeated. With a sigh, I threw the covers off me, put on my bathrobe and walked over to the crib where my four month old son was grinning up at me. I plastered a smile on my face, ignored the pounding in my head, and said sweetly, “You did a terrible job sleeping last night, didn’t you!?!”

He grinned back at me and squealed. Well, at least someone was happy to be awake this morning.

I changed his diaper. Put him in clothes. Tried and failed to feed him as he inevitably became distracted with everything in his nursery – the exact same nursery as yesterday, and the four months before that. So I pumped milk instead. Ate my own breakfast. Put him down for a nap. Got ready for work.

Damn, was I tired.

We were in some sort of perfect storm combining the elements of a four month sleep regression with a swaddle transition, which basically meant that my son figured out he could bang on the sides of his wooden cradle like a drum for the first time, and proceeded to do so for two hours in the middle of the night, squealing between each beat. He also ate early in the night and fed more times than normal. Which meant I got about six hours of sleep, broken into chunks.

I knew what that meant physiologically. When we don’t get four consecutive hours of sleep in a night, our bodies produce more cortisol and adrenaline to keep us going. So I was going into a full work day running on stress hormones. Lovely.

I was angry about it, to boot.

But as I sat down at my computer, I realized that this was often going to be part of my reality – not the sleep deprivation, necessarily (although I’m sure that would continue to play a part), but having something to deal with as a mother that I’d be bringing into my work day. As I sat down to meditate, I realized that I could fight that feeling, or I could surrender to it.

I decided to see what would happen if I surrendered to the exhaustion of my present moment rather than fight it. I called on the archetype of Mother Earth to help me. As I sunk my energy deep into the earth, I allowed myself to pull up any wisdom that was there. What I felt was reassuring, peaceful and calm in the face of the ever-changing everyday.

It helped a lot. Before, not only was I tired, I was also using up precious energy in order to fight the tiredness. After I surrender, there was just the exhaustion. Not perfect, certainly, but a whole lot better than exhaustion plus a fight. I was able to get through the day much easier when I continued to surrender to what was there for me.

Mother Earth – nature – goes through periods of intense activity, as well as periods of rest and sleep. As the All-Mother, she must know what it’s like to be tired, I thought, and persevere with wisdom anyway. So she could show me. Which she did.

And as I meditated, I remembered something my therapist said to me. We were talking about how to let our kids know they can have their feelings. She said, “You have to show them that you can have yours.”

I’d had a tendency to put on a show for my son. To pretend that everything was fine when nothing was fine. To assure him I was happy when in fact, I was sad. To lie. To deny what was there. To fight my feelings. I was performing. My meditation reminded me that there is no need to perform – that performing uses up extra energy I might not have.

I can just surrender to what is. I can allow myself to be with whatever the day has for me. As I give myself permission, my son gets it as well.

So I amended my conversation with my son. Without putting on a fake smile or using an unnecessary high voice, I said, “Last night was terrible for Mom. Think we can try to do better tonight?”

That night, my son slept eight hours straight. And I’d like to say that had something to do with this permission and our little talk, but we shouldn’t fight the truth now, should we?

2 Comments on “It’s okay, you can stop performing”

  1. Oh Sweety, my heart goes out to you. I was an Air Force mother of two born 2 years apart and you have vividly reminded me of the sleep deprivation of those days. Both of our parents were 4 states away so there wasn’t a break to be had. I remember my 30th birthday and wondering what happened to my 20s which seemed to have ended early when I was 24. When my granddaughter was born in 2013 and my husband and I did what no one could do for us: we took turns every other night and drove 10 minutes to our daughter’s home at 3am to babysit til 6am so she could sleep. I know this isn’t possible for many grandparents to do, but it saved everyone from being sleep deprived at work the next day and my daughter and her SO we’re eternally grateful. Although I was a tired mom with my two kids, looking back from my age now, I would happily do it all over again! They grow up very very fast

  2. Allowing ourselves to surrender to “what is” is such a gift. I wish I did it more often. What most struck me about your article being honest with our emotions with our kids. It gives them permission to be honest too. I will remember this and try to bring this forth in my interactions with my 3 and 6 year old today after work. Thank you for sharing this.

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