As parents one of our key tasks is to help our children sleep so they can grow and flourish. In the early years, to this end we sacrifice our own sleep. You may be awake feeding or settling. Or, perhaps like me, since becoming a parent you now wake at the slightest noise – and can’t get back to sleep. This is the space in between. Space and time you can use for YOU.

The space in between – when sleep eludes you

Solo parenting at the family Bach. Dinner at 5.30pm with the kids. An early night. The bed to myself. Ah, sweet slumber.

Then… when you wake at midnight and struggle to return to sleep… when, at 1am you’re just about there and your daughter comes in for a cuddle because, “I don’t want to sleep by myself” (well, I do!). This is not conducive of sleep. Sweet slumber has turned sour, and I am awake. Very much awake. It’s now 1.54am.

I used to sleep the sleep of the dead.

Predictably, my sleep, now that I’m a mum, is unpredictable. I used to sleep the sleep of the dead, a solid 10 hours each night, dropping into my dreams as soon as my head touched the pillow.

Now, I wake at the smallest noise: Who was that? Who needs me? Oh, it’s just rain. Sound familiar? Now that we’re parents that’s how it is for many of us. We accept it. Grudgingly. Come morning we guzzle coffee. Gratefully.

But maybe, just maybe, we could be grateful for those times when sleep eludes us? We could see it as the space in between; space and time that we can use for things we don’t have time for during our busy daylight waking hours.

It’s all about perspective

The way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted is our perception. That’s why the saying goes: your perception is your reality. Adding a layer on top of this, when we have a particular attitude towards something, we have a perspective on it.

Attitude – noun – a settled way of thinking or feeling about something . . .

Thinking and feeling happens within you, which means that it’s you who shapes your attitude. In turn, this means that it’s you who shapes your perspective.

Attitude, by definition, is ‘settled’. That does not mean fixed. We have the power to change our attitude, thereby change our perspective and how we perceive things.

This is what is meant by “re-wiring” our brain. Much has been written on this topic by real scientists (Rick Hanson is the guru). I’m not a scientist but I am a real mum living the reality of elusive sleep. A mum who has figured out how to cope with waaaaay less than what I’d like. So, I reckon I’m pretty qualified to talk about this.

A new attitude

When it happens, when my sweet slumber turns sour, and I find myself awake in the darkest of hours, I accept it. Gratefully. Come morning, I drink coffee. Grudgingly – only if I reeaaaally need it (and that’s not often anymore).

See the difference? I’ve switched what I grudge about, and what I am grateful for.

Because Time – to be present, to use my senses, to ponder, reflect, process the day’s events, to recognise the preciousness of life… that’s priceless. Coffee? That’s just a momentary transaction.

An attitude of gratitude makes everything seem better. Tonight, as I write this in the dead of the night, here’s what I’m grateful for:

  • Having time, with nothing else to do, except listen to the rain.
  • Listening to the rain, I feel so grateful to be safe and warm in a cosy home.
  • I can hear my eldest daughter’s deep breathing and I know I’m so lucky to have borne two beautiful children, when there are people in the world who are so desperately trying to become parents, and who have not, will not, bear children.
  • A job that allows me time off every school holidays so that I can be with my girls and give them the gift of time.
  • Holidays! Mini breaks. Even weekends. Time. I’m grateful for time.
  • The opportunity to share my words with others.
  • … and at the same time, right now, the fact I have no more Dear Mummy events this year. I’m grateful for this pause (yet again, it comes back to time) so I can revert my energy, and my giving back to myself, for a little bit of personal restoration – perhaps it’s serendipity that I’m awake to do just that.

The space in between

When you find yourself in this space, there are really just 3 simple steps to remember:

1. DON’T ruminate on what isn’t: on the sleep you’re losing.

2. DO think about what you’re gaining: uninterrupted, precious, quiet time – no pressure, no demands, no little voices or hands pulling you and your attention.

3. Then use it mindfully – not to work on household chores but to work on YOU.

You grow through what you go through. Sleep deprivation is a universal truth for parents the world over. We all go through it to some extent. It’s how we use that time that makes the difference. Will you decline through that time, spiraling in the vortex of your own ruminations, or will you use it to grow?

I’ve been awake now for 3 hours. Eaten 4 pieces of toast. Drunk 2 cups of tea. Written 1 blog – my first in months, because I haven’t had the time. Now, thanks to the space in between, I’ve been able to luxuriate in creativity and write this. And lovingly look at my sleeping daughters, listen to the rain, and be grateful.

Instead of feeling tense like I used to when I couldn’t sleep – imagining how tired I’d be the next day. I feel soft and full (and that’s not just the toast!). I will be tired tomorrow, no doubt, but my bucket is full and that will carry me through.

Amazing what a new attitude can do.

“The secret of change
 is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Dan Millman

For more inspiration and motivation, check out the Dear Mummy blog. For more great advice on your own wellbeing, check out our Grown ups: Health and wellbeing section.

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Tui writes at dearmummy.co.nz. She believes to be the best mummy you can be means being the best YOU you can be and uses her extensive background in personal development to guide women with her musings, motivations and morsels that nourish the soul.

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