For a Single Parent, Sleep is Earned
My greatest struggle as a parent is “sleep”. Most parents deal with lack of sleep in the first year of parenthood. They will breathe a sigh of relief when their toddler finally gets on a sleep schedule. But, for a single parent who has no family support, getting enough sleep comes as a premium. It’s #1 on my self-care list. It comes before eating, grooming, and bathing. I function on 6 hours of sleep every night. The sleep deficit accumulated over the last few years. Once in awhile, if I don’t schedule additional time for naps or sleep instead of work, my body will tell me that I need to take a break by simply getting sick.
Just to give you a background, I have a child who doesn’t sleep. My child doesn’t need the type of sleep other children needs. He’s always functioned on 10 hours of sleep with no sign of being tired. My child also doesn’t have a sibling and stays home with me for special issues that he has. Occupying him all day is a challenge. At night, after a 12-hour childcare day, if I still have to spend 3 hours waiting for him to get to sleep, it’s very challenging.
By some miracle, if he goes to sleep at 8 pm instead of 10 pm, I have to choose to work or to go to sleep myself. After months of choosing to work, I finally started to go to bed and waking up at 3 am to work. This means that I often have only a few hours to work before my son woke up at 7:00 am.
When life is challenging, it’s an opportunity to learn. I’ve learned some critical lessons about productivity and parenting in the process.
Sleep is Earned
Practically speaking, if my son goes to the playground, or got regular indoor exercises, my son will go to sleep right on time. For the last three years, we have functioned on a schedule. Every day, we went to playrooms, playgrounds, or kid’s museums for fun activities. This usually took up the morning and allowed my son to be exhausted enough to take either a 15 mins nap or at least be calm in the afternoon. In the afternoon, we cycled through 5 to 6 activities together: building with lego, stacking blocks, sensory bins in the kitchen, water play in the bathtub, and playdough on mommy’s office table. Then, right before my son goes to sleep at night, he will practice “gymnastics” in our indoor obstacle course and I will help him with physical exercise games.
Needless to say, by bedtime, mommy is very tired. But, with all of these activities mean that I have earned my sleep.
People often tell you that sleep will get better in time. But, it depends on the individual child and the family situation. I see no end to my predicament. But, I have to treat sleep now as something that I earn. It’s the best way to look at this situation.
Work is a Premium
When you have a child who needs stimulation all the time, you will feel like any 10 minutes of work squeezed into the day is a premium. I have never been this productive or this unproductive at the same time.
By productive, I mean that I use those 3 hours between 3 am and 6 am to squeeze in as much work as I can. Often, I have to overcome “brain fog” immediately as I wake up. I don’t do anything else before I start writing. I can’t care too much about what I will write. I simply sit down and let it all come out.
By unproductive, I mean that I’m always compromising. I compromise on the projects that I will take to earn money. I make decisions based on the money I earn versus the time I will spend working on it. I don’t write what I want. It’s always a compromise between money, time, and interest.
Work is also premium. It’s something that I do for myself. Even if the money goes to support my family, because I have so little time to work, it feels as if I am living a different life while I work outside of my son. That makes the whole process feel like work is a premium.
Rest is Different
People think of time-off as going on vacation, taking a day away from the city, going on an excursion, or staying at home and binge watch TV. In a way, I have this kind of rest. But, this kind of rest is different for me. The rest I get is all from switching between two jobs: my childcare job, my writing job.
At my childcare job, while my child plays, I get mental breaks. When I’m keeping an eye on my child, play lego with my child, or tame my child’s tantrums, my mind is having a break from writing.
At my writing job, while I’m doing research, reading, or writing, I’m taking a break from my childcare job. Specifically, my emotional self is on a break.
My life is about juggling two jobs 7 days a week. When we go on excursions to the playground or other places, it’s always kids friendly. My best rest is when I can eat what I want, drink what I want while my son is happily occupied with his meal. My best rest is when my son’s playing with new-found friends while I can just sit quietly without having to intervene.
The Sleep/Work Tradeoff
My greatest dilemma every day is the sleep-work tradeoff. Every day, I alternate between work mode and sleep mode. One night, I will work a lot. Perhaps, I will even put my son on the iPad during the day, and squeeze in some writing. The next night, I will sleep. I will skip waking up at 3 am and sleep until the morning.
With so little time to write, my bills are backed up. So, I pick what I can pay for a given month. Then, I will try to pay the next month to catch up.
The truth about the tradeoff is really that if I didn’t love writing, I would not be able to work on such a schedule. I think the greatest gift my lifestyle gave me is to present two impossible choices (two passions): writing and programming. I picked writing for now. I will see where it leads me. Lately, I have felt a bit empty without programming every day.
When time is limited, you make the best choice that you can make and move on. When I earn enough with my writing, I will program again. This third job will also come as a premium. This means that when I start again, I don’t waste time. I just dive in and get it done.
The Moral of the Story
The biggest lesson that I learned as a parent these past three years is that when life dishes out pressure, I will simply perform.
I stop thinking about how to do things.
I stop wondering what is the best choice to make.
I stop procrastinating about the things on my todo list.
I simply get to it.
What would you do when you don’t have enough time? What would you do if you don’t have enough energy? What would you do if you don’t have enough resources?
I think you would be a creative badass like me. You would make it work.
What are you waiting for?
About the Author
Jun Wu is a Content Writer for Technology, AI, Data Science, Psychology, and Parenting. She has a background in programming and statistics. On her spare time, she writes poetry and blogs on her website.