Monday, May 3, 2010

Why Not to Wake Up Before your Children

Do you want to know something? I don't wake up with my kids in the morning anymore. For five years, I have been completely sleep deprived because I have woken up between 4 and 5:30 am with my oldest son. When he was a baby, it was necessary to wake up with him because he needed to eat and be changed and comforted. When my oldest was a toddler, it wasn't safe to leave him alone for an hour or more in the mornings. When my second son came along, he would sleep in until 7 or 8am, so I woke up with my oldest son to stop him from waking the baby. My second son started waking up to play with his older brother and soon I had two children awake at 5 or 6 am every morning. Over our holidays this summer, my husband woke up with the boys for a week straight and let me sleep in until 8am every morning. It was only then that I realized how utterly exhausted I had been for the last 5 years.

Now, I am dealing with baby #3. And she likes to stay up late -- until 12 or 1am and sleep until 8 or 9 in the morning. Her brothers still tend to wake up between 5 and 6am. If you do the math, that means that if I wake up with them, I am getting four or five hours sleep, usually interrupted once by the baby feeding and often a second time by my 3 yr old climbing into bed in the middle of the night. So I have decided that unless there is something unusual going on, I don't wake up before 7am.

Yes, that's right. I leave my 5 and 3 yr old to fend for themselves for an hour and a half or so each morning. I will get up once to change the 3 yr old's diaper, get them some juice and turn on a video. Other than that, they know where the bread and jam or the cereal and milk are if they are hungry. They know where the toys are. And usually they can self-regulate pretty well. Occasionally, they come running into our room in the heat of a fight or argument, but honestly, it is mostly a bid for attention. When I tell them I am not getting up and they should find something else to do or play seperately if they can't get along, they do.

I know that lots of mommy blogs laud the virtues of waking up before your children, so that they only ever see you fully dressed, and ready to tackle the day. And I tried this for a few weeks. I had just got my oldest finally sleeping until 6am. And then I set the alarm for 5:30 to wake up and get ready for my day. He heard it and decided that if mommy was up, he needed to be up too. And I lost that whole extra hour of sleep as he anxiously woke up earlier to make sure I wasn't getting out of bed before him, and we were both tired.

In my world, there are several advantages to waking up later than my kids:

1. I am more reasonable for the rest of the day. Seriously, the difference is amazing. I am much less likely to snap when asked "Can I have juice?" for the fifth time after I've said, "Yes, you can have juice" and ambled my over tired body over to the fridge to get the juice. I am much more likely to stay one step ahead of my kids and get them fed or outside to play before they start beating on one another. I am much more likely to put my 3 yr old in time out the first time he does something rather than yelling and nagging for 10 min, then putting him in time out and then following this by a 10 min. diatribe on how much I hate cleaning up messes all day (which really just makes my kids feel like they can't get any toys out, but never seems to make them feel like maybe they shouldn't mix their cheese and juice together and pour it over their heads).

2. The children learn some independence. Seriously, they can work things out on their own for an hour. They can share, they can agree on things, they can be patient with one another for a little while without Mom's help. I love hearing them helping each other out and co-operating to get a morning snack, or finding them sitting next to each other "reading" books on their bed.

3. I don't resent my children. I don't think people with later risers understand how infuriating it is to be woken up early every morning at an ungodly hour. It really does grind down your appreciation for these little souls that live in your house. Even though they don't wake up early to spite you, it certainly feels like they do after a few years. If I can wake up a little later than they do, I don't feel like my life is being run by the children, and I can appreciate them a little more throughout the day.

4. The children learn about boundaries. This is one that it took me a while, and a second child, to understand. It is not okay for my children to run my life. Of course, when they are tiny, they are in charge -- they feed when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired and I need to be awake when they are. But when they are old enough to be a little more independent, it is time for them to learn that other people have needs and limits, and that they need to respect that.

Of course, this doesn't always work. If only one of the boys wakes up, they are often hesitant to get up by themselves, so I will wake up with them. If someone is sick or turning the house upside down or losing their temper, then it is time for Mom to get up and help. But often, they do just fine for that first hour of the day.

So don't let the uber-mamas tell you you have to wake up at an ungodly hour of the morning to be a good mom. Sometimes, you need to follow your instincts, and do what keeps you sane.


  1. I get up before my daughter on weekdays to help get her ready for school. On the weekend, she plays well on her own and I try to catch up on some sleep!

  2. I'm with you. My 4 yr old knows to let mommy sleep in a little longer than him and I'm in a much better mood than when he wakes me too early. He watches a kid show and snacks on dry cereal while he waits for me to come and make him a full breakfast. It's only about half an hour or so but it makes a difference. Honestly, I don't know how you do it with three! More power to you.

  3. I agree. I can't imagine trying to make sure they only ever see me dressed for the day. My only goal is to be dressed, bed made and have one chore done by the time Andrew comes home for lunch




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