After reading the following question, via Mama Birth on facebook, I decided to blog my response.
"Is it just me or have the last couple months been a struggle? I'm always tired n cranky. The kids are constantly bickering n whining & driving me nuts. I don't want to stop co-sleeping or breastfeeding my 20mth old, but I'm feeling so exhausted &... over it. Or is it 4yrs of broken sleep finally sent me mad?"
Oh how I empathize. In my case, I do think it's largely due to 4 1/2 years of broken sleep; but I think it's specifically due to practicing all of those energy consuming attached parenting practices while trying to maintain a certain lifestyle (or at least exude the image of it), in a culture that doesn't offer adequate support. For example, if you (or I had) had other adults and/or significantly older kids/teens our older kids could conveniently go play with while we "slept in" or took a nap, that broken sleep wouldn't matter so much. Instead, primarily on our own, we're expected to be bright eyed and bushy tailed after maybe eight hours of broken sleep, have our four year old to preschool at nine, after a nutritious breakfast, keep the house (and the car) at least fairly tidy, healthy lunch, healthy snacks, healthy dinner, and maintain consistent bedtime routine. Somewhere in there we're also supposed to make sure that everybody gets bathed regularly, including ourselves, laundry is done and sorted, the liners are pulled from everyone's boots to dry, the dishes are done, and that we regularly go through and get rid of all the excess junk toys that keep multiplying even if we don't buy them. Don't forget to get your own hair cut once in a while too.
If you're a natural, attached parent, you're also taking time to listen to kids, to interact with your kids, to work with your kids, as individuals with a birth right to respect and consideration. And you probably realize and regularly remind yourself to be on your best behavior during all of this, because you know you are child's first and most significant teacher. If you are a natural attached parent, this is all even more exhausting for you because you do respect your children; you don't let them cry it out to make your life more convenient, you're probably deeply opposed to threatening or punishing your children into fearful obedience, if you're like me you also try to avoid bribing and rewarding them into obedience.
Anyone who has ever had an intimate, respectful relationship with anyone can tell you that it's sometimes exhausting. Trying to cultivate a relationship like that with someone who barely speaks your language and whose brain truly works differently than yours, takes exhaustion to whole new level. I love my children - my "job" - but they are often as exhausting as they are fulfilling. Even if you have a supportive partner and some supportive local family members or friends, it's often not enough to significantly alleviate that exhaustion. All too often they too are struggling with the exhaustion this lack of supportive culture so often creates.
It's easy for those who chose early, parent-lead weening and for those who chose to coerce their children into sleeping in separate beds and/or in separate rooms to tell us how we could make our lives easier. It's tempting when it's wrapped in a package that says "don't feel guilty. You need to take care of your own mental and physical health too." While I don't wholly disagree with that statement, in this context, I won't accept it. I know that's the easy way out. I've done research, I've weighed pro's and con's. I know that evidence shows that people who breastfeed longer are, to put it simply, generally healthier. I know that kids that co-sleep are, generally, happier. I know that kids that are respected, not manipulated through punishments and rewards, are generally happier, healthier, better adjusted people.
So, I've toughed it through. My youngest just turned two. She is a high maintainance mama's girl. I used to dread leaving her with anyone, even my husband, because I knew she would be fussy and miserable while I was away. I felt guilty putting my "needs," that seem to stem from the flaws in a culture she has no control over, before her emotional and mental well-being. I can't put my well-being before an infants and not feel bad about it.
Here's my silver lining;
I knew that eventually it would get easier.
Slowly, especially in the last couple of months, it is finally getting easier. My youngest is very slowly becoming less reliant on my presence. I finally found some teenagers close by who both my kids and I am comfortable with, who watch them for a few hours once a week. At first I really did take naps for almost the entire time my kids were gone. Now I only nap for half of it. I have a friend who share-nurses my youngest, who occasionally spends the night and keeps the "baby" in bed with her or watches her during the day once in a while. The youngest one is finally starting to sleep for at least a few hours by herself at night. By which I mean in a big bed with her sister, without me right next to her. She still wants to feel skin when she reaches out, and if she doesn't, she wakes up and is upset. She still usually spends the last half of the night next to me.
I still feel like my brain is made of mush most days. I still often feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of trying to raise happier, healthier, better adjusted people, in our culture. But it really is getting easier. The fog of exhaustion is slowly lifting, my brain is starting to function again, and I'm finding that I'm proud of myself. I know that even if I didn't (and still don't) always do the best at practicing what I preach, even if I yelled sometimes, spent to much time on the computer, meals weren't terribly healthy or organized, even though I sometimes resorted to threats and/or rewards, and routines were all but non-existent for some periods, I know that I tried.
Of course, it still sucks that it often takes the first half of any given day to perk up from the lack of sleep the night before. What frustrates me more is that so many people would rather tell me to do it the conventional way, their way, than occupy my kids while I take a nap. Seriously, nap would usually do me more good than most lectures.