Tuesday, 11 February 2014
A Dad's View 5: Tiredness creeps in
Developing a philosophical attitude towards tiredness helps Tom Dunmore understand what's important about being a dad
There are plenty of surveys telling us how much money we'll spend on our kids over the course of their childhoods. It's a shocking amount – £210,000 each at the last count – but at least all the surveys mean we're warned.
We go into parenthood with our eyes open. The tricky thing is keeping them open.
You see, while facts and figures can easily convey the manner in which the bills for our little darlings will mount up, no survey can communicate the devastating effect that lack of sleep inflicts on new parents. Your bank account may not be in the red – yet – but your eyes almost certainly will be.
I find myself dwelling on this for a couple of reasons. To start with, having just emerged from the first two years of parenthood, I'm finally getting a good night's sleep; and also because, with a new baby on the way, I'm about to embark on round two. This time, of course, I know what to expect: epic tiredness that builds over time, beginning with the discomfort of pregnancy (admittedly not for me) and ending (I'm guessing here) with sleepless nights worrying over grown-up children.
It's those first six months that really hurt, when sleep is counted in minutes and tiredness seems to turns the air to jelly. Attempting meaningful activity is pointless: it's best just to focus on that warm bundle of life sleeping in your arms. Which is why two weeks of paternity leave always seems so desperately short.
And no amount of careful saving or generous family donations can protect us from this structural sleep deficit. Unlike money, sleep can't be banked to create a cushion against the future. Tiredness builds and builds and snatches of sleep can never repay the debt; it's like only paying the interest each month on a huge credit card bill.
Even if you somehow manage a lie-in (remember those?), your body still requires a full night's sleep within hours. Sadly, baby thinks otherwise – she wakes for food and then, by some cruel twist of fate, can't sleep because she's too tired.
Even the word 'overtired' is enough to send shivers down my spine. I've tried reasoning with my daughter: 'Look, we're both unhappy because we're both tired; and the only thing standing between us and sleep is your uncontrollable crying.' But logic, it seems, has no place in the nursery.
Sometimes the madness even spreads into the parents' bedroom.
My friend Pete is nine months in, and is still getting up with his wife every time the baby cries. Bizarrely, they haven't realised that taking turns halves the pain. They can't accept anything less than 100 per cent commitment and, consequently, both look like zombies.
Even those parents who have been blessed with a sleeper – that mythical baby who happily sleeps through the night from three months – still have an air of exhaustion about them. In fact, I've learned to spot a fellow parent by searching their eyes for this tiredness. If you look hard enough, you can even guess the age of their child: recently I met a guy I hadn't seen since university, and could instantly tell from his shell-shocked, thousand-yard stare that he was lost in the turmoil of those first few weeks.
We do adapt to sleeplessness, slowly, and accept that tiredness is a natural state, in the same way that countries seem to accept massive fiscal deficit. But in an effort to cope, I've grown to realise that 9pm is an acceptable time to go to bed. No wonder my single friends think I'm boring: I really am boring. I don't care, I'm getting used to being dull, and these days I wear my tiredness as a badge of pride.
Others may think it a high price to pay, but I know I'm going to get a great return on this investment, so bring me my cardigan. I think I've finally become a proper dad.