Broken sleep: Should the ‘working’ parent get out of night duty?

Posted in Parenting.
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If there’s one thing that most new parents struggle with it’s broken sleep. When my daughter was a baby my husband and I would argue about who was suffering the most.

I thought it was preposterous that he even dared to complain! Sure, he woke up when our daughter cried, but I was the one who went to her, fed her, and settled her back to sleep.

Rolling over did not equate.

We ended up entrenched in our own viewpoint. We couldn’t see the forest for the trees because our eyes were so scratchy and dry from lack of sleep. But now I have perspective. I can see how quickly resentment builds when you’re both tired and not communicating well.

Many couples I know sleepwalk (intended pun) into parenting. They make the assumption that because one parent is in paid employment and the other is at home that the parent in paid employment does not need to do night duty.

Psychotherapist Ginny Lindsay at From 2 to 3 counselling says this isn’t always the case. Sometimes both parents can do night duty. What is important is being on the same page.

Listen to Ginny Lindsay on Feed Play Love:

Understand your own upbringing

Ginny says that everyone is influenced by their family of origin. If your mum did everything you might assume that it’s all on your shoulders. But that may not be how your partner sees it. Talking it through is important.

Ginny explainsI call it a blending process. It’s two people coming together with two thought processes, life experiences and modelling about how they were brought up. These things don’t become a problem until the baby comes and that’s when a lot of people miss each other. Their expectations, beliefs and what they feel the roles should be is not discussed.”

Communicate often and early

If you’re pregnant, you can have the conversation now. And it’s not just talking about your own family and how you see your role. It’s also about looking at how things will work practically if one parent is going back to work, and the other is staying at home.  

Ginny says, “I have a lot of couples that come in when they’re pregnant to talk because they know his work hours are long. They may decide he can negotiate to leave work early a couple of days, or to get outside support.”

Understanding both sides

If you’re like my husband and I, you’ll be pitted against each other in a fight to the bottom. No one wins in this situation. As with most things in life, there are two sides to every story.

Understanding that sleep is important to both of you is key. If your partner has a high-pressured job (like brain surgery) then it’s logical to expect they need a full night’s sleep. And if that’s the case, your partner still needs to appreciate how tough it is to do night duty every night. 


Read more about sleep:


Filling in the gaps

Once you have walked a mile (or a metre, you’re probably too tired to do more) in their shoes, you can start to get a handle on where the gaps are, where you need more support.

Not everyone can afford a night nanny (though if your partner is a brain surgeon, perhaps you can), but there are always ways to make night duty fairer.

If weekday support from your partner isn’t possible, then perhaps weekends are when they take over. If they need their downtime on weekends then maybe they do the settling up to 11pm or midnight, you tap hands and take over the shift until dawn.

It might even be getting in help during the day so you’re not a wilting sack of flesh by nightfall. You could ask a friend, family or hired help to come in for a couple of hours to help with dinner or laundry while the baby sleeps and you have a snooze beside them.

Remember to be kind

There’s nothing like kindness to make the world a better place. Especially when you’re tired.

You can send your partner a message to check on how a meeting went, send a photo of your baby, or just say, “I love you”. In turn, they can do the same to you, giving you a little supportive boost throughout the day.

After all is said and done, ‘night duty’ is just one part of parenting. Even though it’s bone crushing and difficult, it’s not always bad. Sometimes there are moments of softness, like being in a little cocoon of love in the night. But there is no denying the aftermath.

Kindness is like a salve when you’re smarting from lack of sleep.

Try the other tips from Ginny and it might be the secret to surviving the first year of parenting with your relationship intact.

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