The Most Important Thing

I’ve been a parent for 8 [edit: 8.5] years now, and come to the conclusion that there’s on thing above all others that determines my effectiveness as a parent.  How much sleep the M&Ms have had, what they’ve had to eat, whether they’re struggling with something, or whether they’ve just woken up on the wrong side of the bed all play into how the day goes, but they all pale in comparison to how much sleep I’ve gotten.

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Sleep

Every single time that I’ve had a “bad day” with the M&Ms, without fail, I haven’t gotten a good sleep the night before.  I’ve never once, as far as I can remember, had a rough day with the M&Ms after waking up feeling well rested.  The effect that sleep has on my mood and patience, and in turn the effect that my mood and patience have on my interactions with the M&Ms is incredible.

When I haven’t gotten enough sleep, I’m short on patience and irritable.  If we’re behind schedule getting out the door to go to school in the morning, and I’m more likely to be short with the M&Ms, to chastise them for every little distraction.  I’ll yell when, for the 127th time, Monster starts playing with toys instead of eating his breakfast.  When Monkey complains that he doesn’t want to brush his teeth, I’ll just say “we’ve got to get it done” and carry on.  This inevitably results in stress for Monster, which makes him more distractible, which results in more crankiness on my part.  It results in Monkey having a tantrum, and us wasting another five or ten minutes before we actually get his teeth brushed.  Now because he’s taken so long to get his teeth brushed, he doesn’t have any time to play before it’s time to go, which can lead to another tantrum.  It can start a downward spiral which lasts the rest of the day:  Things aren’t going according to plan, so I get crankier, which drives things further from plan.

In contrast, when I’ve gotten enough sleep, I can respond reasonably and earlier in helpful ways.  I’ll gently remind Monster with the first and second distractions, and then hang around to keep an eye on him for a bit.  Monster’s not as stressed, and he’s less likely to get distracted again in 2 minutes. I’ll nicely remind Monkey that if he wants to have any time to play before we leave for school that he needs to get his teeth brushed quickly.  This heads off the tantrum about teeth brushing, and he actually gets time to play before we go, and we avoid another tantrum when it’s time to leave.  All of this makes the whole morning run smoother, which means I get a bit of time to relax as well, which helps my mood for the rest of the day.

The Takeaway

The takeaway from this is my New Year’s resolution, and a suggestion.  My goal for this year (and I know it’s a couple of weeks late, but the start of the year is arbitrary anyways) is to make sure I get more sleep.  When I don’t have any demands on my time, I tend to sleep about 7 to 7.5 hours a night, so I’ll aim for that.  I have to get up to get the kids ready by 6:45 am, so as long as I have lights out by 11:45 pm, I should be good.  So far this year I haven’t been hitting this goal very well, so I guess I still need to work on it.  There’s always one more thing I want to get done before bed though…

My suggestion to you: If you find yourself constantly struggling with your children, try going to be half an hour earlier for a week, and see how it goes.  Let me know what you think in the comments!

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