From denial to anger, to bargaining and acceptance - universal coping stages for parents, when toddler-induced early mornings are your life
Blinking disbelievingly at a watch to find a squealing child has just opened the curtains at 5.03am, you lie there thinking up possible solutions. Will the neighbours think you’ve had a nervous breakdown if you put foil on the windows to block out the chink of light that is somehow making it through the blackout blind and blackout curtains? Can you teach an eight-month-old to use the GroClock? Is there enough caffeine in the world to get you to work today?
As with grieving, there are stages to work through before you can accept that DEAR GOD THIS IS REALLY YOUR LIFE NOW. But the quicker you work through them, the quicker you can get on with your day. After all, it’ll be lunchtime at 10am...
Stage 1: Denial
The noise drifts into your consciousness - a grumbling baby, a chattering toddler or, if you’re extremely unlucky, some combination of both - and you try to ignore it. Maybe if you don’t open your eyes it will sort itself out. “I pretend to be asleep when my partner brings our one-year-old into our bed,” says my friend Lizzie. “She usually drops back off just as my alarm sounds.”
Stage 2: Anger
You can get angry with your kids, but they mostly don’t care. “I shouted at my littlest to go back to bed the other day at 4am but she refused,” says Kate. “So I said, 'Fine, stay on the landing then!' and she just lay down on a towel and slept for another 20 minutes.”
You can’t fight that kind of commitment to being irritating, so I always use the anger phase to think of ways in which it’s my husband’s fault. How dare he lie there sleeping while I am awake? How dare he get up and go for a run, waking us all up more? It doesn’t have to be consistent, because logic is one of those functions that doesn’t switch on in the human brain until 6.30am.
Stage 3: Bargaining
I groggily hand over a smartphone, if I can, knowing that this will keep the toddler sitting quite happily on the bed beside me while I crash out again, dribbling on to her pyjama-clad lap until the alarm goes off, or the credit card company calls asking whether I definitely intended to spend $263 buying extra levels on a freemium game for three-year-olds.
Others - I presume they are naturally morning people - venture downstairs towards the TV and snack cupboard. “With the four year old, I leave a biscuit picnic and the remote controls on the sofa and say help yourself,” says Lizzie. “Why CBeebies doesn’t start until 6am baffles me.”
Having watched a bit, I think I can help her out with an answer to this: it’s simply too trippy to be shown any earlier. Just imagine the surge in demand for emergency services if clubbers started coming home to Raymond singing I Love My Train on Me Too!: “Ambulance please, I just hallucinated a conga line full of toddlers singing about how happy it makes a pasty-faced train conductor to announce delays and serve overpriced flapjacks.”
Stage 4: Depression
Also known as, the 'FML' phase. When the baby wakes at 6am, 5.30am, 5am or on very special days 4.45am, I prop myself up on pillows and feed her while staring into space wondering where it all went wrong. My friend Jill weeps at the thought that she used to wake up at this time only for yoga, or glamorous international trips. Madeleine starts comfort-eating Nutella.
Note: checking the news is not a good idea during this emotionally fragile phase, as I found out after subscribing to the FT during one of the worst weeks ever for my sleep and the British economy. What you do not need is a graph that looks like it’s been scribbled by a toddler but actually shows all your money zigzagging into a bin.
Stage 5: Acceptance
In the end, you have to get up, either of your own volition or because a tiny hand is yanking yours and going “MUMMY come ON, I want my BREAKFAST”. The most surreal thing of all? Once you do, you kind of forgive them. And you can always start going to bed right after dinner.