What I Wished My Now Grown Child Knew About My Insomnia
Last updated: August 2023
Many emotions hit me hard when my son turned 18. His father had just suddenly died, and though we had been divorced for over 13 years, he and I had remained very close and had been a formative figure in my own life. Both of these things happened around the time I turned 50, signaling a fundamental shift in the eras and phases of life.
These emotional earthquakes - my 'midlife crisis' - created a lot of areas of self-reflection. One of those reflections was on my history with insomnia and how it may have affected my interactions with my son when he was smaller.
There are many things I wish I could have helped him truly understand - not for sympathy, but so that he knew "it wasn't him."
It's not you, it's me
I would have wanted him to understand that it was not his fault that I was exhausted and feeling crabby. That doesn't mean I didn't take it out on him by being snippy, grumpy, or physically less engaged on some days - I did, and that is my regret.
I would have wanted to help him understand that I was not upset with him when I would have outbursts of frustration or upset or frazzled exhaustion. I was acting that way because of something happening to me - insomnia - making me more prone to being upset.
He was so small I didn't know how to explain it in a way he'd understand. When they are small, they think everything is about them.
A bit of rest
I would have wanted him to know that I wasn't ignoring him when I felt I needed quiet - I just needed undisturbed rest. I would lie down, and he would wonder why I wasn't up and doting on him.
I just needed a bit of rest.
I would have wanted him to know that sometimes when I was ill and vomiting, the migraine came on due to lack of sleep. It wasn't a virus or a food problem. It was my brain. I would have wanted him to know he was totally safe in case he felt unsafe.
And above all, I would have wanted him to know how much I loved him, even if I didn't express it well. One of the things I wished I had convinced myself of at that time was this: he knew. And he knows.
I didn't need to worry so much.
Parents, be gentle with yourself
He is now 18, and we have talked about it all since. And I can tell you this: he knew, and he can tell me he knew. He can explain how I was a much better mom than I worried I wasn't.
It is reassuring to me now that he's older, and I better understand what his experience was like. But for years, I didn't know that he knew. He came out just fine and is so loving - and felt loved - despite my perceived inadequacies as a parent with insomnia and feeling I was not doing enough or not being enough.
Parenthood is a recipe for being hard on oneself. Be gentle with yourself.
What do you do at night when you can't sleep?