Nighttime parenting vs. daytime parenting: Do we have split personality disorder?

It’s easy to be a “good” mom during the day when the littles are happy and smiling and being cute… But what about nighttime parenting? That’s really where the rubber hits the road and your true parenting values come out.

baby with bright blue eyes and amber teething necklace


I clearly remember thinking that four to six months was the most challenging age with Levi’s babyhood.

Even though it’s not that long ago, I can’t remember exactly why I thought it was so difficult. Sleep regression factored in there, as did teething, but beyond that I really can’t remember much of the detail.

Judah is now four-and-a-half months old and I’m finding myself stretched thin once again… and having similar thoughts.

I’ve well and truly emerged from that fourth trimester and found that my little one has a mind of his own.

And maybe part of the struggle (now that he has a mind of his own) is that he’s looking at me thinking, Mama, don’t you know my every thought? My every need? And I. just. don’t.

I never will.

baby with lion stuffed animal

You see he had been sleeping through the night fairly regularly from roughly 7pm to 7am, and ohmygoodness did it change things. I knew I couldn’t count on it to continue, but that’s the problem with babies sleeping through the night – once they do you expect them to continue even if you “know better”. (And I do know better. He very well should be waking to feed once or twice at this age.)

Unfortunately knowing better doesn’t magically change your expectations.

These last couple of weeks he’s not only back to waking up at night, he’s waking up several times a night. (A few nights ago it was every two hours – help me God!)

And because of the exhaustion, I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting – what is it and what does it cost?

In the grand scheme of things, exhaustion is a very small price to pay for the immense blessing of children. But in the moment, when sleep is illusive and nothing feels like “yours” anymore, it can be tricky to remember that.

I admit that often during the wee hours I hear him stir and then fuss and then call out for me… and I groan (sometimes only inwardly) in response to what’s required of me.

I get up. I feed him. I take him back to his bassinet a few feet away or I let him sleep with us.

I deliberately don’t look at my phone to see what time it is. I deliberately lose count of how many times he’s already woken. And I remind myself that this is a season…. A very, very short season.

But then in the morning (after the sleepy fog has rolled away) I remember back to the night. I think about my baby and how he needs me. I think about the fact that I’m not just a food source, but his most important source of comfort and reassurance and life. I think about motherhood and the cost that really is so small (and sometimes feels so big).

And I feel bad, disappointed in myself.

I want to parent at night the way I parent during the day, but I realize that I often have a case of split personality disorder – strong and sacrificial and giving by day, grumbling and complaining and reluctant at night.

That’s not the kind of mother I want to be.

I want to be a mother who gives and loves and sacrifices freely. Not one who does so according to when it’s convenient to me or not. (Or when it’s impossible not to be, like when he’s being so darn cute during the day.)

cute baby in green

But the sad truth is, I’m often “bothered” by being up in the night. I’m often grumpy about it. I’m often hung up on my “right” to sleep.

And here’s my reality check: having children demands that I give up some of my rights, at least for a while.

Judah might surprise me and go to sleep tonight and not wake until the morning.

Chances are, he won’t.

And maybe that’s the way it should be…

He’s teaching me consistency. He’s teaching me humility. He’s teaching me sacrifice. He’s teaching me generosity.

All lessons I very much need to learn.

And maybe, just maybe, he won’t sleep all the way through again until I’ve learned the lessons that I need to.

I’m becoming okay with that as I try to embrace whatever it is that will shape me the way I need to be shaped.

For his sake.

For my own.

Dear friends, have you thought much about your nighttime parenting? Are you a different parent by night than you are by day? And are you okay with that?

About Author

Adriel Booker is an author, speaker, and advocate based in Sydney, Australia who believes storytelling, beauty, and the grace of God will change the world. Adriel has become a trusted voice in areas of motherhood and parenting, Christian spirituality, and global women's issues. She's also known for her work with the Love A Mama Collective—serving under-resourced women in developing nations through safe birth initiatives—as well as her years spent as a Bible teacher and leadership coach. Her latest book is Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss and she's made the companion grief journal available for free. Find Adriel across all social media platforms at @adrielbooker or sign up for LoveNotes, Adriel's 'secret posts' that aren't published anywhere else online. ✌️


  • Jennie
    16 February 2012 at 10:30 am

    Oh Adriel, the exact.same.thing is happening to me! My 2 year old tried to kill me during the 4-6 month stretch and I dreaded 4 months with my second. But I was hopeful, as he was also sleeping a delightful 7-7. Ha. At 5.5 months, he’s getting up every two hours and refusing to go back to sleep. I needed this reminder today! I am finding it harder in some ways this time around because I have to try to be a good mom while exhausted to a baby and a busy toddler. Good luck to you 🙂

    • Adriel @ The Memos
      16 February 2012 at 10:34 pm

      Oh, you too Jeannie! It’s hard isn’t it? I think we have to give ourselves grace (obviously!!) but at the same time how we parent at night is important too. I think it often gets overlooked or we go over-the-top with our excuses…

      Hope your little phase doesn’t last long though. Fingers crossed!! 🙂
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  • Rachel
    16 February 2012 at 11:35 am

    First, what a beautiful baby! Second, I admire you, but please cut yourself some slack, we all need sleep! Not sleeping wears on our bodies and effects our moods. I do agree it is important to remember that this time is very, very short… We need to try and enjoy it as much as possible, these babies grow up way too fast!

    • Adriel @ The Memos
      16 February 2012 at 10:37 pm

      thanks rachel! yeah, he’s seriously getting cuter all the time!

      and yeah, i totally need sleep! of course! and i definitely cut myself some slack. i think it’s important to be gracious to ourselves even as we’re trying to be gracious to our kids. but i also think it’s really easy for me to get selfish and begin compartmentalizing my time… but in reality parenting is a full time job. hard reality, but true!!

      and yes, it does go fast. it *sort-of* makes it easier than with the first kid because you’ve experienced just how fast it does go. then again, you need more energy to keep up with both kidlets. *sigh*
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  • Kelly
    16 February 2012 at 11:50 am

    Good thing to think about. I think I am in the same boat. It is tough to be that ‘good’ and ‘ideal’ parent at night, especially when sleep is in play and frustration kicks in.
    Great post!
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  • Branson
    16 February 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Oh sweet friend, you inspire me. I love that you are so eager to be the best you that you can be. I also love that you are realistic about this season of life, and reaffirm many of my instincts. Makes me feel like I am on the right track 😉 I do think you are a little hard on yourself, though. The fact that you get up whenever he needs you is the most important part… and if grumbling a bit at night happens, it can’t cancel out the awesome-ness you shower them with during the day! Hang in there, mama! xoxo
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    • Adriel @ The Memos
      16 February 2012 at 10:39 pm

      oh thanks 🙂 i’m not being hard on myself though. really, i give myself lots of grace in this area. 🙂 BUT, i do want to grow! i’ve realized that my nighttime parenting is STILL parenting so i don’t want to just be lazy/flippant about it… and that’s certainly my default! of course there needs to be a grace factor. (*always* needs to be a grace factor!!) grace for the kids AND grace for the parents!!
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  • Nina
    16 February 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I think I’m a different parent at bedtime than during the day…that feels even worse! It could be such a sweet time!
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    • Adriel @ The Memos
      16 February 2012 at 10:42 pm

      oh geeze… bedtime. yeah, that can be a tough one. i’m still breastfeeding so most nights that’s actually a time i look forward to. i HAVE to sit down and rest while i feed judah, whereas other feeds through the day i’m multi-tasking even then – bfing him and playing mega blocks or something with levi. when i do both kids bedtimes, it’s much harder… but ryan usually puts levi (our 2yo) to bed… so bedtimes are kinda nice at the moment…
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  • Megan @ boho mama
    16 February 2012 at 4:09 pm

    We struggle with this, too. It’s funny, I loved sleep SO much before the girls were born. I still do…but I kinda forget what it’s like! Sometimes when I get up and I’m frusterated, I give the babies a little massage on their legs. It’s more for me than for them. I feel their chubby rolls, and smell their sweet smell, and their cute curling toes and fat feet, and it makes me remember WHY I’m OK with being up night after night.
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  • Rachel
    16 February 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Oh Adriel…mama’s need their sleep! I’ve been telling Xavier this for 15 months now and he STILL doesn’t believe me. Co-sleeping has its pros and cons — one pro is that I’m not really ‘getting up’ so there’s no fumbling around while the crying escalates…the con being the all night snack bar option. Anyway, I feel I’ve learned alot about sleeping this time round and am actually eager (eager! Ha! It can’t be any worse than Xave…) to try a few different things for the next bub (like separate rooms…).

    I want to say nighttime parenting has taught me to rely on God like nothing else but the reality is, I still find myself begging the Lord to just make my baby sleep through the night at least once on a regular basis. But sometimes, I’ve had some really sweet prayer times at 3 in the morning…and then again at 3.30…and then 4… by 5 am the prayer time isn’t usually going so well. There’s nothing like these small, sweet, sleeping angels to drive us to our knees in prayer!
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    • Adriel @ The Memos
      16 February 2012 at 10:48 pm

      mmmm, yes. i dropped levi’s nighttime feed around 7 months or so. he was established on solids and completely fine without it. once i dropped it that’s when he started sleeping through. three nights of waking for a feed and not getting it and he decided not to wake for it any more. (i do NOT do cry it out, by the way – we just cuddled/patted back to sleep. it took 20 minutes the first night, 10 the second, and less than 5 the third… so it was clear he was ready developmentally to sleep through!)

      with levi we moved him out at 3 or 4 months to his own room. judah’s still in ours. he’ll be sharing with levi but i don’t want to put him in there until he’s waking only once/night (or none). don’t want him waking levi and then having both babies up!!!

      maybe xave needs some help to sleep through? he should be plenty old enough by now, don’t you think? (i know this is a controversial parenting issue, so i’m open to a different opinion!) 😉
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  • Rachel J.
    18 February 2012 at 7:55 am

    The fact that you are mindful of these kinds of things makes you a wonderful mama – don’t ever forget that!

    I too am dreading the four-month mark. It was super hard with Hannah; I’m hoping Abram escapes it, but we’ll see.

    I enjoy your blog so much – thanks for being such an encouragement!
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  • Laura
    19 February 2012 at 9:18 am

    Oh Adriel, I love this post! It’s so true; it can be so difficult to not feel that annoyance at being woken up, at the frustration from lack of sleep. But you are an amazing parent, and you’re right that our kids do teach us to be so much more than we are. I think part of parenting is that slow loss of our selfish parts. In the beginning, you lose sleep so that someone else might drift off to dreamland. And as they get older, you give so much more – the nice parts of your dinner so that your toddler might eat, your privacy so that your little one can learn how to potty train, and then you give up control so that your child can feel independence. And my mom says that it never ends; you never stop wanting to be more for your kids so that they might have more, be more, love more.

  • Jessica
    19 February 2012 at 11:35 am

    This is a great post, Adriel. My little Annah has to sleep through a full 12 hours. At the most, she’ll do five or six hours. For the past week, she’s been waking up twice in a night. And while I am usually very, very tired at night, for some reason, her nightwakings really don’t bother me, usually. I think it helps that she goes back to sleep so easily, which was not the case with Nya. With Nya, one nightwaking could take anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours to end. It was hard. And being a new mom made each minute awake feel even more unbearable. And for me, with Nya, the nightwakings didn’t end with the end of infanthood, they went on and continue to go on through her toddlerhood. So, maybe I’m used to being tired? I don’t know, but I think it’s totally normal to feel a bit peeved when having to wake up when you’re exhausted. I think. Hope this helps in some way. I’m running on little sleep, so I hope what I’ve said even makes sense. 😉

  • Becca
    19 February 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Great post. Our nighttime parenting beliefs are put to the test every night with our little guy. It’s hard (very hard sometimes) but I get a lot of hope thinking about what we are sowing into his life by responding to his needs in the night. He may never remember it but I think we are laying a secure foundation for our relationship in the future. Although its mostly my husband doing it these days as I get the newborn who sleeps quite well! 😉

  • Maxine
    19 February 2012 at 9:04 pm

    Adriel, I don’t know how you do it but you hit the nail on the head every time!
    Reading the comments above, I know there are some very lucky bubbas, and mummas, out there!
    Keep up the good work! And those beautiful photos… you have talent girl!

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  • Aprille
    3 November 2013 at 9:51 am

    My son didn’t sleep through the night until he was 19 months old and he woke up multiple times most nights. And my husband was deployed for a year of that 19 months. He’s three and I feel like I’m still recovering. I’m not joking. My chronic fatigue took a big hit during that time and I struggle to feel engaged with him some times because i’m just so tired. Now I can let him play in his room during the afternoon and take naps and he sleeps through the night and some mornings I even get to sleep in, but it never feels like enough sleep. So yeah, I totally get what you are saying here.
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    • Adriel
      14 November 2013 at 1:01 pm

      yeah, to be alone would be brutal!! i have so must respect for military wives!!!

      i still feel tired All The Time and my boys are now 2 and 3.5. it’s amazing the things that start waking them up again at night… and now we’re having 5:50am wake ups too. ugh. it’s a constant struggle for me to remember (and live by) my parenting values when i am bone tired and would do most anything for an uninterrupted night sleep and a sleep-in until 9am. 🙂
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