Q&A: How to deal with a demanding almost-5-year-old when you're chronically sleep deprived

Amy writes:

I'm a 38 year old mom of a nearly five year old girl and 10.5 month fraternal twins. The twins wake at least two times a night each (to nurse), sometimes more. So I am not getting my REM sleep and besides being plain tired, I am clinically chronically sleep deprived. This is what my doctor told me when I was fishing around for him to give me something to help me with my proneness to feel depressed, my irritability, my short temper, my poor memory, etc.

I think I could cope with all this if it weren't for the fact that I have to parent my very demanding nearly-five year old daughter. While she isn't outright jealous of her baby siblings (she is very happy to have them, having asked for baby sister/brother for ages, and she is very loving to them, "helps" me with them, cuddles & kisses them, plays with them etc.) she is extremely demanding of me, my energy, attention and time. I have to do everything--fix her meals, help her get ready for school/dance class/etc., read her bedtime stories, give her a bath (so it has to be ME, not her father, not the sitter). And she is constantly demanding my attention. She whines. She calls for me every minute. Every little bump and scratch is a crisis. She doesn't do what I tell her unless I threaten to punish her (I really can't stand that.) You get the picture.

Our relationship has devolved to a situation where she gets me angry, I shout at her, then I feel guilty, and say to her something like, "Mommy doesn't want to shout but she gets upset when you don't listen, etc." And she says, "I don't like it when you shout at me." And I say, "well why do I shout?" And she says, "because I don't listen." And we kiss and make up and then the same thing happens all over again a few minutes later.

I am tired of being so angry at her all the time. I feel like a rotten parent because I am so impatient with her. I feel guilty that she is getting the short end of my chronic sleep deprivation. (I know I would be a much calmer more patient person if I wasn't about to short circuit all the time.)

Is there anything you can suggest to help me get through this with my sanity intact, and without irreparably damaging her and our relationship."

Wow, what a rough situation. 10 months is a horrible time for a lot of kids, and almost-5 seems to be really hard, too.

Did any of the rest of you notice an increase in clinginess and neediness in the 3-5 months right before your child turned 5? I didn't notice it with my first, but I also had a 19-month-old and had just asked my husband for a divorce, so I wasn't in any frame of mind to be making big-picture observations. With my younger son, though, there was a very distinct period in the months before he turned 5 in which he seemed to want to be inside my skin with me.

At the time it felt like one last hurrah of neediness and babyhood before her turned 5 and became a kid, independent from me. And that is what happened. Over the course of about two days within a few weeks of turning 5 he just got fluid and independent and competent. And he still wants to interact with me, but it's not a constant need to be with me and only me.

So I'm hoping that when your daughter turns 5 her intense need for you to be physically present at all times (and only you) diminishes.

I will also bet cash money that when your younger children turn a year things will start to ease and that by the time the turn 15 months they'll be completley different kids, sleepwise.

So at this point it's just survival for a few months, and knowing that everyone's doing appropriate things developmentally and you haven't done anything wrong. But that you do need some help help help.

Is it possible for you to get a break from the nighttime duty for a few days in a row? If you could get 2-3 nights of decent sleep you'd be fortified for the next few months. If your partner or a relative or friend could take an overnight shift with them it would make an enormous difference. Honestly, your doctor's kind of an ass for not taking this more seriously and suggesting HELP for you so you can make it through this really tough period without losing it completely. You need sleep.

I also wonder if you could get some help during the day for a few hours a couple of times a week so that you could get some more intense time in with your daughter or just feel like you can catch up with yourself a little.

We are NOT meant to be doing this all alone, on duty all the time, no respite. And giving our kids what they need developmentally doesn't mean that we stand back and watch while we sink into PPD because it's just not physically or emotionally viable.

Maybe your partner could read this, or your mom or friend, and the seriousness of the situation would hit and they'd offer to give you the support you need to make it through the nextx few months until your kids need (a little) less from you. I hope that's the case. I'm betting many of us reading this remember that feeling of thinking we were about to break. we're here with you.

Support? Especially from twin moms? (I can't even imagine. One at a time almost did me in at 10 months.)