It’s 2am, only an hour or two after we finally managed to get to sleep. Our second daughter, 8 months old, wakes with an almighty scream that penetrates to the bones and marrow, in a way that can never be ignored in the bliss of sleep. Now we’re both awake, I’m well aware that she’s going to wake up for the day at 5.30am and that I am already exhausted from weeks of this on end. My wife is groaning in the exact same way that I feel – the realisation that one of us must sacrifice ourselves if the other is to sleep.
I don’t like being woken up. I don’t like being tired. I don’t like rocking a baby to sleep when I’m so tired I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep standing up and both of us will go tumbling down.
But I’m the one to jump up (however bitterly/angrily it may be sometimes — yes, I am not regenerate yet), and quickly tell my wife to go back to sleep. This has been the pattern of our marriage, one that I have fought to establish and try to guard with all my strength (and it does take all my strength of will to keep this up).
Why? I mean, my wife could settle her. She has the natural soothing mechanism of breastfeeding on her side! Why would I sacrifice my sleep when I know I’m going to be drained at work tomorrow, when it’s been weeks or months since I had more than 6 hours sleep per night?
The short answer is that I love her. The long answer…?
Jesus loved me at a great expense (Ephesians 2-3)
Jesus came down to earth as a human, choosing death on a cross for us over life and glorification in heaven. Through his death he’s not only brought us into relationship with God, he’s given us a mandate to show his love and gospel to the world. How does this relate to our situation? In two ways:
1. Love your wife as Christ loved the Church
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
This passage is actually talking about working for the good of your wife. You want to work hard so that on the last day, when she stands before Jesus, she will have grown to maturity and served a full life out of devotion to him. So our goal is to remove any obstacle that gets in the way of this! One MAJOR obstacle to living a life that glorifies Jesus is a lack of sleep. If someone is plagued by endless sleepless nights, how can they show patience with their children? How can they work on their anger/greed/lust? How can they think clearly enough to spend time reading their bible or praying?
And the other point from this is even more obvious: to love your wife as your own body. You know yourself that you would dearly love a good night’s sleep. Do you think she’s any different? One of the greatest expressions of sacrificial love in a marriage is taking the lead in getting up to screaming kids in the night! Let’s not be useless men who buy into ridiculous stereotypes that raising children is a woman’s business. What rubbish and an abomination in a family! Let’s love our wives and embrace the challenge of serving them by letting them sleep — as much as we are physically able!
2. Work for the good of your children and household
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
You are to love your children. They are to know you as a safe person, as a trustworthy person, as someone they look to when they are sad or sick. What better place to make them feel safe than comforting them when they are scared, sick or need a nappy change in the night? Won’t your children intuitively trust you training and instructing them about Jesus because of this?
Your first ministry (service) to God is in your home, and this is a way that you can serve both your kids and your wife in a tangible way. Don’t back down, be strong and courageous (because that’s what it will take to make it through)
I know that exactly how we apply these ideas in each of our houses will look different, because some of our wives actually do better off less sleep than us. But let’s not hide behind a reason like that — our wives are going to be exhausted by motherhood — there’s something wrong if we’re not doing everything we can to take some of that on ourselves to save our wives from it.
In my house, the decision was that I am the parent who primarily looks after night times. This means even if the baby needs a feed I usually carry them to my wife so she can sleep as much as possible. This is partly because she stays at home with them during the day and way that I can make that more manageable is to take all the night duties. It’s also because she is more adversely affected by low sleep, prone to spiralling into unhelpful habits and a struggle with depression if lack of sleep persists.
No matter how it ends up looking in your house:
It will take commitment
A lot of us men don’t automatically wake up — many of us struggle to hear the baby sounds in the same way our wives do. I was like this with our first too, I’ve always naturally been a heavy sleeper. What I found was, that over time as I made a habit of getting up when those sounds happened, I began to train my brain to be aware and become alert. So even if your wife has to wake you every night for a week to make it happen, beg her to do this! She’ll be puzzled but grateful.
It will take resolve
There are brutal nights, no two ways about it. Nights of 3 or 4 hours sleep can happen depending on your child. Those are horrendous times, but they don’t last forever. Think of it as a battle or as a game — you win if they sleep! It can help to sing songs, or pray for your kids while you’re rocking them. On my more tiring nights I even watch youtube videos while I’m rocking them to help me stay awake enough to not fall over.
It will take cooperation
As I said, you’ll need your wife’s cooperation. Like I said, you may have to convince your wife to wake you to help out if you’re naturally a heavy sleeper (though I’m pretty sure most women are down with the idea of more sleep). It definitely will use every ounce of your willpower to get up, and make sure to thank her for waking you, even though it doesn’t feel like you want to.
Finally, make sure to thank Jesus for every opportunity to love and serve your wife and kids. Anything you can to help build them up is a gift and blessing for all. Get to it!