Truths of the Night Shift Mom

The night shift life is not for the faint of heart. Take the demands of a night shift job, add in the demands of a stay-at-home-mom, and you’ve got yourself an uphill battle. Working all night and momming all day is hard, but I’ve discovered some truths along the way. 

You do not “go to sleep.” Instead, you “get a nap in” before and/or after your shift.

Working at night frees you up to be a SAHM during the day…and that is the expectation.  In theory, since you’re home during the day, you should be awake during the day, because taking more than a four hour nap is considered being lazy.  Cooking, cleaning, educating and playing with the kiddo is on you 4 or 5 days of the week–not because of traditional gender roles, but out of practicality.  If you’re home, you’re on mom duty.

night shift mom
Keeping my son entertained while I attempt to get some snooze time in.

Your sleep cycle does not exist.

There are three phases in your cycle: tired, exhausted, and falling asleep.  Usually you fluctuate between these categories with no discernible reason.  You try to make the switch back to days after a stretch of nights, but it isn’t as straightforward as you’d think. You’re inevitably awake at 3 a.m., falling asleep at 5 a.m., then awake at 7 a.m. with your family. You’re tired again by 10 a.m., exhausted by noon or 1 p.m., and falling asleep by 2 or 3 p.m.  You try to nap when the toddler does. (Nice try.) But by the time you’re falling asleep with him, he wakes up ready to party. 

Husband comes home at 5 p.m., another second wind kicks in, and you realize you haven’t eaten all day.  Kid gets to bed around 7 p.m., and tired progresses to falling asleep.  Husband thinks you’re boring and lazy for falling asleep before 8 p.m. He also knows you’ll be wide awake at midnight.  Midnight to 4 a.m., I’m tiptoeing around the house, ravenous, writing down what needs to be done later that day, catching up on e-mails, cleaning quietly, etc.  When 4 a.m. rolls around, it’s back to tired, and the cycle starts all over again.  You’re always wishing for more hours to catch up on sleep and get back in sync with your family.

night shift mom
Bringing him into bed with me for his morning nap let us BOTH get maximum sleep

You have no idea what day it is, and you are always confused.

Military time is necessary.  When your work day spans two calendar days, figuring out childcare during 4-hour naps requires more mental calculation than anticipated.  I’m lucky that my nanny and my mom can both read my mind, my work schedule, remind me when my husband will be home with our kiddo, and coordinate the nap schedule to maximize my sleep time.  Without them, I’d need much more brain power and clarity that I just don’t have coming off of a 12+ hour night shift.

You are starving and have to pee at least once in the middle of the night (off-work).

On my nights at work, I can be so busy I forget to eat. I often have to force myself to eat something.  At home, I consistently wake up around 1 or 2 a.m. with a voracious appetite and need to pee ASAP!  Because eating in the wee hours of the morning isn’t conducive to sleep or a desirable figure, I go for 2-3 tablespoons of peanut butter.  It never fails to tide me over until breakfast and I’m not going to feel guilty. A small quantity of peanut butter gives me protein, stabilized blood sugar levels, a substantial enough fat content, yet little sugar.

You realize how much you must love BOTH your job and being a mom.

It requires being willing to run on an average of 4-6 hours of sleep. You have to put all your mental energy into work and physical stamina into being mom. Being a mom to a toddler can be mind-numbing and redundant, but it provides a refreshing break from the cognitive demands of my job. 

My husband and I are the main caretakers for our son.  We have a Nana and a nanny that watch him between 4 and 15 hours per week–that’s it!  I am extremely proud and humbled that my husband and I can pull off being full-time employees AND full-time parents!  We don’t have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination. Our impressively non-existent life outside of those realms is a sacrifice we’ve had to make, along with any hope for intelligent conversation between us. 

night shift mom
His first nanny watched him for 4 hours in the morning while I napped.

The benefits are worth the costs

Life won’t always be this limiting, exhausting endeavor, luckily. However, our only child is little for a snippet of time, and I am so thankful that I don’t have to miss anything.  At the same time, I don’t have to give up a career I love, either.  I’ll take the exhaustion and night-shift work, even as hard as it is on my body and mind.  I’d rather live my life purposefully, passionately, and consciously than live a life of regret, helplessness, and inauspiciousness. 

Can any night shift moms relate? 

 

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Nicole is full-time Mother-Baby Nurse at UIHC and full-time single momma to her 3 year old son, Griffin. She grew up in Iowa and graduated from the University of Iowa. She lived in Chicago for almost 4 years before moving back to Iowa City to start a family with her (now ex) husband. After struggling with infertility and undergoing In Vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfers, she worked hard for the title of Mom. Feeling complete as a family of three, they donated their last remaining embryo to another couple, which has been an interesting and complex process. Nicole’s next conquest is to get her Lactation Certification and do some in-home consultation on the side. Her other passions are hiking, reading non-fiction science (or parenting) books, Sudoku, being mamarazzi/managing Griffin’s modelling hobby, visiting museums, and listening to podcasts. She describes herself as resilient, passionately curious, coffee-obsessed, science nerd.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Love this. Kudos to you for making it all work! Saving lives and raising your babes…keep it all up! Night shift nurses in Des Moines say hello! 😉

  2. Now make an article for the Moms who wont let their night shift son or husband sleep because sleeping during the day means they are lazy… Vacuuming outside the rooms, yelling to have a conversation with guests… Night shift workers DESERVE SLEEP TOO MOM!

  3. I’m considered accepting a night shift position and your blog was very helpful. I work on days now and my house typically looks like a hurricane ran through it.

  4. I’M ALSO CONSIDERING WORKING NIGHT SHIFT FULL-TIME. I HAVE 3 KIDS, TWIN 13 YEAR OLDS AND AN ALMOST 6 YEAR OLD. I’M STRUGGLING WITH MY LITTLE ONE AS IT’S HIS FIRST YEAR IN KINDERGARTEN AND HE IS TAKING IT VERY HARD, TO THE POINT WHERE HE’S MISBEHAVING AND NOT FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS WHAT SO EVER AND I’M HAD COME TO THE POINT WHERE BECAUSE I CAN’T LEAVE MY FULL TIME JOB, I HIRED AN EDUCATION ATTORNEY TO MAKE SURE HE IS RESPECTED, DISCIPLINED AND EDUCATED PROPERLY. I DON’T LIKE HIS TEACHER THAT MUCH BECAUSE SHE DOESN’T SEEM SHE WANTS TO WORK WITH ME ON COMING DOWN WITH A PLAN THAT WILL HELP THE SITUATION, HER RESPONSE TO EVERYTHING HE DOES IS TO SEND HIM TO THE PRINCIPALS’ OFFICE AND NOW WANTING TO CUT HIS EDUCATION TIME. SO, SINCE I’VE ALWAYS BEEN OKAY STAYING UP AT NIGHTS AND TEND TO BE THE LAST ONE TO GO TO BED EVERY NIGHT AND FUNCTION FINE, I THOUGHT OF GIVING IT A TRY AND HOPEFULLY BE ABLE TO COME HOME, TAKE THEM TO SCHOOL, COME HOME, SLEEP FOR AT LEAST 3 HRS AND THEN VOLUNTEER AT THEIR SCHOOLS FOR A BIT, SEE HOW THINGS WORK IN CLASS, AND WHEN WE COME HOME FROM SCHOOL, SINCE MY TWIN BOYS ARE OLD ENOUGH TO JUST KEEP AN EYE ON THE LITTLE ONE, I COULD TAKE A NAP, GET UP GET DINNER READY AND DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN THE NEXT DAY…. WISH ME LUCK, HOPE IF ANYONE OUT THERE IS IN A SIMILAR SITUATION, IF I CAN GET YOUR INSIGHT AS TO HOW YOU’RE MANAGING… THANK YOU!!

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