The Problem with ‘Drowsy but Awake’

Photography:Fran Jorgensen Photography

By Hayley Bukhamsin, founder of The Gentle Mama

If we were to believe the Hollywood movies, parenting a baby or toddler should involve singing a lullaby or rocking them, placing them in their crib, saying goodnight, switching the light off and closing the door. Parenting completed for the night.

The problem is, this has spilled over into our REAL lives, with parents led to believe that this is the norm when it comes to infant sleep; that drowsy but awake is what we should be aiming for; that parenting is a daytime-only responsibility; that our babies’ sleep should be simple and convenient for us.  

We look at the movies and we understand that in real life we’re not all Hollywood-glamorous, like the actors.

We understand that in real life we’d get slightly (!) more than a dainty graze on our foreheads after an explosion and a 7-storey fall. We understand that an enormous picture-perfect picket-fence house is not the norm for a single working mama with 3 under 3. But we accept these Hollywood white lies and glamorisations as a quirk of the movie industry.

And yet, when we see a mama lay her babbling baby down in their crib, wide awake and coo-ing away, then walk out the door with a serene, perfect-hair-and-make-up glance back before switching off the light, we start to absorb that nonsense into our own perception of parenting. We start to believe that parenting should, or at the very least could, look like that.

And then a friend or neighbour mentions that their baby happily lays down drowsy but awake, and it’s cemented in our head. A knot starts to form in the pit of our stomachs. A sense of unease that slowly becomes panic or concern; why won’t my baby go to bed drowsy but awake? What’s wrong with my baby? What am I doing wrong?  

Sooner or later, someone suggests sleep training, or we see an advert promising easy, consolidated sleep. And we start to believe that we can fix our babies and make everything fit into the Hollywood cookie-cutter image.  

And just like that, we’ve forgotten that the movies are not realistic. They aren’t representative of normal life, and it doesn’t serve us on any level to aim for movie-life in place of our authentic, real, genuine lives. 

Because the truth is that baby sleep is not cookie-cutter. It’s not motion-picture perfect. It’s far from it, and that’s ok.  

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