The Reality Gap
Do you see this co-sleeper bassinet? It’s brand new, it’s pretty, has wheels, and wasn’t cheap. We bought it for our third baby because we wanted to have him close but still in his own sleep space. This beautiful bassinet represents my “reality slap” because as it turns out my baby doesn’t like to sleep apart from me.
The “reality slap” moment is when life deals us a blow. It might be the big shock, like a freak accident, a loved one’s loss, or a natural disaster. Or, it might be something smaller and less “shocking” — the feeling of loneliness when I realise my pre-baby friends aren’t there for me; or the pang of envy when the other mums at mothers’ group talk about how well their babies sleep; even anger or resentment at my partner sleeping while I settle the baby for the fourth time that night.
Some slaps are passing insults, like that jab of frustration when the lady in the grocery store asks if he’s a ‘good baby’. Others might have us reeling for weeks (or longer), like the aftermath of a traumatic birth.
When the reality slap passes, there’s the “reality gap”… that gap between my expectations and the reality I live within — the bigger that gap, the more painful the feelings. A reality slap may pass in moments, but the reality gap may persist for days, weeks, months - even years. My reality gap is 50cm - the space between the bassinet and where my son actually sleeps - in my bed.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I knew my baby would wake at night, but I wasn’t prepared for how often, or for how long. A part of me thought I’d have my nights back within six months, and while sleep was very manageable by that stage, the rollercoaster of what is actually normal infant sleep presented me with a few more surprises.
When the reality slap of infant (or toddler) sleep hits, it can hit hard! The reality gap between baby waking four times every night and the expectation that our baby will sleep from 7pm-7am is huge. Where did “couple time” go, where did relaxed mealtimes go? Why won’t my baby nap in the pram while I enjoy a coffee date with a friend? The witching hour feels like an eternity – how on earth do I maintain my own sanity and self?
I was lucky to discover the Possums Programs early in my parenting journey. For my first baby, they helped with breastfeeding challenges and for my second baby, their shared medical appointments connected me with other parents experiencing the same reality slap challenges. As we all sought to adapt to our new reality, we benefited greatly from the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) practices embedded throughout the programs.
Prior to Possums, this reality gap would have caused me a lot of painful feelings. I would have felt like I wasn’t doing ‘it’ right; guilt, because my baby didn’t sleep in the bassinet; spent hours trying to ‘teach’ him to sleep apart from me. Instead, I am empowered with the knowledge of normal infant sleep from Possums and with my experiences of parenting two older children, I am armed with a toolkit of strategies to help me unhook from uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. With these tools, I am confidently navigating this intense phase of parenting my new baby.
I’ve learned how valuable these programs can be in facing the “reality slaps” of early parenthood and became a Possums Parent Mentor to support other parents.
The Possums Programs provide parents with evidence-based resources about caring for baby AND you. They can be accessed via a Milk & Moon membership, which includes access to the Possums Parent Hub - a closed, peer-mentored group to safely share the challenges and wins of caring for a baby.
It helps us understand that we are all facing our own reality gaps - and everything is interconnected; incorporating mindfulness, understanding of our own individual values and acceptance skills to help with responses to stressful experiences.
For more information, visit possumsonline.com
Words: Ashleigh Lyness
Ashleigh is a loving mother of 3 beautiful children. She is a radiographer and Parent Mentor with Possums for Mothers and Babies - an Australian registered charity to deliver support services, education and resources to parents and babies during the postnatal period and up to 2 years.
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Autumn 2023