Back when I was a nanny, I knew everything there was to know about parenting, and was happy to explain it. Naps were among my favorite topics to enlighten people on. I just could not comprehend how, in some families, toddlers and preschoolers were not napping.
“My mom made all four of us nap until kindergarten,” I would exclaim.
I knew that all those poor non-napping children needed was a better routine. A predictable schedule. Some blackout curtains.
Well, karma really does come around, and I birthed a child who hated naps from the start.
No matter how scheduled our routine was, no matter how dark the room or how comfortable the sleeping arrangements, she wasn’t interested.
I’m quite sure that, in the two years since her birth, I have napped more than she has.
And yet, we’ve survived.
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:
1. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is the cruelest thing you can say to a new parent.
It sounds oh-so-simple, doesn’t it? Just like my sleep advice sounded all those years ago, before I knew the harsh reality of parenting.
It’s impossible to sleep when the baby sleeps if the baby is only down for 10 minutes at a time!
In our house, the nap routine usually went something like this: Put baby down on any relatively safe surface (a crib, you say? Ha!); sneak ninja-style out of the room, expertly avoiding squeaking floorboards; pee; refresh Facebook while on the toilet; think, Oh dear lord, please no. That was a cat meowing, not a baby crying, right? Right?!
2. Never, ever comment on other families' sleep patterns.
Joking about a kid who doesn’t nap is one thing, but I am back from the front lines to tell you that when you’re living it, it is no laughing matter.
Once, a simple question from the pediatrician about how my daughter was napping made me burst into tears.
If someone you know has a kid that’s not sleeping, I guarantee that they’ve looked up and tried every possible solution, probably twice. Don’t pour salt on that wound.
3. Know when to quit.
I tried for months to get my daughter on a predictable sleep schedule, and it just wasn’t happening.
Finally, I gave up. Clearly, all my attempts to control her sleep rhythms were failing.
When I finally stopped trying to impose my will, things got easier. She still didn’t nap, so I was continuously tired, but at least I wasn’t tired, angry, and frustrated.
4. Learn your child’s sleep cues.
This is the one hint of sleep advice that ever worked in my house. When I stopped trying to force my daughter to nap on a schedule, I started letting her nap when her body needed it.
Sometimes this happens at 9 am, and sometimes it doesn’t happen until 2 pm. No matter when it happens, it happens — she sleeps better and longer when (and if) she is ready.
5. Set boundaries.
I work from home, a lovely idea that I came up with when I still thought that I was in control of things. Although I’ve learned that I have a lot less control than I’d like, I still need to get things done throughout the workday.
The only way I can do this is by setting hard boundaries for myself. When the baby is asleep, I proceed directly to my laptop to work, without pausing to eat, clean, or do the millions of other things that need to be done, but are possible to accomplish with offspring in tow.
6. Embrace the stolen moment.
Last winter, my kid had a bath at least twice a day, while I wrote stories sitting on the toilet and watching her splash.
Take your kid to the playground. Let them get messy with flour. Push the stroller while you make a call.
Finding ways to replicate the somewhat-free time you would have if your kid were napping will save your sanity and your productivity.
7. Two words: Sesame Street.
The thing about kids who have reached master level at fighting naps is that sometimes they get really, really overtired, whiny, and generally miserable.
But they still won’t sleep.
This is when you call in the back-ups. Be it Elmo and Big Bird, The Wiggles, or Doc McStuffins, your child’s favorite TV character will become your best friend on your worst parenting days. Embrace this relationship. It’s good for everyone.
Of course, I’m still figuring this out, and flying by the seat of my pants, even two years into the parenting gig.
If you were blessed with a child who wants to seize the day (all day, every day), what systems have worked for you?