Currently, the naptime struggle is real in my house. My last baby isn’t yet two, but I can tell he’s on the verge of phasing out naps, and I am seriously not ready for the remaining lifetime of three non-napping children. And by not ready, I mean I’m fighting it tooth and nail. I beg him to nap. I get angry when he doesn’t. I cannot stand the fact that he fights sleep so hard when I know he is so tired. I can’t stand that he’s ready to leave naps behind already, because I am most certainly not.
The truth is, I never expected to come up against this battle so soon. I was fooled into a false sense of security with my first child, who took long (sometimes 2-3 hour) naps, all the way until he was four. He never fought it. He seemed to relish naptime almost as much as I did. During this long and blissful season of naps, we had our second child and she too slept fairly well during naps as an infant.
I felt heartened by the fact that I was afforded at least one long naptime a day. I would go in and check on them both sleeping peacefully – a sense of calm and control during my otherwise chaotic days as a stay-at-home mom. Naptime was my time. It was the shining accomplishment of my day to put them both down and have a moment to rest and recharge before finishing out our days together. It made parenting easier knowing that I would have that respite. It made me feel confident in my mothering abilities as I watched them snooze peacefully. To be honest, too confident.
Because as soon as I decided to bring a third baby into our family, things started to fall apart. My oldest began to phase out his naps, though he would still occasionally go down for an afternoon rest. It was hard not having that big chunk of me-time I had become so accustomed to, especially since I pregnant and in desperate need of rest, but it wasn’t too unexpected. He was four. It was time for him to move on from naps.
My younger one, on the other hand, was only approaching two. I felt certain there was no way she was going to phase out naps yet. I thought I should at the very least have one year left of naptime with her. But as soon as her brother began staying up in the afternoons, her naps started to shorten, from an hour and a half, to an hour, to a mere 45-minutes. Then they started to subside completely. Though I would try endlessly to get her to settle down for nap, she was stubborn, often waiting until a late afternoon car ride to fall asleep.
By the time my third baby was born, I felt ragged from the physical stress of pregnancy and the lack of mental relief from the naptime that had suddenly been replaced by two constantly awake kids. Then I found out that this last baby was not a peaceful sleeper. Nearly two years later, this has never been more true. I still have to put him down for nap by rocking him back and forth in his reclined stroller, but more often than not, he doesn’t want to fall asleep anymore.
I feel like the short and unpredictable naps that my youngest has taken for the past couple years were a lifeline that is now being taken away. His naptime still gave me that sense of respite, even though I was still constantly mothering my other two. It gave me the feeling of control I so desperately wanted in my day. It was a small yet necessary break I could rely on, even if I didn’t know when it was coming.
Now, I don’t have that guarantee anymore and it makes me dread naptime. I can tell almost immediately when I put him in the stroller whether or not he is going to sleep. He will either calm quickly, his arms resting by his sides, or he will grip to sides of his stroller, waving his head back and forth in defiance signaling that naptime is a no-go.
Yet instead of accepting my napless fate and moving along with our day, I resist. I try to hush him, beg him to settle down, tell him that he needs to sleep – sometimes spending a whole hour before giving up in tears. I tell myself I need him to nap for my sanity, and that’s partly true. But the other side of the truth is, I need it because my kids’ inability to settle down for nap makes me feel like I am no longer in control. It lets me know that they are no longer my little babies, and that’s a terrible feeling as a mom.
Giving up nap time isn’t just giving up my “me” time. It’s giving up control over their lives. It’s giving up my ability to force their schedule to fit my wants and desires. It means facing their independence and their growth away from infant-hood in addition to not getting a break all day. And that’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s the end of an era, another last in a long series of “last” experiences I will have as a mother.
I am trying, slowly but surely, to give up my naptime expectations. I am trying to relinquish control and roll with the punches that motherhood throws at me – instead of fighting the inevitable. And on those days when my youngest does decide to nap, I try to take a moment and appreciate the way he still looks like a baby as he snoozes with his mouth half open. I try to remind myself to enjoy it while I can, because it’s going to be gone too soon.