Nap out of it: What to do when naptime ends

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Naptime

because-I-said-so-greenA good friend of mine posted a status update on Facebook that had me nodding my head in sympathy. She is the  mother of two kids, and her oldest, a 2- year-old boy, recently gave up his daily nap.

“How many days will I attempt to put him down for a nap in vain?” she posted. “RIP naptime, you will be sorely missed! Not looking forward to the LONG days ahead.”

Even though it’s been years since my firstborn stopped napping, I still remember the sad day I realized his hours-long siestas were a thing of the past.

My oldest was a dream sleeper from the beginning. He slept in 10-hour chunks when he was a few weeks old. He took three naps a day. He fell asleep on his own and could sleep through anything. When he abruptly refused to nap at the tender age of 2, I was distraught — and in denial. I somehow thought he’d nap until he went to college, or at least until he went to kindergarten.

Like many other stay-at-home parents, I found naptime was my only reprieve from the constant demands of child rearing. I devoted the bulk of those blissful afternoon hours to my work-from-home job. I’d check email and pay bills. Plan meals and clean the bathrooms.

Deprived of that block of toddler-free productivity, I thought I wouldn’t be able to accomplish a single non-child related task. Ever.

So I did what any reasonable parent would do: I channeled my inner Super Nanny attempting to keep naptime alive. I spent close to an hour reading him books in hushed tones. I sang lullabies, tacking on extra verses filled with nonsense words.

I searched parenting books and consulted the all-knowing Internet for advice on “how to make a toddler nap.” Perhaps his room was too bright during the day? I made custom roman shades with a blackout liner. Maybe he’d become sensitive to noise? I turned the phone off and tiptoed around. Could it be there wasn’t enough ambient noise in his room? I tried a fan and “Bach at Bedtime” on CD.

When those strategies failed, I tried a different tactic. After reading a few books and tucking him in, I’d hover outside the door to his room, listening for any sounds of movement. If he got out of bed to grab a toy, I’d march in and take it out. I once, in only a few minutes time, moved nearly every toy  — including an extremely sturdy wooden kitchen and 94-piece train set and table — out of his room and into the adjoining hallway, in hopes that removing the distractions would help him sleep.

Before you write me off as a complete psycho, please know that I legitimately thought he still needed to nap. I wasn’t just doing it for “me time.” When he didn’t nap, he’d fall asleep in all sorts of weird places and be nearly impossible to rouse. And then when he did wake up, watch out — he was a bear.

I was pretty much obsessed with extending naptime, until a frank piece of advice from a sister-in-law pulled me out of the nap-Nazi funk.

“He absolutely refuses to nap,” I whined at lunch one day. “I don’t know what to do. I need him to nap.”

“I remember feeling that way when my oldest was little,” answered Suzy, a mother to five. “I spent so much time trying to keep naptime alive. Then I realized after I had more kids and they stopped napping eventually, too, that I could’ve used that time to have fun with him instead.”

The idea to embrace this change had never crossed my mind. Although it took a few days for me to admit it, she was completely right. Luke was finished with naptime whether I was or not. I could pout and protest — and move toys in and out — or I could accept that fact and even learn to cherish it. I decided to cherish it.

From then on, my buddy and I played Yahtzee Jr. and Candyland. We built Lego cities, read books about dinosaurs and zoned out to the Wonder Pets when necessary.

So my advice to my friend is this: Don’t do what I did. The end of naptime is inevitable, and the more time you invest in keeping it alive, the more frustrated you’re likely to be. A nap-free child isn’t nearly the nightmare I’d once made it out to be. Plus, there is always preschool.

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

One Comment

  1. Jessica Hollingshead Reply

    Don’t know why I missed this the first time, but I really needed to hear it today. I’ve been fighting the “quiet alone playtime” battle for too long. I need to institute “special mommy-Janie playtime” instead.

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