Before I became a mother, I read enough baby books to feel like I was ready to tackle the tough parts of parenting. Teething, tantrums, bedtime: bring it on, I said.
But naptime? The almost-Herculean task of trying to make your child nap, often multiple times a day?
No one warned me about naptime.
And it’s kind of the worst.
And if we’re talking naptime with a toddler? DEFINITELY the worst.
Naptime has been the single biggest focus of my entire two years of motherhood. Everything I do is planned around naptime. And still, every day, it’s a battle.
My morning thoughts are a running commentary of questions. “Did she receive enough exercise this morning? Has she eaten a proper breakfast? How many hours has she been awake?”
These all lead to the biggest question of all: WILL SHE NAP?
Usually, the answer is yes. But never without a fight.
To watch us would be a humorous sight, like a bizarre, absurdist play.
Act 1 begins with Mother and Toddler lying together on the bed. A book is read eight times in a row, and then thrown on the floor as Toddler demands “Me do it now.”
Act 2 finds Toddler running laps on the bed, while Mother inhales calming breaths. A 15-minute interlude occurs where Toddler attempts to remove her own socks.
Act 17 features a rather confusing monologue about puppy dogs, while Mother pretends to be asleep.
Finally, in Act 87, Toddler is incoherent. Mother is wincing from holding her bladder for two hours. Triumphant music soars as eyelids begin to droop, then abruptly stops as Toddler sits up and demands pancakes.
One only needs to read the increasingly desperate notes on my baby sleep-tracking app to see that naps have ruined me.
Naptime has caused me to text my husband in tears, telling him I can’t do it anymore. It’s caused me to eat an entire pan of brownies in a single sitting. It’s caused more texts to my husband, asking him to bring home more brownies. It’s shown me levels of frustration I never knew existed, and has made me angrier than I’d like to admit.
But mostly, my naptime battles have caused me to feel drained. Defeated. Ashamed for feeling frustrated and angry instead of patient and calm, and constantly wondering what I’m doing wrong.
A better mother would be able to handle this, whispers that nagging voice in my head, and back to the computer I go to look up variations of “My child won’t nap please help.”
I’ve tried it all.
White noise. Blackout curtains. Drowsy but awake. Overtired but awake. Extremely angry but extremely awake. Self-soothing. A long routine. A short routine. Skipping the nap and going with an earlier bedtime. Being breezy about naptime, and being obsessive.
Nothing works. I have a child who just does not want to nap, but still very much needs to.
It’s hard to explain the extreme frustration of naptime to parents who have easygoing nappers, and even harder to people without children.
And rightly so. She skipped her nap today sounds about as serious as I forgot to buy milk at the store. It simply does not convey the anxiety of wondering if your child will be up all night long, or the stress and heartache of having to console your angry, sobbing, overtired heap of a child at 4 p.m.
But I can recognize my fellow nap-warriors. I see them, the beaten-down parents, wearily pushing strollers during the hours of 12 to 3 p.m., passed-out children in tow. I see them, struggling to eat sandwiches one-handed on their ninth circle around the block. We give each other a nod and a slight shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, Maybe tomorrow will be better.
And so, tomorrow brings a new battle. The books are read, socks are flung, and eventually, the eyelids close and I creep out of the room like a sweaty, legging-clad burglar, ready to drink cold coffee and immediately begin chores.
But sometimes, I pause.
I pause, and I gaze at the image on the baby monitor.
I look at the exhausted, little body sprawled out on the bed, at the tousled hair, at the flushed chubby cheeks, and at the rhythmic rise and fall of her breathing.
And I know that soon my child will wake, and she will smile at me when I walk into the room.
She will be refreshed and ready to play, sing, eat, learn, and to question me if dinosaurs can dance (Maybe? I’d like to think so?). She will embrace the rest of the day with rejuvenated wonder and curiosity, because even if she protests that nap every single day, her tiny body still very much needs it.
And I’ll be glad I fought the naptime battle once again.
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