It wasn't always that way. Back when Dave and I had no children, naps weren't really on my radar. I mean, I liked the idea of a nap and I would occasionally fall asleep on a Sunday afternoon, but it wasn't the sweet nectar of life as it is now and it rarely ever happened. Back then it was just a nicety. Now, it's a necessity.
I remember when Bunny was born. She was amazingly adorable and I was completely and totally in love with her. And she was exhausting. She'd nurse for an hour every two hours as instructed by the nurses in the hospital and her pediatrician which meant she literally nursed half of the day--an hour on, and an hour off. She slept well enough at night, waking up 2-3 times and going back to sleep when she finished eating, but during the day she was so colicky that the only time she wasn't screaming was when she was eating or sleeping. In the beginning, those short naps were my sanity. Sometimes she'd sleep for only five minutes--long enough for me to pee and grab something to eat, or to put the laundry from the washer to the dryer. Sometimes she'd sleep for a whole hour. But when she wasn't sleeping or eating, she was screaming. Her screaming only stopped if I paced the house with her, bouncing and patting her back the entire time. Those were a long couple of months and her naps were very important to my sanity--even when the only way she would take them was if I put her in the Moby Wrap, which I eventually had to do all day long.
Eventually, she grew out of the fussy stage and became a very fun and easy baby. She regularly took two naps a day and that second nap was necessary for both her and I because at that point in her life I had gone back to teaching and was at school until lunchtime every day. Teaching wasn't too exhausting--it's exhilarating, actually--but I still came home tired and found it refreshing to have her sleep before I had to transition from Señora G to Mommy each day. I would come home, nurse her, and then she would nap for about an hour while I regrouped and either did housework, sewing, or just relaxed. Sometimes, I even napped!
Then, came the transition from 2 short naps to one long one and she wanted to take her long nap before I came home from work--from about 10am-12noon every morning. It was awful. I came home wiped and ready to detox after teaching 50, wonderful high schoolers and I needed to immediately run around after a very refreshed baby who, by now, could crawl and then walk. I asked my sitters time after time to please keep her awake until I came home but more times than not I'd come home to find her asleep in their arms and she'd usually wake up just as I came in the door. “Sorry, she fell asleep,” my friend would say with a smile, not knowing that my entire afternoon was ruined because I wasn't going to be able to get any rest. I felt like such a bad mom about this. I felt that I should be able to bounce right from work to parenthood--and maybe many moms can--but I just couldn't function that way. Some days, I didn't give her a second nap after she slept in the morning. At the end of these days she was grumpy and so was I. Also, she would fall asleep around 5 or 6 every night which didn't bode well for any of the three of us sleeping well at night. Some days, I gave her a second nap around 2 or 3 in the afternoon which was a couple of hours after I came home from work. Most of the time she just screamed and cried during that hour or so that she was in the crib and I sat out in the living room nearly crying myself, wondering if she really needed the nap or if I was being selfish. Those were tough times, but because I wasn't the one caring for her in the mornings, there was nothing I could do to sleep train her since my sitter--a dear friend who was kind enough to help us out--just didn't see the importance of making her stay awake until lunch time.
Finally, summer vacation came and for two and a half glorious months, her nap schedule was in my hands. I worked with her to get her down to one nap in the middle of the day, and the rest is history. Since then she and I have had an agreement: when I come home from work, she sleeps for two hours. While she's sleeping, I do any manner of restful things. It has worked out for the best for all involved. I get to transition from being a teacher to being Mommy and she gets the rest she desperately needs.
Now, she is nearly 4 years old and we still maintain our daily ritual of naptime. She doesn't always sleep during naptime but I have come to the conclusion that is the best option for all involved if everyone in the house gets a rest and a break for 2 hours. Often, after many protests and her insisting that she is not tired, I find her fast asleep in her room. On the days when naptime doesn't happen, I get a grumpy little girl by the early evening and I wish desperately she'd had that down time. So we “nap,” every day, no matter how much she insists that it's unnecessary. And if she doesn't sleep, she spends time in her bed cultivating her creativity with books, dollies, and making up songs.
Many of my friends have 2 or 3 year olds who no longer nap and they tell me how lucky I am that Bunny still does. “Oh, she doesn't always,” I respond, “but she will have two hours of down time/ nap time every day until she starts school.” I've simply come to the conclusion that for the health and benefit of our entire family, the sacredness of those two, glorious afternoon hours must be observed.
Now that I have a new baby in the house, those two hours are even more priceless. We've slipped into a schedule where I usually get both of them sleeping together for an hour or two and it's just what this exhausted and overwhelmed new Mommy of two needs. I realize that as Baby Bear gets older this might change as he won't be so sleepy all the time anymore and he'll probably pare his sleeping down to two and then one naps a day. For now, though, my stalwart refusal to let go of naptime is so, very helpful for the transition from one child to two. I rest and I catch up on house work while the two of them sleep. I wouldn't be able to function as a mom without it.
So, how about your house? What's your approach to naps? Do you enforce the naptime rule or do you abandon naps as your children lose interest? Why or why not?