Don't Mess with a Baby's Nap Time: A Confession from a Tired New Dad
There's no perfect way to take care of a baby.
But that doesn't mean there aren't ways to screw up.
Dude, I screw up ALL THE TIME. And I consider myself a competent, good dad, now with three kids to take care of with my wife.
It's just that in hindsight, the rookie mistakes we made with our first born kid become glaringly obvious, just like that haircut you got in middle school. What were you thinking? A bowl cut?
With our now 2-year-old son, my wife and I point to one mistake we made early on that we pay for to this day. Sure, we've made many mistakes (Not swaddling for longer! Not going out to eat more often when it was just three of us! Not giving him more time to fall back asleep on his own!) that we've since promised not to repeat with our 10-month-old girls.
But this is a doozy that we can't really fix with our son.
Not insisting on a standard nap time.
My God, guys. What a DUMB thing to do.
We thought that by being cool, supportive, attachment-style parents, we could let our son kinda lead the way. That we would let him "tell us" when he was tired rather than force our rules on him.
Oh, he tells us, alright. He tells us he's exhausted by acting like an insane person, except he's not used to having a standard nap time and so he's essentially incapable of winding himself down and taking a nap in the afternoon when he's tired. He truly doesn't know how. He'll just go and go and go until he either falls asleep by accident (rare) or starts having meltdowns every hour (more likely).
And it's not his fault. It's ours.
If we had made sure each day he knows there's a certain time he takes a nap, his body would get used to that. By having naps all over the place — and I mean that literally, too. All over the house, not his crib, where there would be a routine — he never got used to anything.
Why it's a nearly impossible mistake to fix after the fact
Sure, we can trick him into taking a nap. It involves me taking him for a quick drive. Usually, he'll fall asleep, and I have to say I'm kinda the champ at transferring a sleeping baby/toddler to his bed without disturbing him. (Secret to it: Minimizing sudden movement, so have your doors unlocked ahead of time!). If the timing works, great.
But the problem is, with multiple babies around, my wife can't just take him for a drive while I'm at work.
"Why can't she just toss all the kids in a car?" you ask. Silly you. That's robbing Peter to pay Paul — it isn't worth the time cost of getting all the kids in the car and out of the car and the possibility of making the not-needing-a-car-ride babies furious for strapping them in instead of letting them play or nap. Another issue — bad weather. We live in Pennsylvania, so during winter it seems unwise to put your kids in a car to drive around in icy/snowy conditions anymore than you absolutely need to.
And our son, like any toddler (or baby!) is a creature of habit. He knows that after bathtime comes bedtime. He knows that he brushes his teeth after we get dressed in the morning. He knows that dad yells at the TV when the Steelers throw an interception. Asking him to adjust to regular nap time now, especially since we have more kids around, is easier said than done. We missed our window, at least until he's a little older. Toddlers aren't one for logic. Or reason. Or sitting still.
With our baby girls, my wife (worried of having the same issue with them we did with our son) was vigilant about putting them down at the same time each day. Now? More often than not they go down in their cribs without a huge fuss. It means we can count on them sleeping to get stuff done. It means they are less cranky. It means we don't lose our godforsaken minds.
But our son just can't do it. We can try to put him down, but he doesn't get what we are trying to do (even if it seems obvious to us). Afternoons aren't for naps, he thinks. Afternoons are for running around half-naked and building blanket tunnels and chasing the dogs and grabbing five Hershey Kisses out of a dish and then eating them when dad isn't looking and then having the evidence all over your face and pretending you have no idea what he is talking about.
So, please. Even if it's tough early on. Even if your baby doesn't seem to like it. Even if the logistics are tough. Make a point to get your baby down for a nap (and/or keep up with naptime that your daycare establishes) early on. It'll pay off. It'll pay off so freaking nicely. You'll never regret making it easier for your baby to nap.
Don't be like Andy. Andy is tired. Andy's toddler naps with all the frequency of a New Year's Resolution gym member working out in June.
I've got two really great opportunities coming up related to Instafather I'm proud to announce:
- Feb. 18-20 I'm attending the Dad 2.0 Conference in Washington, D.C. It's a huge convergence of dad bloggers from around the country. I can't wait to meet them, get new ideas, talk about fatherhood, and bro out or whatever dudes say.
Feb. 27 I have the honor of being the keynote speaker at the Early Childhood Innovative Connections conference, touching on life as a new dad and how child care professionals are such an important aspect in the success and happiness of our kids.