Sunday, December 9, 2012

Two naps to one: Surviving the transition and getting things done

A friend's Facebook post reminded me of a dark and woeful time when Evan stopped taking two naps a day. Suddenly I was forced to do the things I had barely been able to accomplish during two naps in the space of about an hour. On top of taking care of the house, making important phone calls uninterrupted, showering and getting ready, and catching up on my freelance work, nap time is the only time to find a moment to relax during the crazy toddler day. When more than half of that time is suddenly gone, it turns even the most orderly mom into a depressed, anxious shell of a woman.

At least that's what it did to me. But after a week or two of moping, I had to face the reality that the second nap was never going to come back — and some day soon, naps will be a thing of the past altogether. I realized I had to adapt and change the way I do things in order to keep up with the new world order.

Keep in mind that the first few months of this transition will not be easy. Few if any children will magically switch to taking one long nap consistently. Finding the right nap time takes a lot of trial and error, and even then, it's still a bit different for us every day. It took several months for Evan to become a solid one-a-day, two-hour sleeper — and still we have some days where his nap is three hours and others one. The point is, just know that this period sucks no matter what, and that flexibility is the key to surviving this whole thing.

Here are some tips for making a the transition from two naps to one a smooth one.

Watch for your child's sleep cues. The signs may be different, but every child has them. Some kids start to space out, others get hyper, but most start to yawn and rub their eyes and get a little cranky. It's important to watch for this at all times, because there may be a point where your child will suddenly need an early-morning nap or late-afternoon nap to compensate for the fewer hours of sleep. This may happen consistently (my son, for example, went back to taking two naps after a few months of one, but it only lasted a few blissful weeks) or it may be every once in a while when the previous day's sleep just didn't cut it. Be sure to get right to sleep when you see these cues, however. If you go too far past the sleep window, your child may be too revved to sleep at all.

Substitute quiet time for nap #2. Until you can push the start time of the first nap later in the day, you may still need that second nap. As mentioned above, some days your child will fall asleep, but resistance is a more typical response. For children who are content to play in their crib or bedroom, this won't be as much of an issue. For children who need help being settled, use this time frame for quiet, soothing activities. Turn the lights down, close the curtains, and read a few books, sing songs, or listen to quiet music. Having this down-time will help your child feel rejuvenated and help you both relax.

Put some structure in your child's day. If you don't already have a schedule or routine, now might be a good time to implement one. It can be as rigid or flexible as suits you both, but the important thing is to let your child know what's going to happen before it's going to happen. This will not only help him or her transition from one activity to the next, but if they know when to expect nap time and quiet time, it lessens the chance of resistance when the time comes.

Put some structure in your day. Finding ways to streamline your life now that your alone time is so drastically shortened is crucial. Planning ahead and dividing up your important tasks will go a long way to ensuring that they actually happen in a timely manner. If housework is a priority, set up a cleaning schedule to spread the chores out throughout the week. Do the same with errands so you're not trying to cram too much into a tired toddler's day. Get up early to shower and get ready before your child wakes, or take a relaxing bath at the end of the day. The point is to spread your to-do list items and your me-time wants so that they no longer depend on those nap time windows.

Get help. It's true that there just aren't enough hours in the day to do all that you need to do. Luckily, you don't have to go it alone. Enlist your husband's help and do chores together at night, or have him take your child for an outing while you tackle a big project on a Saturday afternoon. Send your child to the babysitter a few hours a week or organize a kid swap with a friend to be able to relax and cross some things off your to-do list. Chances are, if you have people in your life who care about you and your child, they'll be willing to help if you just ask.

Do more with your child. When you only have an hour or two alone during the day, you're going to have to decide which of those things you normally accomplished during nap time can be done with your child around. For some tasks, you'll have to get clever to figure out how to do this with a toddler underfoot. As they say, cleaning the house with a toddler in it is as useless as brushing your teeth while eating Oreos. Look for an engaging activity (not just plunking her in front of the TV) to keep your child entertained while you pay the bills, give her her own pretend "makeup" to put on while you do yours, let him play on an old computer keyboard while you catch up on e-mails, and find ways for your child to do household chores with you (much more on this to come!). At this age they love doing whatever you're doing, so capitalize on this to get everything you can finished during awake time — without compromising your connection with your child — to save the really important alone-time tasks for naps.

Compromise. This transition is seldom a smooth one, for your child or you. While you may have the perfect plan in place, understand that chances are it's not going to happen, at least at one time or another. But remember, this isn't just about making your day easier — it's about doing what's best for your child's physical and emotional health. Keeping this in mind will help you keep some perspective when things don't go so well. You will also have to compromise some of your needs in order to smooth this transition along. Some of these sacrifices may be permanent, others just temporary. It may be tough to accept this, but that's what motherhood is all about: sacrificing for the greater good of your child and your family. In the long run, paying attention to your child's cues and addressing his needs are crucial to fostering trust and love and, ultimately, ensuring cooperation. And that makes everyone happy.

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