When my first child was born I bought a couple of popular baby sleep books. Without getting into a Big Ol’ Infant Sleep Debate, let’s just say that one of them in particular didn’t mesh with how I wanted to spend the first few getting-to-know-you months with my newborn. It advocated a pretty regimented approach to eating and sleeping schedules right from the get-go. Many of the philosophies made sense to me for older babies, but in those blurry first weeks of motherhood I wanted the freedom to doze off on the couch with my baby after she fell asleep nursing and I didn’t want to worry about how many hours it had been since her last feeding or whether she snoozed in the car for ten minutes or slept in the swing all night long.
Fast forward three years and another child later and I have to admit it: somewhere along the line I’ve become a total crazy sleep lady! I structure our days around naps (two for my 14-month-old, one for the three-year-old and you better believe they nap at the same time); I turn down invitations if they conflict with bedtimes; I live in mortal fear of the 20-minute car nap that can throw off our schedule; and when we travel I go to great lengths to make sure the kids stay relatively on schedule and get their naps in wherever we are.
Last week we vacationed out of town and were around lots of other families with young kids, and the height and depths of my crazy became really apparent to me. I watched as two-year-olds snoozed for a few minutes in their parents’ laps or skipped naps altogether to play at the beach. I marveled at two kids the same ages as my own who danced until midnight at a family wedding. And all around me were calm, relaxed parents who were allowing this to happen and not completely wigging out about it. And guess what? The kids were fine. Yes, there were meltdowns and yes probably everyone paid for it the next day, but no one seemed worse for the wear.
How did this happen? (Or, as one of my favorite blogger/authors would say, When Did I Get Like This?) How did I go from the mom who didn’t believe in baby sleep schedules to the one who can’t let them go, even for a day?
I think somewhere around six months both my kids started needing more predictable naps in a calmer, quieter environment (gone were the days where they could sleep through anything, anywhere). It wasn’t so much that I put them on a schedule as that they, very gradually, put me on one. And the predictability was welcome, too, for me. After months of not knowing when I might get to pee or take a shower, I actually could predict what my day was going to look like. So while the schedule was initiated by their sleep patterns and needs, I quickly learned to reinforce it by planning around their naps. And so the cycle went, I guess, and here we are.
I also have discovered that I really like my kids a lot more when they’re rested. Aren’t we all easier to be around when we’ve had enough sleep? I feel like as their mom it’s my job to provide for their basic needs – food, shelter, sleep – so that they can do their job, which is to absorb the world around them, learn through play, engage in family and social relationships, etc. They can do their job so much better if I do mine, and for that reason I do place sleep at a high priority on the parenting checklist.
But like everything else in parenting (in life?) there’s got to be a balance. Kids are amazingly flexible, resilient – even if I’m not. Sometimes a day at the beach is well worth a skipped nap and a cranky next day, right? And while in other areas of our life I’m more laid-back (we eat healthy at home, for example, but I have no problem with sweets and treats when we’re out with friends or on special occasions), I for some reason have a harder time finding this balance with sleep. I get twitchy just thinking about a day of messed-up sleep schedules! 🙂
So help me out, ladies! Are there any closet crazies out there like me? Do you even bother with schedules? How do you strike the balance between flexibility and predictability?
Sarah Powers is a writer and Scottsdale mom of two. She came to the valley from Southern California by way of Chicago and would take Arizona summers over Midwest winters any day. A perfect day for Sarah starts with coffee, ends with chardonnay and includes lots of baby giggles and sticky-fingered kid kisses in between. She loves high ponytails, showtunes and using her kids as an excuse to stay in and go to bed early, which she would do anyway. Sarah sometimes blogs and often tweets about the messy, tender, fun, funny and irreverent moments of parenthood.