Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

Scheduling My Toddler's Afternoon Nap Has Become My Life

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Life with a toddler is, in my opinion, pretty damn magical. Toddlers get a bum rap, what with the whole "terrible twos" talk, but I, for one, love the toddler stage. To me, there’s nothing better than having a "big kid" that learns something new every single day but still wants to snuggle on the regular. So yeah, to me, toddlers are the best. That is, of course, unless they've missed their nap. Then all hell breaks lose. So scheduling my toddler's afternoon nap has become my life, so to speak, and I'm not even mildly upset about it. In the end, making sure my toddler is well-rested (so we can avoid any potential tantrums or freak outs) is worth the extra work.

Few moments in my all-around amazing parenting life are worse than when my 2-year-old child misses their afternoon nap. A missed nap turns my sweet, chubby angel into an over-tired, angry, sad, dramatic, hyperactive trickster demon. Every horrible stereotype to befall toddlers comes to fruition if my kid's nap schedule is out of whack.

To prevent this unwanted transformation from occurring, I schedule everything — and I mean everything — around my toddler’s nap time. Anyone who thought to examine our social calendar closely might notice that I only plan playdates, Target runs, trips to the zoo, playground outings, and museum visits for the hours between breakfast and lunch (and sometimes evenings after dinner). This is not by accident, my friends. Everything is planned around my toddler's nap time. Everything.

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

From the outside looking in and to the uninformed, my toddler seems like the perfect child — the curated version of a toddler that, for the most part, you really only see on social media via a series of filters and carefully crafted posts. But the images and videos you see of my son dancing, singing, or counting — always with a big smile on his face — are real. He truly is that happy of a miniature human being. He really is that charismatic. He truly is a dream. But I promise you, my friends, that those moments occurred and were documented on days when he enjoyed his regularly scheduled nap.

A mom friend once told me that sleep begets sleep.

The day when he painted the floor with the contents of his diaper? He missed his nap. The time when he fell asleep at the dinner table and, as a result, was up all night partying like a tiny rock star? No nap. When he climbed over the baby gate and spilled fish food all over the floor? You guessed it — he skipped his nap.

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

Like any mom, I want my kid to be happy, healthy... and to sleep at night. And, like any mom, I can tell you that it's not always easy to make sure those wants and needs are met. So I cancel plans, turn down invitations, and pretty much plan my family members' lives around our toddler's nap schedule. I have to admit, this strategy has made me somewhat of a recluse, but if missing out on what constitutes a social life in an effort to give my toddler the structure and stability we need to make it through the day unscathed is what it takes, well, so be it.

That's not to say that, every once in a while, I won't throw caution to the wind and make afternoon plans that will most certainly cut into my toddler's regularly scheduled nap time. And when those moments do occur I tell myself the same, sweet little lie that makes me believe this is a solid life choice: skipping one little nap won't hurt, right? Wrong. Every time I make this decision and break from my carefully curated life, I regret it.

Eventually that hour or so won't be made available to anyone, and it will be just another hour to fill with another extracurricular activity.

For better or for worse, my son relies on a regular nap to be his regular calm and happy self. Without it, he's sad, defiant, loopy, over-excitable, and sometimes all of those things simultaneously. Little kids have huge emotions, and missing nap time seems to make them even bigger than normal.

Worse, missing his nap seems to mess up everything else we have planned for that day, up to and including bedtime. If he doesn’t get a nap, I know bedtime will be hell. A mom friend once told me that sleep begets sleep. I have to admit that I really didn’t understand how that could be true. I mean, it seems counter intuitive that an over-tired kid would have trouble sleeping come bedtime, but that's totally been our experience.

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

I also know that this scheduled lifestyle won't last forever. Before I know it my son will stop napping during the day, and I will be free to be more flexible with our family schedule. If I'm being honest, though, I'm kind of dreading that day. Sometimes it's nice to have a built-in excuse for missing social events, and it's nice to block off my toddler's nap time for me, too. I have time to work out, clean-up, catch up with my friends on social media, write, and take a damn shower. When he skips his nap, I feel like a part of my day was stolen. I love him. I love spending time with him. But I also love him more when I get time away from him, too. I feel guilty about that, but not enough to phase-out his afternoon nap.

Eventually that hour or so won't be made available to anyone, and it will be just another hour to fill with another extracurricular activity.

So until my toddler starts skipping day naps entirely, I will continue to unapologetically plan our days and routine around his sleep schedule. You might think it's rigid or silly, but for me it's a small sacrifice I am more than willing to make.