When my son was first born, I was FANTASTIC at following the “sleep when the baby sleeps” edict. But as he’s gotten older–and as I’ve transitioned into life as a stay-at-home mother–I’ve adopted more of a “do absolutely every single task under the sun while the baby sleeps…and go sort of crazy in the process” approach to life. Things gotta change, y’all.
“Everyone keeps telling me to sleep when the baby sleeps but…I just can’t seem to do it. I’ve never been a good napper, you know?”
As my friend–a very new and very tired mother–said this to me, I could feel her willing me to commiserate with her, to relate to her struggle. And, for her sake, I wanted to; I really, really did. But I couldn’t. All I could do was furrow my eyebrows and give her a concerned but non-committal “Hmmmm.”
Because, really, like I want to be the jackass who declares, “Yeah, I never had that problem. I napped ALL THE TIME when my kid was a baby.”
But yeah, I never had that problem. I napped ALL THE TIME when my kid was a baby.
The first few weeks after our son JR was born, I was fantastic at following the “sleep when the baby sleeps” edict–and did so almost every single day.1 As soon as that baby snuggled up in his crib and drifted off, I snuggled up in my bed and passed out until his hungry squawks ripped me from my sleep for his next feeding. I was a napping machine. I was also a hot mess for a good long while, but I’ll always choose “busted-looking-but-well-rested” over “somewhat-attractive-but-sobbing-from-exhaustion.”2
A couple months into motherhood, my “sleep when the baby sleeps” habit gradually morphed into “relax when the baby sleeps”—not as restorative but still quite pleasant. My son’s naptime, for the most part, doubled as my “me”3 time. I’d typically take care of a few to-do’s and chores, but I always made sure to take some time to rest, read, or just do whatever I wanted to do. It was great. I felt healthy! I felt balanced! I felt like I was actually managing to care for myself as I cared for my baby. As any mom or dad knows, that is The Goal when it comes to parenting small children: keep your kid alive without wanting to curl up and die yourself.
I kept this all up especially well when I was working full-time, outside of the home. Despite the never-ending household (and general life) tasks that still needed tending, I viewed that time during JR’s nap as sacred. I mean, the way I figured it, I worked incredibly hard running The Good Ship RVANews most days of the week, so if I wanted to take a two-hour nap on a Saturday, I was going to do it.
Then I made the decision to become a (mostly) stay-at-home mom, and it all went to shit. And it pretty much is still there, over a year later.
These days, naptime is a frenzied blur of activity—and usually follows a morning and early afternoon that is equally busy (albeit more preschooler-friendly). Once I shut JR’s door, I’m off: cleaning, food prep, dishes, more cleaning, yard work, phone calls, EVEN MORE CLEANING, work projects, laundry—on and on it goes until a post-nap JR appears downstairs, hair askew, ready to continue our day together (and, more than likely, ready to destroy all of the rooms I’ve just cleaned, as three-year-olds do).
As you can imagine, it’s exhausting. But it’s also my fault that things are like this.
The transition from working outside the home to becoming a stay-at-home mother was rough for me. In a way, I was self-conscious about the decision to leave my job, and my attempts to justify this life choice were approached with the same intensity I’d always had with work.4 Eventually I’d established a pattern of compartmentalizing things so I could do them really, really well—at least in my mind. When I was with my son, it needed to be ALL about him—keeping him engaged and making the most of our time together. When he went down for his nap, it was time for me to focus on everything else that comes with making sure our house is clean, comfortable, and functioning. Sometimes this approach was successful, and I went to bed feeling productive. Most of the time it wasn’t…and I went to bed feeling horrible about myself.
The thing I had to realize was, unlike a project at work, this whole “parenting” and “running a home” thing never ends; you’re never finished, even if it’s your primary focus all day, every day.5 If being “done” is your end goal, you might as well change your name to Sisyphus and check yourself into the loony bin.
Now the question is: what do we do with that? How do we accept that caring for a family is an uphill battle without getting discouraged to the point that it’s hard to enjoy it?
For me, I’m ready to find my way back to that healthy balance I had when JR was younger—to that level of confidence in my value as a parent and a person that allowed me to give myself a break from constantly trying to prove myself.
It’s time for me to take back the nap.
No more afternoons spent frantically crossing items off a to-do list. No more attempts to cram a day’s worth of work into (maybe) a two-hour window. It’s time to bust up those little compartments I’ve created and see where things fall. And it’s not just for my sake. My son is getting older and he needs to see that all these tasks I’ve been taking care of while he snoozes away don’t just magically happen. Running a home and caring for kids is hard work; I figure the sooner he understands that (and is able to help out) the better…for our family now and for him later on in life.6
As far as what I’ll be doing while JR sleeps, I’m sure the occasional chore will pop in there from time to time, as will the occasional epic nap. But for the most part it’ll probably be…well…whatever the hell I want?
— ∮∮∮ —
- And that kid slept A LOT. You can read more about it (and how he would later throw it in my damn face) over here. ↩
- I have no idea how my husband felt about me choosing sleep over hygiene, but a 10+ pound child had very recently been surgically removed from my body, so I didn’t really care what he thought at that point. ↩
- Does using that term also make you want to punch yourself in the face? ↩
- My intensity goes to 11. ↩
- I’m not in any way suggesting that being a full-time parent is inherently harder than working full-time. You can read more about my thoughts on that conversation here. ↩
- Dear Future Daughter-In-Law: You’re welcome. ↩