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I Let My Daughter Run the Nap Game

In my opinion, one of the most stressful things about parenting in that baby-to-toddler period is getting nap time right—or as I'm finding out with my 2-year-old daughter, getting nap time at all.

My toddler started giving up regular naps early on. She was around 20 months old when the nap battles began. Instead of normally curling up willingly in her crib and drifting off to Dreamsville with warm little sighs and buttery coos melting into sweet, baby snores, she started to stand back up, rattle the crib slats and scream "NO NAP!" in a gravelly deep voice. She would reach through the slats and swatting at the air like an angry inmate or a crazed, caged zombie from World War Z.

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All of a sudden, the nap struggle became a daily thing. What kind of parent would I be if I didn't make sure my daughter got her mid-afternoon nap? Everyone knows that toddlers need naps! If she didn't get her nap, my daughter would be exhausted and overtired, her brain function would be affected, her development and immune system would be screwed, she'd be agitated and filled with anxiety, and she would eventually struggle in school and then never get a job—and then she'd become a gypsy and throw babies at tourists, pickpocket them and spend a life in and out of the clink.

All because she didn't get naps.

Everyone also knows that moms need that baby/toddler nap time, too—whether to nap herself or just get stuff done. It's a couple hours of valuable non-kid time. So I was just as freaked out about me losing that toddler-free time as I was about my toddler becoming a gypsy.

I would completely alter my days, sacrifice important events on my schedule just to get my daughter to get some afternoon shut eye.

Every day I would think to myself, maybe I'm not being strict enough with her schedule. Maybe I need to try harder. So I worked to get her back into the nap routine.

At around 1 p.m. or after lunch, I would give my daughter milk, take her into her bedroom, read her a book and tell her "sweet dreams." She'd beg me to lie down with her, and I'd try to stay tough and say, "Mommy will see you when you wake up." But every time, she'd lose her shit so hard that she'd either throw up or get a bloody nose. And then I would feel like a horrible person and end up lying down with her.

But lying down with her was no simple solution. She would not just doze from the comfort of knowing I was lying by her side, like a cub gently falling asleep against the warmth of her mama's fur. No, I would lie with her for an hour, sometimes even 90 minutes, while she begged me to tell her stories or while she told me stories, jumped on the bed, did somersaults across the bed and played the harp on my face.

Ten percent of the time, she would eventually fall asleep out of pure boredom, but 90 percent of the time, after an hour of shenanigans, I would get pissed (mostly at myself), then jump up mumbling something like, "I'm not cut out for this" or "Shoot me now!" and storm out. This would start the cry-so-hard-she-vomits fest all over again. And then I'd just give up and let her get out of bed and play, only to have her fall asleep some days around 4 or 5 p.m. (which totally screws up the night time sleep schedule).

This kind of charade or something much like it went on for the next few months. And then we moved to another country. Let's just say that didn't help the nap game either.

I tried even harder to get her on a nap schedule, thinking that the routine and rest would help her better adjust to our move to the new time zone, new surroundings and new faces. Instead the struggle became more intense. I would completely alter my days, sacrifice important events on my schedule just to get my daughter to get some afternoon shut eye.

But the naps were just not happening. And if they were happening, it was happening early evening, which meant no quiet, evening adult time for my husband and me. This led to bad attitudes and frustration. And eventually, it got so stressful, that my husband and I just said "screw it," get out of here with the naps. It was killing our souls to make her take one, and we were getting nowhere with our efforts. We. were. done. So done.

After that, we just went forward with the plan of rolling with it. If my daughter fell asleep during the afternoon nap window, GREAT! If not, oh well, we'd just put her to bed earlier than normal. We'd let our daughter run the nap game, of sorts. Not that she wasn't running it before, but now it's with our permission. We figured if she's tired, she'll sleep, if she's not, we were not going to break our necks forcing her to nap.

By letting her nap when she wants or if she wants, we are able to actually live our lives.

I had to accept the fact that I wasn't going to get those free, mid-day couple of hours and I had to block out the well-engrained notion that all 2-year-olds need naps.

Life became enjoyable again. Sometimes my daughter will fall asleep in the stroller if I go out after lunch or during a subway ride late-morning. But whether she does or doesn't, I don't stress about it. Most of the time, she doesn't nap and so we just put her to bed earlier. The greatest part about that is that she sleeps well into the morning, giving me time to get stuff done before she wakes. By letting her nap when she wants or if she wants, we are able to actually live our lives.

And incredibly, this past February, a study was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood that suggested that some kids, 2 and older, are actually better off without naps. What?! That's right. Karen Thorpe, a developmental psychologist at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia told the Today show, "The evidence suggests that beyond the age of 2 years, when cessation of napping becomes more common, daytime sleep is associated with shorter and more disrupted night sleep ... Daytime sleep is not a response to poor night sleep, but rather precedes poor night sleep."

Thorpe and her colleagues combed through a large body of literature and analyzed 26 studies to come to this conclusion. A conclusion that I was overjoyed to read.

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So now, not only are our lives running more smoothly without the daily nap throw down, but knowing that science even kind of supports our decision to give up naps (which we had based on nothing but pure desperation) helps relieve us of any residual guilt or worry we may have had.

Again, parenting is not a one-size-fits-all kind of show. It's about doing what is right for you, your own child and family. And what seems to be right for us, at least for now, is to let our daughter be the nap shot caller. And by letting her do that, we all win … I think. Sheesh, parenting is hard.

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