Slow Down to Stay Flexible this Holiday Season

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Recently, I had a conversation with another mom about that tricky phase many of us go through when we parents are trying to determine whether it’s time to drop a nap in our little one’s sleep schedule.  Sometimes babies and toddlers can be really good at sending us a mixed bag of signals--particularly when it comes to naps.


And now that we’re in the full throes of holiday season, I think this topic is especially important since many of us spend time traveling or going to holiday events that also can bring about disruptions to our little ones’ sleep schedules (among other things).


In these times of transition or temporary upheaval, my advice is always the same: Slow down a little so you can stay flexible, and don’t attach yourself too much to expectations.


This seems to be the lesson that pregnancy and parenthood are constantly trying to drive home with us, doesn’t it? I know I still get schooled in it, even though my kids are long past the baby phase of development.


However, I know that slowing down, staying flexible and lowering our expectations are a lot easier said than done. It takes practice.


It’s so common to hear other parents saying things about how early their little one dropped a nap (or self-weaned or sleeps through the night or….insert your favorite issue here) and think that we should be able to do that too. For all of their well-intentioned “mine did it this way” or “you just have to do it that way," more likely than not it’s just not going to happen for us the way it happened to others out of sheer will.  


And when we try to create those same scenarios with our own unique baby or toddler when it turns out that--Surprise! They’re each born unique!--we end up even more frustrated and worn out. Or worse, we feel like we’re failing.


So, think it’s time to drop a nap? Try it out for a couple of days. See how it goes. Your baby will definitely let you know whether that’s going to fly or not. Be open to either result.


I have two kids and both had very different napping needs. With my oldest, he dropped is nap when he was about 4 years old--and that was only because I had his new baby sister at home to take care of and I just simply couldn’t handle the juggle of getting him down for naps while also tending to a newborn’s near constant needs. Who knows? He could have probably napped forever.


But with my daughter, she dropped her nap before she was 2 and a half, and the transition was perfectly fine for her. When she was still taking consistent naps, she was one of those crazy night owl toddlers that would stay up until 11:00 at night. It felt like we couldn’t catch a break. So we tried dropping her nap and almost magically, she started going to bed at a reasonable hour without much adjustment.


For what it’s worth, I do know another mom who has a daughter about the same age as mine and also happened to be a night owl toddler… And that transition between dropping the nap and getting her daughter to bed earlier at night time was not quite as quick as it was for my daughter. For her, the adjustment resulted in a lot more daytime crankiness than what I had experienced.  


Transition periods--even when they’re right--can vary.


There are so many factors that contribute to a child’s need for a nap or not. They could be fighting off illness or going through a growth spurt or any number of things that they don’t necessarily give us clear indicators about.


So, be flexible. Experiment with it. And try not to expect a certain result.


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Maybe dropping a nap will work seamlessly. Maybe there will be a rough transition of some sort. Or maybe it’s just not the right time. We can’t know until we try.  


And there’s no failing at this. If your baby isn’t ready to drop a nap, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.


Now, to add the extra layer of the holiday season:


Again, we need to stay flexible and lower our expectations a bit. I’ve been talking for the last couple of weeks about practical ways to prepare the friends and family in our lives for this same flexibility. I think it’s also true that we need to practice flexibility at home.


What it really boils down to is, what do you and your family really need?


More often than not, our little ones just want extra time you and your partner, space and freedom to play, and time to take in all the magic that the holidays can bring. So start there.  


You don’t need to fill all of your upcoming days with scheduled holiday events. Take it day by day. Enjoy being at home with your family. And then, IF things are going well and you all feel up to it, then you can decide to go out to this or that.


Preserve for yourself and your family that flexibility to go out and do all the things when it feels right to.  


And also keep in mind that kids tend to get sick more often this time of year (us parents do too!). Our bodies need time to rest.  


The way we give ourselves and our families what we need is by slowing down and tuning in.


On the flip side, when you do find yourself out and about or traveling to see family (or any other holiday event that you can't wriggle out of), grant yourself some flexibility in those situations too.


If your little one stays up too late because they're having fun with nana and papa, it's OK. Once in a while, these special moments with loved ones can be worth a sacrificed hour of sleep. Anticipate having a tired little one the next day and be flexible with that. (But also, know when and how to say "no".)  


If it all becomes too much, find an opportunity to sneak away and get a nap or some quiet time with your little one.  


For some of us, being flexible and lowering our expectations might make it sound like we have no control over these situations or that things are just impossible for us. But, I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s just a matter of perspective.  


If we can be flexible and not attached to the outcome, then we can pivot and manage a situation that isn’t working much more easily. We can be more present in the moment.  


Our flexibility is where we have power and control. And when we can embrace this different kind of power, we can find a lot more ease in our parenting and enjoy our roles as parents and our time with our kids even more.


But, the catch is, we are so much better at using the power of flexibility when we slow down.


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