It’s Not All Mary Poppins


Babygirl was fried this morning. Completely, utterly, absolutely fried. Her brown eyes were underscored with blue, her normally sunny disposition cloud-covered and drizzly. Every little thing set her off into a blur of tears. After three soggy outbursts in her first five minutes through the door, I looked into her sorrowful face.

“Babygirl, lovie, you are one tired little cookie. You need a sleep.”

“No! No want to sleep!”

“Come on, love.” I scoop her into my arms. “Time for a lie-down.”


We walk up the stairs, and I speak soothingly into the baby curls. “You’ll lie down, and you’ll have a snooze, and you’ll feel so much better! So much better.”

She’s still whimpering a little when we get to the bedroom, but we’ve been through this enough times over the past year and a half that she knows the inevitable when she sees it. When I lay her down in the bed, she’s quiet. A hug, a kiss on the forehead, her soos, and I’m gone.

Mondays are often tough on the tots. A busy weekend filled with visits and errands and activity, different than the Monday through Friday routine. In BG’s case, all this busy-ness is accompanied by too little sleep. She often needs a longer nap on Mondays. She doesn’t generally go down within five minutes of arrival, but it’s not unheard of. In fact, it’s getting more common, not less. Lately her parents have not been putting her down for naps on the weekend. (“She won’t sleep anyway. Why fight it?”) Coupled with her tendency to get up before five in the mornings, and weekend schedules that have her up to 8:30 or later in the evenings, this little miss is going on far less sleep than she needs.

I listen outside the door. Silence. She sleeps for four and a half hours.

She wakes at 12:45, just as the other children head up for their naps. She is a new child.

Sunny, sunny, sunny. Spontaneous bursts of laughter bubble from her, apropos of nothing, far as I can make out. She plays as I do dishes, she plays as I put away craft supplies, she plays as I sweep the floors, she plays as I catch up on my emails. I am busy, she is busy. She plays and chatters and chortles away, a steady stream of toddler chirpiness. She is so relaxed and just plain happy, and I am overwhelmed with affection … and exasperation and sadness.

She could be like this All.The.Time. All that is holding her back is inadequate sleep. All she needs is to get her afternoon nap, and get to bed at a reasonable hour, every day of the week. And it isn’t happening for her, and she is suffering.

It makes me sad.

She’s a strong-willed, feisty little thing. At this point, there is almost no way her parents are going to get her into regular sleep patterns without a struggle. It’ll mean crying. She’s over two, and has entrenched patterns which need to be changed. Her parents can’t bear the crying — and so she suffers. Not short-term, not for a few hours over a few weeks, but long-term. For months, for years.

(And yes, I’ve spoken with the parents, on several occasions, at length and in detail. There comes a time when to continue is to nag and alienate.)

Poor, weary baby.

November 19, 2007 - Posted by | parenting, sleep


  1. I just don’t get this…I wonder if it’s not wanting to put up with the fight or wanting to spend more time with her on the weekends. We like the respite that naps give on Saturday and Sunday.

    Comment by suz7642 | November 19, 2007 | Reply

  2. I know that look all too well. My 2 1/2 year old refuses to nap on the weekends. On top of that, it takes more than an hour most nights to get him to bed at night, no matter how early I start the process. He ends up cranky and exhausted by the end of the weekend and I feel terrible about it. It certainly isn’t for lack of trying. I just don’t know how to force a child to sleep.

    I’m not saying that this is the case with Babygirl, but certainly something to consider.

    Comment by dee | November 19, 2007 | Reply

  3. reading your posts is seriously getting an education in so many ways. Thank you.

    and thank you cause after reading this, I feel less bad that sometimes my kids sleep too much it seems compared to our friends. I have a 3 1/2 yo and a 1yo. My 1yo takes a one hour nap in the morning, then the two of them take a 2hr nap together, and then they go to bed at 6:30pm and normally wake up till 6-6:30am. and sometimes I think they are sleeping too much, specially when talking to others and hearing how little their kids sleep.

    Thank you for letting us learn from your experience.

    Comment by marcelarhodus | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  4. I can always tell when a nap is overdue because the toddler’s impulse control is shot. Like, I’ll tell him not to do something and even as I’m saying it, his hand is reaching out to do whatever it is. I’m a bit bad, though, in that I sometimes use the nap as a threat when I’m being careless. But I always make sure to emphasise how great he feels after he wakes up from any kind of sleep. I never ever would have known about sleep deprivation were it not for the Internet and your blog. When I talk to other parents who boast about how their child doesn’t like going to bed early, I always wonder (silently) how they cope!

    Comment by Kat | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  5. Ally used to fight sleep like crazy. We’d do anything to get her to sleep. i drove countless miles in the car hoping she’d give in and fall asleep. finally one day she pissed me off, and I took her home and listened to her yell for a couple hours (with intermittant checkups) and we haven’t had much trouble since.

    I get flak from my family all the time because my kids sleep during the day. No one else’s kids have a set naptime, and they don’t understand why I enforce mine.

    Luckily, my second child understands that she needs a nap when she gets cranky. It’s much easier with her. Possibly because she has a role model in her older sister?

    Comment by ktjrdn | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  6. That is sad…poor little tyke. Poor Mary too, who can clearly see and intelligently verbalize the problem still to no avail. That must be incredibly frustrating.

    Comment by Sheri | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  7. Suz: I think they’ve just given up. They think they’ve tried, it hasn’t succeeded, and now they believe that I’m doing something magical that’s impossible for them to achieve.

    dee: What you say is exactly what BG’s parents say. For them, it doesn’t work, she doesn’t sleep. With me, she sleeps. (Most days without any objections at all.) Am I doing something magical? No. This could happen at home, too — though not, after all this time, without a struggle. Hmmm… I think this is another post.

    marcelarhodus: Your one-year-old is getting exactly the amount of sleep most experts say he should. Your three-year-old is a little above average, but until the sleeping interferes with nutrition or physical development, it’s not a problem. We live in a chronically sleep-deprived culture, which devalues sleep across the board. Sleep is a GOOD thing.

    Kat: I used to get funny looks because my kids went to bed so early. The people who gave me those funny looks were always astounded at how well-behaved my kids were. Coincidence? Nope.

    ktjrdn: Isn’t it odd — you’re allowing your kids the amount of sleep they need for good health and good mood, and you get flak for that? Because you’re “inflexible”, I’ll bet.

    The role modelling might have something to do with your younger’s better sleep patterns. She also has a more experienced mother than your first did! But in the end, it probably comes down to her very own personality. Bless her little heart!

    Comment by MaryP | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  8. We were invited to a party a few weeks ago for friends whose daughter is a year old. It started at 8 o’clock. We politely declined because I was unable to find a babysitter. Our friends were nonplussed and just said, “bring Jeffrey, he can play with our daughter.”
    I know that their child has no bedtime, but Jeffrey is in bed at eight. Otherwise he is miserable the whole next day. I am so thankful that we started a routine and really try our best to stick with it. Thankfully, I have blogs like your’s to read to remind me that we’re doing the right thing.
    Of course, his sunny disposition when he’s had a good night sleep is also a huge incentive!

    Comment by Dani | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  9. My older daughter went to bed with me, therefore, no bedtime. Gave up her nap, much to my chagrin, at 18 months. Younger daughter needed structure and schedule and naps and bedtime–and once I provided that for her, the older one suddenly needed it too. Probably needed it all the time. Just didn’t see it.

    Comment by Bridgett | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  10. I’ve heard before that some parents will say that their child won’t nap for them, but will nap for the nanny or the grandparents or whoever. What is the difference? Is it a different routine? Is it the kids thinking they can get away with something in one place but not another? Do the parents not try until the child is overtired? I guess I’m just trying to figure out why the parents can’t do the same thing that Mary does and get the same results? Not necessarily these parents in particular, but parents in general, because I have certainly heard this before.

    Comment by Raia | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  11. Bedtime is at 8pm in our house. When my boys complain, I say, “okay, 7:30”. Eight sounds better to them, so they give in. My 15 year old and my 9 year old both need that sleep. Yup….my 15 year old goes to bed at 8pm during the school week! He used to complain because his friends can stay up till midnight!! He has come to realize that he acts like a sleep deprived 2 year old when he doesn’t get enough sleep. Now, he sometimes tries to get his brothers to go to bed earlier because he knows he is tired….but doesn’t want to be the only one in bed. My middle boy (12),doesn’t need as much sleep, so he does homework till he falls asleep.
    I love bedtime….naptime…queit time. I demand it.
    I think if parents understood that good behavior increases with well rested children, they would demand it too!

    Comment by Annie | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  12. Dani: This is one of those great parental divides: those who stick with the schedule, those who have none. I think you know which side I fall on. Spontaneity is a great thing, and I love having some in my life — but it doesn’t work so well for toddlers. You have to be spontaneous in between naps…

    Bridgett: When you only have the one child, what they do is normal. You tend to assume their behaviour is just what kids do. With a broader range of experience comes a more complete picture. You get better at reading what you see.

    Raia: Those are excellent questions, and I will be answering some in an upcoming post. The bottom line: if there’s a difference between how a child acts with you, and how they act with someone else — a consistent difference — then it has to do with something you are (or aren’t) doing that is different than the other person is (or isn’t) doing. In short: if they were doing the same thing, they’d get the same results.

    Annie: Good for you!!! Getting teens the sleep they need is MUCH harder than doing the same for babies. Teens in our society get 6 – 7 hours a night, on average. They NEED 8 to 10, because they are growing a LOT. (You need more sleep during periods of intense growth: The body releases growth hormones during sleep. Growing takes a lot of energy, and the body needs the sleep to restore itself.)

    That gap between what they need and what they get means that most teens have a PHENOMENAL sleep debt. (Hence their huge difficulty getting out of bed in the mornings, and their notorious sleeping-in till all hours of the afternoon on weekends.) It is so bad for them, on so many different levels.

    My 14-year-old daughter’s schoolnight lights-out is ten (she doesn’t have to get up till 7:30), but she’ll put herself to bed and turn out the lights earlier if she feels she needs the sleep, or if she knows she has to be up earlier the next morning. Very rarely do I have to fight her on this. She knows she feels better when she gets the sleep. (Her brother, now, it was always a struggle with him during high school. But I prevailed! Sleep is important. Now he’s out of high school, I leave him to it.)

    Comment by MaryP | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  13. Oh! Poor wee thing. I must admit, ours is taking longer to get to sleep at night in her new room and new bed, and for the past six months or so, has only been really napping on about half the days. She still spends quiet time in her bed, but not always really sleeping. It’s tiring. Some mornings she’s been sleeping in, but I have been wondering if she’s getting enough, because I am big on sleep. We are trying to get her into bed a little earlier to see if that helps.

    Comment by kittenpie | November 21, 2007 | Reply

  14. Oh, poor little BG.

    The parents’ refrain sounds so similar. I hear it from friends also. Peanut is 1. She has a nap every afternoon. It is non-negotiable. If absolutely necessary, she will nap in the car only if we can ensure that the drive is long enough for a suitable nap (2 hours), or we put her down again as soon as we get home. She goes to bed at 8 pm. She normally doesn’t wake up until 8:30 in the morning. We have a happy baby, and meltdowns are rare. That isn’t to say it hasn’t been without its problems. Every so often she’ll try to fight it a bit, and there are a few days of working at the routine, but oh, how it’s worth it.

    Now if only I could figure out what to do about the first birthday party that we’re supposed to be at this weekend between 2-4, prime napping time. Sigh.

    Comment by b*babbler | November 21, 2007 | Reply

  15. A reminder that I own a daycare and I wrote a short little book for a family member on sleep. She didn’t take my advice from the book, but whatever!

    I’m on vacation, kind of, with one of my employees. She has four children….ages 12, 9, 7, and 3. The 7 year old is a bi-polar, ADHD, maniac depressant with OCD. Yea, that! Anyway, for the second night in a row, we’ve put pj’s on our children and put them in the same bed. Sometimes they do this at home, sometimes they sleep alone, but either way, they’ve crashed both nights. Given last night was later than usual because we were traveling. Even though they had napped on the way to our destination (where my employee and her children have been since Sunday), they went to bed without a fight and slept til 7;30 this morning.

    Tonight when we started out to eat at 5:30 (it took us until 6;30 to find something open on T-giving), I quickly reminded everyone that we had to eat and get home because my children typically go to bed no later than 7:30. We didn’t make it until 8 but this is vacation so I didn’t fret. At home, 7 or 7:30 is the latest or I get crazy. Anyway, we were back at the condo and my kids were in bed by 8. It is now 12:15 and my employee is in the other bedroom of the condo with her 3, 7 and 12 year old. They are still fighting sleep. At least one of them will kind of go to sleep and then one of the others wakes them. The 7 year old went to sleep on the sofa and she moved him which woke him up. They do this at home as well she says.

    She came from the bedroom around 10 and said, “I can’t believe ya’ll just put them in there and they go to sleep.”
    Er…yea, that’s how it works, or at our house it does anyway. Today at nap time, my 3 year old was excited to be napping. He came in from the beach, asked for something to eat (a light snack) and a small cup of juice and then headed for the bed without being begged or beat. Her 3 year old was still awake an hour later.

    I don’t get it, do you?

    Comment by Jerri Ann | November 23, 2007 | Reply

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