Naptime is the Worst Time for Self-Care

November 15, 2017

You can’t do everything during naptime.

I hate being the bearer of bad news, but it’s true.

You can’t do everything during naptime.

The truth hurts sometimes, but it’s important to recognize it when it’s right there in front of you, staring you in the eyes through the slats of his crib.

If you ask any parent with very young children, they’ll tell you they organize their entire day around naptime. They do this to maintain the fragile peace that is so easily disturbed by a cranky, sleep-deprived child.

They also do it to maximize their child-free time.

This is an approximate list of the things someone might want to get done during naptime:

Cleaning the house

Preparing food

Taking a shower

Taking a nap

Reading an entire book

A yoga practice

Putting away the laundry

Doing all of your work, including that really big project

Mowing the lawn

A workout

Sorting magic cards

Enjoying an epic meditation practice (which could become a nap, so bonus!)

Answering emails

Chatting on the phone with a good friend

Reorganizing the bookshelves

Cleaning what you thought was washable marker off of all of the surfaces

Making and eating a batch of double fudge brownies

Watching the entire 2nd season of Stranger Things

What actually gets done during naptime:

An hour of facebook scrolling

Half an episode of Stranger Things


Part of the problem is that we imagine naptime to be the portal to another world, like Narnia or Hogwarts. All of the good things we can’t get done with kids underfoot happen there. Just get them to fall asleep and you’ll see!

Except it’s not Narnia or Hogwarts.

It’s still your kitchen that you’re standing in, with your mile-long  to-do list in front of you, challenging you to make the naptime magic happen.

Worst of all is that most mamas I know look to naptime as their self-care savior. “I CAN DO ALL OF THE SELF-CARE I’VE BEEN MISSING RIGHT NOW,” we think as soon as our baby’s head hits the pillow.

Instead, we remember all of the “more important things” on the list and don’t do the self-care and then feel guilty for not doing the self-care, which is opposite experience we were supposed to have.  Or worse, doing the self-care and feeling so guilty for not doing the “more important things”, thus defeating all the great self-care time.

“If I can’t do self-care during naptime, when can I do it?” ask all of the mamas. “I guess self-care isn’t really important afterall. I’m just going to go back to preparing 3 different meals for dinner, since none of us in this family like to eat the same things at the same time.”

Here’s the secret:

Naptime is a great time for doing all of those little things that are harder to do when you have kids constantly badgering you for attention.

Naptime isn’t the best time for self-care.

Here’s why:

You can’t force self-care. I’ve seen people try to do it.

Forcing self-care doesn’t work. It’s designed to fail or make you feel resentful.

I’ve seen moms try to force a yoga practice in when their kid falls asleep, only to feel unmotivated, tired, tight, unprepared, or just not in the mood.

Then, instead of thinking the naptime might be to blame, they think they’re just not as much into yoga as they thought.

It’s not you. It’s not the yoga.

It’s the naptime.

Instead of relegating your soulful self-care to those ever-shrinking hours during the day that your child might choose to nap, create time for yourself during the day that is yours.

I know this sounds like a daunting task. You’re thinking it would probably be easier to teach your child how to blow fire than it would be to make time for yourself during the day.

Here’s why this is important, though. If you designate naptime as the only time of day that you can do self-care then you are saying that taking care of yourself doesn’t matter much to you. And even worse, you are saying that your needs aren’t particularly important.

Kids are fickle. So are their naps. As they get older, their naps get shorter until they disappear. What will you do when those naps no longer exist?

If you don’t take action now and choose to create time for yourself separate from naptime, you’ll have a long road ahead of bypassing your own needs for the sake of others. If you’re lucky, it will be full of frustration, exhaustion, resentment, and regret. Sounds awesome, huh?

If that future doesn’t sound so bright, here are my suggestions for creating time for yourself, that don’t require your kids to nap.

1. Repurpose Bite-Size Chunks of Time. Taking care of yourself doesn’t always need to be a time consuming activity. Instead, think small and find bit-sized chunks of time that fit your needs.

For example, one of my favorite new habits is reading a few pages or a chapter in book I’m reading after breakfast and lunch. It adds about 5-10 minutes at the end of mealtime that I would have used to scroll through facebook or instagram or answer emails. None of which are necessary then. None of which make me feel good about myself.

Some great times of day that work for adding in small pockets of care are first thing in the morning, before/after breakfast, before/after lunch, before bed. These are times of the day that are fairly consistent and usually have about 5-10 minutes of space tucked into them already that can be repurposed.

2. Reclaim Your Sacred Time. Make the time you choose meaningful and sacred. And teach the people in your life that it is special time, too. This includes the small people who you share your life with as well.
It might take awhile, but eventually they will learn.

I know this from experience. I sit in meditation in the morning. Sometimes my kids are awake. Sometimes they’re not. Often at least one of them is. I explained to my daughter, who is older, that this is mommy’s special time. When I’m in meditation, I’m not going to get up and get you food. I’m not going to be here long. I’ll get it after. I’m not going to talk or open my eyes, although I will smile. If there is an emergency or you need to poop, I’ll go with you to the bathroom.

My son, who is 18 months old, doesn’t understand as well, but he often sits in my lap or crawls all over me when I’m in meditation. So does my daughter. I’ve been at this for nearly a year. It’s not perfect, but I’m going to keep at it.

It’s also important to say, “this is mommy’s special time for mommy. I’ll have some special time with you when I’m done,” which helps let them know that I’m not abandoning them, but taking time for me just like I’ll be taking time with them later.

3. Be Consistent. Consistency is key. The more consistent I am with self-care pratcices, the easier it gets to do them. Not only does it become a habit for me, but it becomes part of the daily routine for my kids (see above).

4. Be Realistic and Be Compassionate. Shit happens. No matter how intentional or consistent you are, the unexpected will happen from time to time. Don’t let it completely derail you. See if you can find a new chunk of time to repurpose during that same day OR acknowledge that sometimes it just doesn’t happen, and return to your practice the next day.

5. Ignore the “Should’s” Do What Feels Right For You. If you struggle to find the time or are feeling pressure to keep using a chunk of time that isn’t working just in the name of self-care, take a step back. Remember why taking care of yourself is important.

For me, it’s so that I feel more whole and sane and balanced and nourished. It’s also so that I can show my kids what healthy adulthood looks like.

As soon as self-care feels like an obligation or I feel a “should” coming on, I stop and take stock. Usually, I choose to pass.

Here’s an example: My kids get a bath 3 nights a week. On those nights we save their warm bathwater so I can soak and scrub my feet before bed. I love doing this, but there are some nights when I feel tired – too tired to soak my feet. I just want bed. Occasionally, I feel guilty – I feel the “should’s” rising up. “I should just do this. The water is already there. It won’t take much time. I’ll be so glad I did. I’m the self-care spokeswoman. If I don’t do this act of care, what does that say about me?”

And then I remember that going to sleep when I am ready is also self-care. One is not better than the other. Choosing sleep might be what I need more than soaking my feet.


So instead of relying on naptime to dictate how often and how well you take care of yourself, start PRIORITIZING yourself by creating time that is just for you when you want it. I know it sounds hard. But it’s a lot easier than potty training. Promise.


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