‘Love despises bedtime. For him, it’s an ordeal that must be accomplished in order to achieve the goal of parental freedom. And I’ve got to admit, until recently I felt the same way. At bedtime everyone is either whiny, oversensitive, and combative (due to the fact that they are sorely in need of sleep); completely hyper and crazy (in an if-I-don’t-keep-moving-I’ll-fall-asleep-on-my-feet kind of way); or unimaginably slow and full of excuses. It’s enough to make any sane parent pull out their hair.
Somehow this year, that’s changed. No, not the kids. They’re still running like maniacs or bursting into tears while dragging their feet at every possible occasion. But I’ve realized that nearly all the craziness comes to an abrupt halt the moment we’re alone in their bedroom.
As every parent with more than one child knows, there’s simply never enough of you to go around. It seems that the kids are almost constantly vying for my attention, talking over one another, asking me to play a game or do a craft or watch a trick or…. Mommy is a hot commodity.
At bedtime, each child experiences my undivided attention. They relish it. They want to extend it. And when I stop thinking about my desperate desire for them to be quietly asleep in their rooms so I can be free, I realize that I want to extend that time, too.
It started when Peatie began taking guitar lessons. The studio strongly urged one parent to take responsibility for attending lessons and sitting with the child for every practice, both to ensure accuracy and success and to provide relational motivation. We set aside a logical block of time: just before he was to begin his bedtime reading in his room. And every night, he happily scuttled to his room when called to practice: not only did he like the guitar, but he enjoyed the extra closed-door time with Mom’s full attention.
Highlighting the desirability of that relational time, the other kids began asking when THEY could start music lessons. Goobie found an alternative: when I came to tuck her in bed one night, she asked me to help her practice a new tumbling skill for a few minutes. Before I knew it, we had carved a 20-minute block of time every evening for me to watch admiringly while she practiced handstands and walk-overs.
Despite the fact that he’s in bed before the others have this time, Pookie seemed to sense the boon of bedtime, as well. Suddenly he’s been very motivated to practice reading right before bed, and he’s full of questions. He’s even learned that I’m more likely to be persuaded to stick around and answer an academic question than a run-of-the-mill question about our schedule. (I can’t just tell him to be quiet and go to sleep when he’s asking things like, “Mom, why doesn’t the lava melt the rock it lands on?” And who can resist when their four-year-old says, “Ask me a hard math question, Mommy!”)
‘Love has been griping that we’re once again experiencing the phenomenon of “bedtime creep”–when bedtime routines become longer and more cumbersome, creeping into the precious adult time. I agree; bedtime routines have been creeping. All the same, for now I don’t plan to curtail them. I realized that I feel especially close to each of my kids right now, and I think that’s because I have a one-on-one block of time with each of them every day, time in which they have my full attention, our interaction is almost 100% positive, and we’re engaged in an activity of their choice.
My oldest will be eight in a few days. That’s not very old, but it’s enough for me to realize how quickly the years fly by. Before I know it, he will be all grown up. They all will. If I’m lucky, we’ll have a lovely relationship to last a lifetime, through thick and thin. But now–even at bedtime–is the time for laying that foundation.