Up until recently, I’ve dreaded putting my kids to bed. I love my children dearly, but after 12 to 14 hours of parenting, I’m done. Spent. Ready to punch out on the old mom time clock.
It’s almost as if my lovely offspring can sense this, so they become extra needy at bedtime. They lose all ability to stay on task, getting distracted by the toys they refused to touch all day, by their unprecedented starvation, or by an overwhelming urge to play with our cats.
They get lost on their way to the bathroom. (How? How does this happen?) They are suddenly dying of thirst. They have to finish a creation they are working on because artistic genius apparently only strikes after sundown. You name it, it happens at bedtime — without fail. My children are the ultimate bedtime procrastinators.
All of this diversion and distraction creates an absurdly long and ridiculous bedtime routine. There’s generally a lot of nagging, some occasional yelling, and more than occasional threats to take away screen time forever. I’m usually of the gentle/positive parenting persuasion, but like I said, by the time bedtime rolls around, my parenting skills are pretty much shot. It’s like Lord of the Flies over here come 8 p.m. It’s every man for himself.
But after the chaos dies down and everyone is on track, something magical happens. My kids have always wanted me to snuggle with them, and those minutes spent lying in bed staring at the ceiling together have become some of the most precious in my parenting journey.
Snuggle time is when my kids ask the best questions. The big, deep questions that every human being wonders about: the size of the universe, what God is made of, what people on the other side of the world are thinking and doing in that moment, why some people hate broccoli and others don’t. They become little philosophers-in-pajamas when I climb into bed with them, and it’s freaking awesome. That time has resulted in some of our most important and interesting conversations.
It is unfortunate that those conversations have to happen when I’m exhausted and ready to have a little time to myself, of course. But we have to take what we can get with our little people while we still have them with us. When I came upon that realization, I decided that I could either continue dreading and hating bedtime, or chock the shenanigans up to typical childhood and focus on the magical moments that happen after we get through the frustrating part.
This shift in mindset has actually skewed things in my favor. Saying “Hurry and get your teeth brushed so we can have our snuggle time!” is much more effective than “How many times do I have to remind you to brush your teeth?!” When the kids know they’re going to get that one-on-one time to ask their big questions, they look forward to hopping into bed.
I usually tell each kid they get a certain number of questions, so it doesn’t turn into an hour-long ordeal. I need that boundary to keep it enjoyable on my end. (The kids would be content to lie there asking me questions for hours. I have a couple of night owls on my hands.) But they don’t seem to mind much. I’ve learned through experience that one-on-one time doesn’t have to be long to be effective.
Those bedtime snuggles also give me an extra opportunity to share my personal stories with my children. They love hearing about my life before kids, and especially my life before adulthood. It’s a great time to talk about lessons I learned the hard way, which will hopefully save them from making some of their own dumb choices. They ask about things I was afraid of as a kid, or about times I felt left out or shy, and about what I dreamed of being when I grew up. We swap stories and feelings and personality traits. They get to see a bigger glimpse of where they come from and who is raising them.
Rather than a chore, I’ve learned to see putting my kids to bed as a time for us to get to know one another better, away from the hustle and bustle and responsibilities that make up much of our days. When I focus on that part of the process instead of the logistical nightmare of getting the little darlings through their routine (seriously, why is it so hard?), I find that bedtime is a lot less daunting and a lot more enjoyable — for all of us.