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The most important thing you can give your kids … besides love

Bedtime for Child
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And maybe it should start with the bedtime routine.

I have this vision of what bedtime should look like. It’s a serene vision filled with baths and prayers and bedtime stories, but its primary characteristic is unhurried. There is no rushing in my vision. In fact, my vision is luxuriant with vast swaths of evening hours.

I bet you can guess why it’s a vision and not a reality. Reality is never luxuriant with swaths of time. Reality is rushed, hurried, and rarely serene. Reality is filled with late dinners and piles of dishes and unfinished homework and neglected laundry and the relentless approach of tomorrow morning. Like school buses, alarm clocks are unyielding. We must yield instead … stories, baths, prayers, and often serenity are sacrificed.

I hate this reality, but I’m not sure how to change it. As a mom, I feel overwhelmed by every aspect of life except time. I feel bereft of time. There’s just never enough to use on what I want to do, because it’s all allotted to what I must do.

Except, maybe I’m wrong. Not about not having enough time, but about which things are optional and which are essential. A recent post at Raising Good asked a question that’s making me rethink my whole approach to the way I spend my time: “when time is our most limited resource how do we give it freely?

Ask any parent if they love their child unconditionally and you’ll be deafened by a resounding and heartfelt, “YES!” Of course we do. But it doesn’t matter what we say, all that matters is how they feel. And the most important thing to young children is time spent with their parents. When we send them away too frequently we relinquish, often unconsciously, precious opportunities to connect. And when it becomes excessive disconnection can flourish, threatening to undermine the very foundations of our most valued kinship.

… Here in our little corner of the world, I’m seeing more clearly what it is I’m chasing. A simple life in a complex world. It’s a tough nut to crack but I plan to give it a jolly good shot. Ultimately, each family must choose what’s right for them. But first, we need to realize we have a choice. We don’t have to follow the standard, if we don’t want to.

I don’t send my kids away often. They’re almost always at school or at home with me. But I often give them tasks to complete while I complete my own. Most of the time, actually. Our opportunities to connect are drowning in a sea of dishes and chaos.

And here’s the thing: I’ve been clinging to this bedtime vision for nine years. It was a reality a long time ago when I had only one child. I keep waiting for life to slow down so it can be a reality again. But in the interim, four of my five children have never known the bedtime that I want to give them. They’ve never experienced it. And if I’ve learned nothing else by now, I’ve learned that life doesn’t slow down.

If I want to make my vision real, I have to throw out the standard and make life slow down. Some moms might choose to homeschool to move the relentless morning. I’m not that mom. But I can choose to buy paper plates more often and indulge in quick dinners so our time isn’t swamped by cooking and cleaning. I can move dinnertime earlier so we have longer afterward. I can let the dishes pile up until after everyone is in bed.

Or I can really be a rebel and start bedtimes when the kids get home from school. Why not? Who says baths must come after dinner and stories after baths? Why not bathe them right away and read out loud while dinner cooks and they straighten up? Why not say prayers before dinner and read a book afterward, while we curl up on the couch and drink hot chocolate? Why not take advantage of Christmas and start our days with my bedtime vision, instead of ending with it? Who says bedtime has to come after prayers and stories and baths, anyway?

Time is finite and it’s passing too quickly. If I want to give more of it to my kids, I have to find a way to do it now. Because if I wait much longer these years will pass and that vision will remain just that … a vision.

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