There are a few things I could learn from my husband:
Curbs are not meant for driving over.
Listening to science podcasts is more educational than watching Real Housewives of Orange County.
Speak less, and once you do choose to speak up, people listen.
Quality over efficiency is more important during the bedtime routine.
I’m a loose cannon at bedtime. I can be running through our upstairs hallway playing chase like Mary Poppins at 7:07pm, but as that clock creeps closer to 7:30 my screws begin to tighten and my inner Ms. Hannigan comes out. I might as well have a whistle and a megaphone because I start pacing through the halls like the short-shorts high school coach who you can tell enjoys the authority a little too much.
It’s not that I don’t love those sweet bedtime stories and final snuggles with my kids that I see are numbered in a child’s life—it’s just that I allow my preoccupation with what awaits me after the bedtime circus to stress me out—the sink full of dishes, the lunches to pack, or the alluring uninterrupted time to chat with my husband, or watch a non-animated show.
My tone and my word choice follow a predictable pattern many nights, despite the fact that I dislike the tone that my hurriedness creates in our home. “Alright, it’s 7:24. We have 6 minutes until lights out.” “If you’re not in your bed by the time I count to 10, no books tonight!” Meanwhile, frantic children with one foot in their PJ’s and toothpaste foam dripping down their chins are taking frantic leaps from floor to bed as the timekeeper barks through the halls.
My husband, however, takes a different (and, arguably, a better) approach when he’s leading the bedtime routine. He often is so immersed in the pre-bed chase/tickling/wrestling that the pulse of the room is only fun (with no room for frantic). Once bedtime is imminent (or even past time), his calm connection with the boys carries over into the nighttime setting. Books are read expressively—with no skipped pages for the sake of hurry. Questions are asked and thoroughly answered. Prayers are said with meaning and intention. Snuggles are savored and stretched out even though the clock (and antsy mommy who clings to routine) say things are running behind.
But I’ve seen, more times than I can count, the fruit of lengthy bedtime conversations with the boys and their dad. Fruit that offers more lasting benefit than an extra restful night’s sleep. If I had been left to my own punctuality-obsessed devices, the following moments between dad and sons could have been missed:
An expressed concern of being hurt at school and having to find a place to “cry in private.”
A question about magnets that led to a mini-youtube-binge of science videos and an ignited curiosity.
A spontaneous confession of a bad choice with a friend.
A host of priceless and tender affirmations such as “I’m so glad I have a mommy and a daddy to tell me what’s right and wrong—it’s perfect here.”
These quiet moments, when left untainted by rushing and preoccupation, serve as reminders that home is the safe place—to ask harmless questions about how the world works and a place to cry out for help and comfort. A place to feel loved and heard no matter what.
Don’t get me wrong—I am still a firm believer that good sleep is important and that sleep deprivation can create a vicious change in kids that can carry over for days. I will always be a firm supporter of bedtime routine and predictability—but I’m learning that amidst routine, there needs to be space for spontaneity. Practically speaking, I’m seeing that if we plan for dinner and bath time to happen earlier, then the bedtime “rush” can become more leisurely. Or, if we divide and conquer putting the baby to sleep while beginning bedtime with the big kid, we can both end the night together in the room with the big kid who is old enough to want to chat with us at night.