Last month we talked about the importance of sleep from a physical and behavioral perspective, and this month, I’d like to take a look at our children’s bedtime routines from a spiritual and family building perspective. Those moments just before we tuck our kids in are ripe with opportunity to shape not only their night’s sleep, but what they believe and who they will ultimately become.
Truth be told, I used to think our kids’ bedtime meant the end of my shift. Almost time to punch the clock, if you will. The bedtime routine was like the last hill before marathon finish line. If. I Can. Just. Make. It.
But as our kids are getting older, the bedtime routine is less about sweating it to the finish line and more about wringing out every last drop of goodness from the day. Yes, instead of hurrying this time, I’ve found a million reasons to savor it.
After a full day of school, homework and perhaps an extra-curricular activity, I’ve come to view this time as an opportunity to tend to their souls. This is a time when no one is being graded, there is no need to perform, it’s just a time for them (and me) to be who we are with the people we love most. It’s a safe, quiet, peaceful time that can cancel out whatever chaos the world tried to throw our way.
Here are three simple activities we do most nights as a family that have yielded blessing after blessing. (And I truly believe there is a harvest of blessings yet to be seen.)
Family reading time. Before bed most nights we gather to read aloud. We’ve done this for years, and although all three of our kids can read, they love hearing me read aloud to them. This time together with a great book has been a great way to connect and share a common interest.
Reading aloud cultivates their imagination and sharpens focus unlike any iPad, Xbox or iPhone. But more than that, it’s a time of comfort and closeness that strengthens family bonds. Experts say reading aloud (even after a child can read to themselves) helps with family relationships, reading preparedness, comprehension and logic, communication, and establishing and discussing morals and values. Who knew enjoying a book together would check so many parenting boxes?
Our family highly recommends the Little House on the Prairie series, the Narnia series and the Rush Revere series.
Family prayer time. I’m listing three bedtime activities, but this is the most important and the one we never miss – praying together as a family. If time is short and we have to cut one of the other activities, we will, but not this one.
As we know, children soak up and often speak out every word they hear from us. Praying aloud with your children is a wonderful way to speak truth over them and allow them to hear you speak to the Maker of Heaven and Earth. It’s also a time to hear what is on their heart as they pray aloud.
If you’ve never prayed aloud as a family, it can be daunting at first. Maybe you are not used to praying in front of people. Maybe (certainly) your kids won’t be still and quiet while someone else is praying. And there will be no harps playing (that one is especially disappointing). But once you have your expectations in check and a few nights of praying together under your belt, praying out loud loses its intimidation factor.
Pillow talk. It’s just before they drift off that I really get to hear what’s troubling them or what they are excited about – with details. We’ve discussed how to deal with fractured friendships and disappointment. We’ve dreamed big dreams and charted the course to follow them. This is the time, in the quiet stillness of their bedrooms, just before falling asleep that they fill in the details of what is really going on in their precious lives.
While I know in my head how fruitful spending nights like this is for our family, it doesn’t come easy. The biggest barrier to it happening is me. I confess that just about every night I have to conquer my desire for “me-time” and that old punch-the-clock mentality. And while “me-time” does provide temporary rest, the time I’ve spent with my kids at night reading, praying and pillow talking has generated some of my all-time favorite memories. And theirs, too.