Every night at bedtime, I am astonished by how much my kids want to talk and share. Other times of the day, they often can’t be bothered with a reflective question. But whew, at bedtime they can really go there– asking so many big questions about the world, detailing events from their days and lives, making connections about their interests and ideas.
And to think, this nighttime connection experience, that I am seeking in other parts of the day, often annoys me. I feel like their prolonged storytelling and question asking and loud retorts for more snacks and water are only attempts in delaying the inevitable close of the day. Apparently no one is tired except for me, and whatever is needed to stall bedtime is possible.
Caught up in my annoyance, I’ll urgently push us through to the finish line– lights out, sleep. I’ll lay on “natural consequence” after “natural consequence” to coerce quicker compliance.
“Last call for teeth brushing! If you choose not to brush your teeth right now, you won’t be able to eat sugary things tomorrow.”
“We must get through our bedtime routine quickly, or we’ll run out of time for reading stories.”
“If we don’t go to sleep soon, mama will be too tired to do that fun thing in the morning”
“I’ve already answered your last question, so now I am closing my eyes. Goodnight.”
Rushing through the steps, I feel anxiety in my body to get everyone to sleep FAST. I feel overwhelmed around all of the household chores and packing of lunches and work emails and sensory overload and my physical need to eventually go to sleep. “The clock is a-ticking,” I’ll think as I glance at the time on my phone. I imagine that if I just get all the things done and ready for tomorrow, then life will run smoothly, and I’ll be a “good” parent.
The colonial, capitalist, patriarchal, ableist, sexist, classist trap of perfection. It has us always striving to do and be more and keeps us perpetually in motion, exhausted, and disconnected. But hey, at least in some moments I look like I have it all together, right? Did you see my super clean and tidy house? How about the colorful lunches? Did I mention all our laundry is folded and put away?! Oh dang, you missed it. Try again next week.
The things I think make me look good, like I have it all together, are impossible for one person to sustain and only lead me further astray from what I actually think matters most: our family’s connection and partnership. Striving to do all of the things turns me into an anxious and easily triggered mess who is tired, resentful, and fearful, making connection and partnership impossible. Instead of being present for what is happening right now, I am thinking about what needs to get done in the near future.
As I go deeper with my reflection about bedtime feeling hard, I notice that nighttime is when my kids are ready and wanting to deeply connect. I’d been denying that connection. Bedtime is filled with some of our richest moments of the day, and I’ve taken them for granted. I’d been shushing instead of hearing. I was really missing the mark.
After I let go of that initial rush of shame that comes when you realize you are fucking up, I set some new intentions. I committed to better discerning what actually needs to get done, and what I am pressuring myself to complete to somehow prove I am a “good parent” and have my life together (ha!). I committed to leaning into, rather than resisting, the magical moments just before sleep.
A subtle shift we’ve made that has dramatically changed the tone and pacing of bedtime is doing our rose/bud/thorn reflection just after the lights go out. It’s become a ritual for how we close out the day. There are many different versions, but the one our family uses is:
Rose: the highlight or best part of the day
Bud: a new experience or something we are looking forward to
Thorn: a challenge, a hardship, a setback, an injury (physical or emotional)
As we all lay in the dark waiting for sleep to come upon us, we cuddle and take turns sharing about our days. We ask each other questions and sometimes learn new things about each other. We spend our last moments of the day enjoying and caring for each other. I am often surprised by the things that stick out to them about the day, and I love hearing the questions they ask. This ritual probably takes us about 15 minutes or so, and then we calmly go to sleep. “Tickle my back” one of them will wiggle next to me as they drift off.
I don’t think adding rose/bud/thorn to our bedtime has been an antidote to my urgency around doing all of the things (that’s other deschooling work), but it has really shifted our bedtime towards more care and curiosity. It has also created a space to meaningfully reconnect if at other points in our long ass bedtime routine I shared my annoyed, urgent tone. Sometimes this even becomes the place where I acknowledge my rude tone, apologize, and seek to repair.
An intention I have for this new year is to continue slowing down and ritualizing more moments of connection throughout the day. We don’t need to be operating from a place of perfection and survival and hurry and rush. I refuse that this year. Instead, I will get cozy in my life, and soak up more meaningful moments, especially with my kids.
I'd love to hear ideas for how your family ritualizes moments throughout the day! If you are willing, please share in the comments below. :)