My choice of the word “maddening” reveals my honest feelings regarding bedtime. Because if I’m being transparent, some nights the adjective that Merriam-Webster defines as “tending to craze; tending to infuriate” seems all too fitting.
There are certain movies and TV shows that can set us up for thoughts of inadequacy and feelings of failure regarding this subject. Because in the movies, children go to bed at bedtime, fall asleep with minimal effort on their parent’s end, and sleep peacefully all through the night.
Yep! Like I said, thoughts of inadequacy and feelings of failure.
When in reality, bedtime looks a little more like this…
“Children, it’s time for bed! I want you to go upstairs, go potty, brush your teeth, and put your jammies on. Then get in bed and I’ll be up to tuck you in.”
Minutes later, instead of hearing the water running and the children humming their A-B-C’s while brushing their teeth, you hear laughter…and screaming…and wrestling…and running through the hallway.
Taking a deep breath before going upstairs to assess the situation, you come upon this scene:
One is serenading - himself - in the mirror. He’s being silly and finds his reflection rather hilarious. He’s peed, but hasn’t brushed his teeth as he’s been too busy using his toothbrush as a microphone.
One is crying - deeply offended - because the other has pushed her off the stool before she had a chance to spit. Hence toothpaste foam is running down her chin - which she’s accidentally spit on the counter instead of in the sink. This has caused her to cry even harder as she feels sorry for the mess she’s made.
The other has a sly grin on his face and hasn’t done a darn thing - other than successfully pester his sister and draw her to unnecessary tears.
One is taking his toothbrush and scrubbing the toilet with it - and then proceeding to put it right back into his mouth to brush his teeth. (Disgusting, but true.)
Yes, this is a little more realistic picture of what bedtime looks like.
And if your story is anywhere close to mine, you’ve probably found it to be maddening as well.
Bedtime has this capacity to get the blood pressure raised. It tends to craze or infuriate exhausted mommas who have come to the end of their own day as well. It shouldn’t be so difficult, and yet it is all too often!
I mean, I give the same four instructions every single night:
“Brush your teeth.”
“Put your jammies on.”
“Get in bed.”
Now, there are bedtime books thrown into the mix, but with winter in full force and a lot of Family Movies happening in the evenings, bedtime has been immediately following the credit song: at 8:30 p.m.
When I get closer to the end of my own day, my body starts shutting down. I crave sleep more than coffee.
And yet there is this tension between every mother and her children - we can’t go to sleep until they do. And sadly, if they aren’t sleeping - then neither are we.
I chuckle when I watch DreamWorks’ Boss Baby. Both Dad and Mom are present at bedtime - to read, sing, and play the guitar for their little Timothy Templeton. And then Baby comes along and disrupts everything.
DreamWorks wasn’t too far off, because when we only had Nathan, I had an entire bedtime routine - bath, lotion, jammies, books, rocking, prayers, snuggles, and singing. And then #2 came along and bedtime turned upside-down for a while. I was thankful to have my husband, Jeremiah, to assist me with the toddler when I was tied up with the baby.
And then #3 and #4 came along, and it seemed like bedtime would be upside-down indefinitely.
But somewhere along the way, babies grow, toddlers develop, and children mature. And eventually, the fog lifts and you realize that you’re well on your way of raising self-propelled, independent adults. A sure sign of that is when they don’t ask for your help as often as they did.
We are now at a stage where the older boys don’t need my help at bedtime. (Except, of course, to cut the serenade short and to remind them to wait their turn with the stool.)
However, Lydia still needs my help getting the toothpaste (that tends to gunk up with four children using it) onto her toothbrush and also to get water into her cup to take a drink and to rinse the sink out. She also needs me to play our little tickle game she call “Skittles” and needs her hugs and kisses and me to sing her “Lydia Rae” song and give her another big hug and little kiss before I can pray with her and tell her I love her five more times before walking out of her bedroom. (Whew!)
Every scale has its tipping point and every camel has its straw that broke its back. Mine was on January 21, 2019.
Earlier that week, I was telling my husband that I hadn’t slept through the night in weeks due to our #4.
And then I thought back a little further and realized that we hadn’t slept through the night in months - perhaps even years. (Yes, I joke that I haven’t slept in 9 years. But sadly, there is some truth to that.)
Titus and I were in a terrible cycle of him not being ready to go to bed with his siblings at 8:30 p.m. So I was letting him stay up with me just a little later. Once I had finished the supper dishes and swept the kitchen floor, I’d put him to bed in his bed and go to bed myself. He’d cry and ask to sleep in my bed. Exhausted, I’d let him and he’d end up snuggling me - immediately falling asleep. Somewhere in the middle of the night, I’d wake up to carry him to his bed. And then, 1-3 hours later, he’d wake up - realizing he was back in his bed - and begin crying to come and find me to crawl back into mine again. Night after night of this. Him crying, sleeping, and waking 2-6 times a night.
And every night of him committing to sleep became later and later and later.
The straw that broke the camel’s back? 11 p.m.!
Yes! My two-year-old didn’t go to bed until 11 p.m. one night. It was maddening!
That next morning - over breakfast - I told Jeremiah that something had to give as I couldn’t continue the cycle one more night. He matter-of-factly asked if I had done any research or read any articles as to why Titus wasn’t sleeping or staying asleep.
It maybe wasn’t the sympathetic response I was looking for, but it was exactly what I needed. Of course I hadn’t done any research on my dilemma. I was too sleep-deprived to think of such a brilliant idea! (Joking, but not joking.)
I got onto Google and typed in, “How do I get my toddler to sleep through the night?” I came across a great article that gave me insight into why he was having such a hard time falling asleep, and also how to get him to commit to sleep earlier.
Now, what truly convicted me when I read this secular article written by a Clinical Psychologist were these words:
“Don’t think of bedtime as a chore that’s taking too much time. Think of it as the best part of the day, when you get premium quality time with your little one.” - Dr. Laura Markham from Aha! Parenting
That night I made the decision to change my entire approach.
Titus and I missed the Family Movie that night because I had just signed him up for Boot Camp: Operation Sleep.
I started out with giving him with a hot shower (as our bathtub is currently out of commission due to a bathroom remodel). Then I lathered him with lavender lotion, put him in a bedtime diaper, and zipped him into his warmest jammies. I sat him on my lap with his blanket covering our legs. With his lamp on, I read him five books (of his choosing) in a calm, quiet voice. He snacked on a string cheese while we read Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. When we had finished, we went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Returning to his room, I asked him, “What do we do at bedtime?”, and gave him the answers that the children and I have been saying for years:
“Close your eyes.”
“Go to sleep.”
With these words, I showed him how to first cover his mouth, and next how to cross his arms over his chest, and then how to hide his eyes, and finally how to clap his hands on the word “go” and tuck his hands under his cheek.
His eyes danced and we did the same thing four more times.
Then, I introduced our new mantra, “Bedtime, sleep time, stay in bed time.”
I found a great lullaby on YouTube and asked if he wanted to listen to it. Of course he did, so I played what we call “Cloud Song” from my phone.
Now, I’d like to tell you that the first night went according to plan. But it didn’t. It took resolve, and patience, as well as extensions of grace and understanding as he got out of bed on four different occasions. I used firm discipline with loving assurance and returned him to his bed every time with “Bedtime, sleep time, stay in bed time.”
However, once he committed to sleep - something happened that hadn’t in months - he slept through the night!
Perhaps you didn’t catch that. After months of interrupted sleep, my strong-willed, amazing Titus James SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT!
On Night 2, we did the same exact routine and he ended up getting out of bed zero times and slept through the night! Again.
On Night 3, the same!
We are now into the second week and have successfully established a whole new bedtime routine. On top of that, I’ve established a whole new mindset.
Bedtime is not meant to be check-listed off - in a scramble to get ourselves to bed. (In which I am guilty of all too often when my own sanity and well-being is at play.)
No, bedtime is meant to be savored! It’s meant to allow room for them to get the rest of their “silly” out. It’s meant for a time of comfort when one is wronged and her feelings are worn all over her sleeve. It’s meant for more instructions on sharing and kindness. And it’s meant for finding the humor in certain discoveries you wish you hadn’t discovered.
It’s meant to be asked, “Can we read one more book, pleeease!”
It’s meant for those dreaded “Mom, I’m thirsty, can I have some warm milk?” and the breach that happens afterward…
“Mom, I’m hungry, can I have a banana?”
“With peanut butter?”
“Can I have a peanut butter English Muffin?”
“Instead of warm milk, can I have my milk with a bowl of Cheerios?”
“Can I have a second bowl?”
In which you respond, “May I have…?” as you proceed to fill their tiny tummies with something that will hold them over through the night and sit down with them and talk about what they want to talk about.
Now, getting a little more sleep each night has certainly helped. But what has helped me the most since I changed my entire approach was this one word: perspective.
I simply needed to change mine.
Now, instead of resenting bedtime or enduring bedtime, I get to enjoy bedtime. I get to smell Titus’ clean, curly hair that smells like apples and hear him say, “Are you my muhder?” when we get to certain pages of his favorite book. I get to spend undivided time with him as the older three are snuggling their Daddy on the couch, finishing up the Family Movie.
I’m not rushed because we start an hour early, and he’s either asleep or is near asleep when the older three come upstairs to get ready themselves. And because of that, I’ve found my time with them to be all the more enjoyable.
So, dear Momma, if your baby is currently a round-the-clock nurser - it really doesn’t last forever. I know you’ve heard it a thousand times by now, but it really does go by fast. So, savor it!
If your children are where I’m at - somewhere between the tension of being needy and fighting for independence. Then, enjoy it!
And if your children are long gone, and this post makes you miss those maddening moments of bedtime, then you have weathered your storm. (Hats off to you!) And since you have, find someone who is currently in the trenches of motherhood and offer some encouragement! (Because we all need to hear it every now and then.)
So, yes, there are those maddening moments of bedtime. But there are also those beautiful, priceless memories that you get to tuck away in your heart forever.
And because you are the last person they see and hear before they drift off to their world of sweet dreams, make it count! Be their Prayer Whisperer, Dream Catcher, Monster Slayer, and Beautiful Serenade!
If I can urge you to do anything tonight - especially you moms of littles - take a tip from Dr. Laura and try on a different approach.
And while you’re at it, find some perspective from 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 -
17For our light and momentary troubles [even the maddening moments of bedtime] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (brackets mine)