Some years ago I was speaking at the Military Regional Women’s Conference in Hawaii, and I took my youngest, Joy, as my travel companion. Someone asked Joy, then sixteen, to share how to reach the heart of your child or teenager. I had no idea what she would say in response because she and I had recently experienced some conflict in our relationship.
Joy tossed her long, red-streaked brown hair and commented without hesitation, “Every night, no matter what, I knew my mom would come to my bed and spend time with me and talk with me and pray with me before I went to bed. It was our time, when I could pour out my fears, my secrets, my confessions, and my dreams. If you want to win your teen, you need to give them time to talk to you, and bedtime is a great time to do that.”
I was a little surprised to hear that out of all the things we had done together, our bedtime routines came to her mind first. But it made sense when I thought about it. Early in our marriage, Clay and I had heard someone speak about bedtime being an important moment for children, and I had taken that to heart. When each of our children was born, I determined that I would spend an extended time with him or her every night, and I would try to not let them go to bed without a special word of blessing.
Blessing children each night before they go to bed gives them the gift of a peaceful, restful, loved heart. No matter what a day has held—fussing, conflict, excitement, drudgery, joy, celebration, hard work—it’s a way of ending the day well. A bedtime blessing ties all those loose ends together with unconditional love and helps put to rest all the burdens of the day by placing them into the hands of God.
No matter what has transpired throughout the day, we can close it by speaking to our children’s hearts with something like “I love you no matter what. Please forgive me for my impatience today” or “I forgive you for your disobedience today” or “You are very precious to me. I am blessed to have you. You may go to sleep without bearing anger or a guilty conscience or fear because I love you and God loves you, and He will be with you. Sleep in peace, my precious.”
It’s not always easy to manage this, of course. Bedtime can be a burden for an exhausted parent, and it’s not always possible to spend extended time with each child.
Sometimes it’s all but impossible to keep from losing our patience! Please do not imagine our own family bedtimes were without struggle. Not all bedtimes go as we hope, but making a regular rhythm of the closing of the day helps everyone learn to know what to expect.
But I think when one is intentional about making a bedtime blessing an anchor of the day and guiding and leading your children, friends, and guests to expect that the end of the day will be relational, bedtime can become a grace to all that has transpired throughout the day. A bedtime blessing gives children one last impression of their whole day, and it is a redeeming time of bringing and restoring and offering peace. Best of all, the same principle works with a spouse or roommate.
Clay and I had elaborate bedtime routines for our children when they were young so that they knew what was coming and more easily submitted to the routine. As Nathan had some OCD tendencies about bedtime, we knew that if he could not remember the prayer and the kiss, he would not be able to go to sleep. So often I would repeat a short prayer and say, “Now this time I want you to remember how much I love you and God loves you.”
For many years in our house, baths marked the beginning of the bedtime routine. We would put the kids in our big old bathtub with every imaginable toy—whatever it took to keep them there and to give them a place to expend one last surge of energy. While they splashed, I would sit down to rest and read or have a cup of something just for me, even if the dishes were still in the sink and the house was a wreck. I would spend those few minutes restoring myself because I wanted to be available to extend a nighttime blessing to each of the kids. (If you want to try this, please remember to do it only with age- appropriate children. Babies and toddlers should never be left alone in a tub.)
Once bath time was over, Clay and I would take turns making sure pajamas were on and teeth were brushed. Finally we would gather in the living room or a child’s bedroom for a short read-aloud from a children’s storybook. This expected routine helped them to understand that bedtime and sleep time were coming.
After we read, we would send the kids to the bathroom one last time, then tuck them into bed personally, touch or stroke their foreheads, pray for them, and kiss them. Every night we gave an “I love you” or “I am so very blessed to have you” or other intentional words of acceptance and encouragement.
The more positive and predictable the bedtime routine, we found, the more our children went to bed willingly. “Now it is bedtime,” we would say. “We have bathed, read, and prayed, and now you get such a privilege—you get to snuggle in your lovely bed with your soft, cuddly stuffed animals and go into dreamland.” We always talked sweetly of their beds and tried to make them seem as delightful as possible. We also made good use of positive peer pressure—when all the children worked in routines together, the younger ones tended to follow the routine without much of a fuss. And we made a point to praise them: “You are growing so strong inside. You go to bed like a big boy or girl.”
Children do grow up, eventually, even though we might think that there will never be a time they will go to bed easily. But, now, I am at the place where I would love to have those cuddly, giggly, innocent, affectionate children running around in my own home.
Do you have a bedtime routine with your own children? Take a few extra minutes tonight to hear their hearts and connect.
Read more about some of our natural family routines here: The Lifegiving Home!