Lindsay Wright reflects on changing bedtime routines and how they connect with her own childhood
“Goodnight, God bless, sweet dreams, love you from mummy and daddy, see you in the morning sweetheart.”
It had been a long day, not even just a long day, a long night. My eldest had kicked off labour at midnight, was born by 6.14am, and we were eventually walking through the front door with our new-born just in time for dinner (not that we could process what we should eat that night!). We were shattered, bewildered, lost and had completely forgotten everything we had learnt in all those parenting classes. How on earth are we meant to look after this small human? My husband had already put the bodysuit on backwards…and the nappy, it wasn’t boding well so far. Somehow, we mustered through the remainder of the day, the child was still alive and the clothes on the correct way, all we needed now was sleep. As I apprehensively placed this tiny bundle down in the Moses basket, scared that the sleep I desired was going to be exceptionally minimal that night, I found myself uttering words I’d not heard in many years. They slipped out of my subconscious and landed with a kiss on my child’s forehead. “Goodnight, God bless, sweet dreams, love you from mummy and daddy, see you in the morning sweetheart.” Words my own mother would say every night before we went to sleep for as long as my sister and I lived in their house. Without any thought put towards it, at that moment I had accidentally established our most consistent of bedtime routines in my own household.
A tough start
The first few months around bedtime were not happy ones. We had exceptionally unhelpful health visitors who would repeatedly tell me that I would get my child into bad habits if I didn’t do ’controlled crying’, or if I held my child for too long before bed and various other emotionally crippling remarks. My eldest even developed reflux, a condition we were told they couldn’t have because it didn’t exist (it does exist). If you have had a child with reflux you will understand that laying the baby down flat makes things worse. We tried anything and everything to make that ’Moses baske’t a welcoming place to sleep. To be honest, I think we all resented bedtime around this time period. It took a move to a new house in a new town to settle everything down, with a delay in getting on the new health provision systems we had breathing space to stop being told what to do and instead listen to our child and our family’s needs, so by the time the first health visit arrived things were calm.
“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)
My eldest is now nearly ten and my youngest is almost seven. Their bedtime today is drastically different to the one we had when they were babies. They’re independent now, there’s very little they really need us for, and they can make their own choices over how they wish to wind down for sleep. It’s only whilst writing this article I’ve realised what we’ve lost through doing that, which is the daily injections of God at the end of the day. After the heat of the first few months of parenting had sizzled away, we began reading at bedtime, we would choose the books, many of which were Christian, and we’d decide the time to turn lights off. As they became older we’d also start talking about our day and say a little prayer. Eventually the children had more say over elements of bedtime as they grew in independence. Now they choose which books they would like to read (and it’s rarely the Christian ones), they choose whether they want to talk about their day or not and they often don’t want to pray afterwards. As they learn to listen to their body’s needs at the end of the day God doesn’t feature quite as much. Is this something I should be worried about? Possibly. Some of you may be screaming at me shouting YES! 100% YES and a few years ago I would have completely agreed with you. I would have felt as if I wasn’t a good Christian parent if God wasn’t at the heart of bedtime, if I wasn’t reading at least one story about God before they went to sleep, or if I’d forgotten to pray.
We’re meant to impress all God’s commands and love on our children, aren’t we? Talk about them when we sit at home, walk, lay down, rise up. The whole lot. However, I’m not worried. Not just because we talk about God at other times of the day and faith is an open conversation in our house, but because I’ve come to realise that whether we’re reading the Bible or not, whether I’m making sure the children pray or not, God is at the heart of bedtime because “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
After the over thinking, worrying about bad habits, concerns I’m not a good Christian mum etc… my natural instincts towards bedtime when I brought our eldest home was to tell them that I loved them, using a sentence my mum said to me to show me that I was loved, and we both show that love because first God loved us. All the articles for parents talk about how bedtime routines should not only be consistent and repetitive but also sustainable, something that you can repeat over and over again even when they get older. The rest of our bedtime routine may have changed as the years go by, and I’m sure it will continue to do so, but the one constant is that they go to bed knowing they are loved and that’s something every child needs to know.