For a long time.. no, I mean, a REALLY REALLY LONG TIME.. bed time at our house has looked (how shall I say this?).. kinda like a car wreck.
It was like herding cats. Or trying to stuff an octopus in a shoe box. Or corralling a troop of kangaroos on a trampoline.
It wasn’t pretty.
Oh, I tried Routine once and I gave up on it. Reading bedtime stories to my kids was p.a.i.n.f.u.l. If I read to them all as a group, they argued/talked/played and so on. If I read to them individually, someone else was always getting into something they weren’t supposed to be getting into while I was trying to read. I would have rather pulled my hair out.
Seriously I think we’d tried just about everything in the book. There was, “everybody in bed by 9 or no story.” Didn’t work. They didn’t cooperate any better, they weren’t ever in bed on time. They never got a story and apparently they didn’t care.
Then was, “if you get up out of bed after I put you in bed there will be consequences.” Didn’t stop them from getting out of bed. Even if there were consequences.
At most we’ve had a good night here or there, maybe even a good week once in a while, but nothing ever stuck. It was out of control. Routineless. A THORN IN MY SIDE.
And I really, really, really wanted it to be a good thing. I had visions in my head of all these sweet rituals and stories and kisses and walking away and children nodding off to sleep with visions of sugar plums in their heads. Or something.
So after years and years of bedtime at our house looking a lot like a 2 hour session of the Whack-A-Mole game at the carnival.. one day I read a post by Ann Voskamp and it gave me an idea.
A really GOOD idea.
And I went for it.
So sometime mid January I put my kids in bed at 8:30. I pulled a dining chair into the hallway where I could see into both bedroom doors. I cracked open Mary Poppins. And I began reading. Everyone had already gone to the bathroom, brushed their teeth, had a drink of water and whatever else they could think of. Everyone had to stay in their beds and be quiet or Momma would close the book.
And I read.
And do you know what? IT WORKED.
Night after night (almost every single night since then) we’ve repeated this ritual. Once or twice I had to close the book and put it down because they weren’t paying attention. (But they always pay better attention the next night when that happens.) 😉 And if they’re not in bed on time (or pretty close to it, I’m not super legalistic about the minutes) then they lose reading time, which I’ve also done once or twice and the threat of that is usually enough to get them moving!
Some nights when we’re done reading, I’ll read a prayer over them. Every night when I’m done I go to each of them, tuck them in and give them a kiss. And most nights we pray together (but sometimes we forget.) I’ve seen the prayers of my children (and especially my 5 yr old!) grow in amazing ways. Also, he boy is always asleep within minutes. The girls — well, they share a room and they still talk for a little while and we’re still working on that.;)
But overall.. bedtime at our house has been entirely transformed! We’re getting the kids in bed earlier, with less fuss and a lot more cooperation, we’re spending time together, enjoying the written word, they’re relaxing and calming down while I read and getting ready for sleep, they have less excuses to get out of bed (they still come up with a few), we’re praying together, they’re getting more (and better) sleep and I’m getting a quiet moment of rest in the evenings before I have to go to bed myself.
THIS IS WONDERFUL.
I don’t really think any one of these things is the magic ingredient, I think it’s all of them — though admittedly reading to them is the biggest piece of the recipe. It’s all the other pieces that help make reading time work, and that in turn makes our bedtime routine (FINALLY) successful.
We’ve gone from herding cats to herding… almost well trained kids. ;0)
So this is what’s working for us — what’s working for you?