A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany: what if, instead of rushing bedtime with my kids, I pretended that I had enough time to give them the love they each desired?
It's a silly question, really. Many of you are likely the kind of superstar parents that would never need to ask this.
But me? I had come to a point where I had clearly habituated the rushed bedtime routine. Tuck-ins and snuggles and books and prayers, depending on the kid — they had all become yet another rapid and breathless part of the day. I was bringing my daytime efficiency to this nighttime ritual — night after night, week after week.
What if I stopped acting as if there was someplace else I'd rather be at bedtime? What if I stopped wanting to be anyplace else, to be doing anything else, other than this?
Here's what I found after I started asking myself that question:
- My five-year-old son likes a chapter from his book read, and sometimes he likes to talk about things, and sometimes he likes to listen to me affirm him, and sometimes he just likes to snuggle and listen to music. But in five minutes or so, he's content to have me leave, so long as I agree to check on him every five minutes. (He's almost always asleep at the first check.)
- My eight-year-old daughter likes lots of snuggle time. She's often content to just hug onto me; she doesn't need us to talk much. She never gets tired of me telling her that I love her and how special she is. She's incredibly attentive to the degree to which I'm relaxed with her. As the minutes go by, I can feel her grip on me loosen. When I sense that her bucket is full, I just get up and kiss her goodnight. She's completely content after these sessions, which maybe last ten minutes. A few months into this, our relationship is totally different because I've learned how much she craves physical affection, and I've stopped being in a rush to move on from it.
- My ten-year-old loves to read in bed. If I lay in her bed next to her while she's reading — sometimes just snuggling her and reading quietly along with her, sometimes reading my own book right next to her — she's completely satisfied. This takes maybe five to ten minutes.
- And my twelve-year-old is past wanting Dad to snuggle her in bed. What she wants to do is talk or to be affirmed. She wants me to ask her some questions about how she's doing and what she's involved in. How are you feeling about vaulting these days? How's your small group going — what are the other girls like? How's X or Y friend doing, I haven't heard from her lately? She also wants to teach me how to be the dad of a teenager — that's been a major blessing of an insight for me, that she doesn't want to find me annoying and out of touch and clueless (haha, it's true!) — and is very willing to teach me so long as I actually listen to her and take her perspective into practice.
All in all, bedtime with my kids doesn't take that much longer than it used to. I still find myself with time before bed to talk with my wife or read a book or complete a few household chores. (I don't do schoolwork in the evenings, having long ago constrained myself away from it.)
I share this with you, colleague, because sometimes habits that are smart and wise at work — habits like aiming toward efficiency, like building relationships via tracked MGCs — are actually foolish at home.
At work, I try to be biased toward efficiency.
But at home, once in a while I'm trying to ask myself, “Hey Dave — what if you actually did have all the time in the world for this?”
“What if, Dave, this is what your efficiency at work is for?”
Much love to you, colleague,
P.S. Dedicated to my kids. Your dad isn't perfect, but he'll never stop loving you.