Even when my kids were young I looked forward to their bed time. My children have never slept during the day. Not even when they were toddlers. So, after a long day chock-a-block with chores that ensued from being a mom to two wonderful but energetic bundles of joy. I welcomed their bed time like a third grader welcomes the bell announcing the end of school for the day. With relief and a whoop of joy.
Six years later, I still welcome bed time. The reasons though are different. They are still energetic and the day is still long. But now most of it is spent outside the purview of my home. School, sports, friends, hobbies, keep my babies away and occupied.
Thus, bed time has now become “our connecting time”. It is the time I hold them tightly in my arms and tell them how precious they are to me. The time to hug them and kiss them. Sometimes a hundred times each and tell them how proud they make us. Not because they aced the math exam or got that coveted music trophy but just because they are ours. It is my time to hear about their day. Not only hearing what they say but also listening to what they leave unsaid. I have realized that it’s also the best time to motivate, set goals, assess progress and draw lessons. Safely ensconced in my arms, examples don’t seem like comparisons, corrections don’t become criticism. I find them more open to suggestion, more willing to introspect and reflect on the world around them.
But what is bed time if not story time? Many parents and grand parents are great story tellers. I remember the long nights I spent in my grandmother’s bed listening to her tales about talking birds and mimicking monkeys. I had my favorites that I could hear again and again. But each time I asked for a new story, she brought out one like magic from what seemed like an inexhaustible supply. When I had my children I realized I was not a great storyteller. I do not have the memory to remember stories or the knack of making up new ones. So I devised my own alternatives.
Here are five of my favorite things to do with my children at bed time:
Tell them stories from your own lives and the lives of those around you: Children are fascinated by stories from their parents younger days. That papa as a little boy rode his bike to school, climbed mango trees or that mumma had a favorite doll that she took with her everywhere she went, not only amuses little children greatly. It also helps them feel closer to the adults in their world. By giving them a peep into your childhood you help them relate to you better. I also believe personal stories from grand parents and parents lives give young ones a sense of history and pride. Those among us, who have worked hard and struggled to attain comfortable lives today can ensure that our children learn to respect and value what they have by sharing with them anecdotes from our past.
Exchange Notes: Most parents , specially of teenage children complain that their children never tell them anything. All queries about school, classes and friends draws unsatisfactory monosyllabic answers. Life today has become very hectic. Make your children’s bedtime the time to tune off from the world. Put that phone on silent mode, switch off that TV, turn down the laptop screen and talk. Tell your children how you spent your day. Who you met, what you saw, what you read. If you can, speak to them about the dilemmas you faced during the day, the sights that touched you – like the beggar you saw on the road. Share with them, If you saw or heard something that reminded you of them. Once your children are used to listening to you describe your day soon enough they will be telling you about their days too. And hopefully the habit will stick through those turbulent teen years.
Share your dreams: Not only is night-time a good time to introduce your children to your past, it is also the best time to speak about the future. Letting your children in on your dreams and aspirations can have the added benefit of teaching them by example to have their own goals too.
Share with them their babyhood: This is my children’s favorite part. The nights that begin with ‘When you were a baby……..” are the biggest hits. Children are self focused and love to hear about themselves. It fills them with wonder to know who held them at the hospital for the first time, or about the time they did something indescribably funny like curled off and went to sleep in the dog’s basket.
Read a Book: This time-tested bed time ritual needs no further explanation. My kids and I have read together every single day since they were born. To begin with, pick up something short and light. When my kids were two or three the pepper series was a favorite, as they grew they began to love Noddy, then came Roald Dahl and now at seven and nine we have Sudha Murthy’s short stories , Tintins and Malory towers by our bedside. I have found that reading at bedtime from an early age is the best way to inculcate the reading habit.
One of the things we traded off when we entered the ‘digital age’ as a human race was long drawn, idyllic childhoods. There is just too much to learn and too much to do. M and K are nine and seven now. Just children still. But not for long. Adolescence will arrive soon. Their lives will only get busier. But I plan on clinging to bed time as long as I can.