Friday, October 21, 2005

Bedtime zen master.

After 5 and a half years of parenting I may have unlocked the key to the nighttime routine. I have experienced 3 nights in a row of bedtime bliss. I have remained calm and collected while the 3 monkeys have screamed, hit, whined and cried. What has been the secret you ask? Letting go.
Number one.: I let go of the idea that I deserve to have peace and quiet in my home. We all live there. Occasionally someone's emotions will get the better of them and they will use their outside voice. The pain in my ears is momentary, but a pattern of angry reactions will leave scars on my little angels for a lifetime. When an angel uses an outside voice I gently remind them that they need to use their inside voices.
Number two: Human beings go to bed when they are ready. I can set them up for success with a calm and quiet environment, but the rest is up to them.
Number three: If the kids are over tired and yelling and screaming, it is them that is suffering, not me. I can feel their pain and empathize with it. I know how it feels to drive a hammer into my thumb when I am tired. I want to curl up and go fetal. My role is to be there for them as a calm and steady lighthouse in their emotional hurricane.

Enough theory. Time for some examples. The last 3 nights were legendary not because the kids were angels, but because they were sick and very challenging.
L first tried to break up M's bedtime routine. I calmly repeated my request for her to leave her sister's room. She complied. I realized that there is no way for L to know if I am putting M to bed when the door is closed. I may have L make a Do Not Disturb sign this weekend during project time.
Later L refused to let me have alone time with T. She claimed it was unfair and that T always got the most attention at bedtime. I reflected on this and realized that she had a point. I tried to let her stay in the room with T. Sure enough, this time T drifted off to sleep while his sister read quietly next to him in bed.
Next L and I played patty cake. We agreed on 3 games. We got through one game and then L decided to change the game slightly. I did not understand her new rules and I made a mistake at the end of the second game. L had a breakdown and began crying and yelling. I told her that I would finish the last game if she could calm down.
She was relentless. She screamed that she needed to replay the second game. She refused to start the third game until I fixed my blunder in the second game.
I told her I needed to get out of the room for a while and calm down. L followed me downstairs, yelling and sobbing uncontrollably.
I sat on the couch and closed my eyes. L hit me with a pillow and began waving her arms out in front of me, pretending to hit me. None of these actions have resulted in consequences in our home, so L masterfully tested the boundaries.
"Do not hit, me. Bedtime is over if you hit me."
"Two more games!"
I closed my eyes again and pondered the situation. I had already wasted 10 minutes of L's bedtime by not replaying the second game. It would take 30 seconds to play the game. I decided to consciously cave in to her demand in this case.
I opened my eyes and said:
"OK, two more games. Please give me a hug and I will carry you to bed."
Off we went. Two more games and L was out like a light.

The nights were full of challenging scenes like this. Especially at toothbrushing time. I really think we have a vanishing stepping stool. At 8PM they are in no condition to share one. But the techniques that I have mentioned are key to nighttime success. Model calmness and patience. The pain in your ears will subside and you will be the zen master of bedtime.

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