When I was pregnant with our third child, my husband asked me in bewilderment, “How will we do bedtime?”
At the time it seemed to me a ridiculously silly question.
“We’ll just do it,” I thought, exasperated.
As parents, we sometimes do what we must to survive.
I soon realized that having more than one child was hard. I envied the families with only children. I also had no idea how large families did anything well.
And I’ve never considered ours a large family.
Until we moved to Germany.
We stood out in Europe among the families of single kids or perfect pairs. The parents aren’t outnumbered. They can drive small cars with four seats. They don’t have to wait forever at restaurants to be seated. They’re mathematically correct.
With a thirteen-year-old, eight-year-old, seven-year-old, and four-year-old, it seemed like a legitimate concern. How do I do bedtime well? How do I divide my time and mothering well?
A few harried years went by with rushed bedtimes. Rushed baths. Rushed prayers. Rushed affection. Exhausted, ready to be done with the day, and still facing the destruction of a kitchen well-used every night.
I traded a relationship with my children at bedtime for me time.
The eldest child often went unheeded as I rocked the baby and Dad prayed with the girls. Night after night. Not every night, but too many. I dreaded the never-ending chores of cleaning up and just wanted to collapse into writing or reading or sleep.
Teens are just as needy as toddlers.
I missed out on many bedtime conversations and prayers and opportunities for heart training and answering difficult questions.
Because I was exhausted.
Or thought I was.
I’d read all the right books (and many wrong ones!) about parenting, shepherding and training hearts, but all those words won’t substitute for the proactive parent relationship a child needs.
It took near disaster to wake us up to how much we are needed as the parents of a teen. To pray for the reversal of damage. To pray for redemption of time and the experiences that we missed. To pray for improvement in our family relationships.
We were living on the surface.
We lived superficially instead of getting at the marrow of life. We were in the wings, instead of actively directing and counseling. We were focused on all the wrong things.
Every day was an uphill battle as defiance reigned and I was ready to just give up.
Then a not-so-gentle nudge from God.
I’m not a prayer warrior. It’s not my nature. I wasn’t raised to this. We’re not a hymn-singing, Bible-quoting, tract-giving family. We don’t spend hours on Bible study or scripture reading every morning. Maybe we should do some things differently.
Such a simple thing, really–to pray earnestly for and with this child. This child so different from myself. Despite the hard days, the mean looks, the saucy attitude. This child whom I have seen withering away and growing cold and distant is now blossoming again with the nourishment of relationship she needs and now receives that she didn’t know how to ask for.
I know that God can redeem that lost time and restore this relationship. He is a God of reconciliation. He reminds me of the good memories we shared and the knowledge that we can make more good memories. I look forward to the future as it unfolds in excitement and anticipation and opportunity.
It’s not always a matter of good or bad parenting. Kids eventually make their own choices. They’re too often stuck in the middle. I can actively pray for and with my daughter and know it’s in God’s hands.
And I will love her no matter what.
As my other three kids grow up into teens and young adults, I pray fervently for each of them. I know they struggle to grow into their own individual selves and I have to hold them with open hands as they develop and make their mistakes and learn. They also watched their eldest sibling flounder and they learned from witnessing her mistakes and lessons.
I am so pleased to be through this stage with my eldest and it seems smoother with my other three. Perhaps I learned so much that I am less anxious and realize my place and that I can’t live vicariously through my children and they must learn with their own ups and downs.
I will always be here to catch them if and when they fall.
- Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R. Knost
- Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté
- Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour, Ph.D.
- Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! by Rachel Macy Stafford
- Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn
- Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray
- The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids by Jessica Joelle Alexander
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