Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Taking the perfection out of bedtime

Everyone has seen those commercials with a happy mom perfectly perched on the edge of her child’s bed, reading to a precious little one at bedtime. You know, the ones where the mom has a ridiculous amount of energy for it being late in the day and is wearing a coordinating outfit that is devoid of spit-up or a little bit of sweet potatoes from dinner? And I swear the child in the commercial has not one trace of stickiness or attitude.

It’s that picturesque bedtime reading that has caused me much grief over the years. Being an avid reader, I was so excited to start reading more than picture books to my oldest son, Max. I had envisioned sitting at his bedside, reading him books as he drifted off to sleep or asked me questions about the characters. Then I would kiss him goodnight and turn out the lights. Aaaah.

But it was never like that. Not once.

On most nights, I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open during the books, pausing to yawn as I turned the pages. Not that Max noticed since his objective during reading time was to convince me that he, in fact, was not tired and didn’t need to go to bed.

Then after our whole ordeal of him not listening and me forcing myself to finish the books, he would argue with me about turning out the lights, beg me for a sip of water and we would end the night with an exasperated “I love you.”

Not exactly warm and fuzzy reading time, to say the least.

After a few particularly rough nights last summer, my husband and I decided we needed a change. So we took a three-step approach: time, subject matter and attitude.

First, we moved bedtime back 30 minutes to give everyone more time to get ready for bed, schedule in more reading time and, frankly, to read earlier in the evening so maybe I wouldn’t be so tired!

Second, we went and bought about 25 new (to us) books, all about things Max likes: trains, cars, Mickey Mouse and school. We thought if we could get some that piqued his interest, maybe I would hold his attention longer. Score two for mommy and daddy! And as a bonus, getting books with a subject matter he cared about made him focus on the books instead of the fact that he was going to bed.

The third change was the hardest and something I had to tackle alone: I had to make an attitude and expectation adjustment. I know raising children is not as neat and clean as it is on TV, but every once in a while I forget it. I had to remind myself that most of the time as I sit on my son’s bed I’m going to be wearing some part of dinner thanks to two happy little boys, Max’s room will likely be a mess, and I will still probably be tired simply because I’m sitting still. But it’s all okay.

It may not look like the commercial, but it accomplishes the same thing: it’s me reading to my child at bedtime. It’s our little tradition and it’s special to us both – even if I am reading the same Little Red Caboose book over and over again.

And that’s pretty picturesque to me.

Aleshia Howe is a Communications Specialist for the Texas Health Harris Methodist Foundation and Texas Health Presbyterian Foundation, and Mom to a 4-year-old and 8-month-old.

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