Bedtimes. When they come, my kids’ room can feel like a battlefield and the victory of sleep is not easily won. I would like to say bedtimes are the most peaceful moments of our family’s day. I would like to say we have a perfect routine and each night we sing our songs, say our prayers, get the kids tucked into bed, give them a kiss on their foreheads and they snuggle in for a deep sleep, not to be heard from until the morning.
That is simply not the reality in our home. We do have a routine, but it does not always go as planned and it nearly always has interruptions. And once the lights are turned off and we leave the room, the kids have perfectly timed and flawlessly executed stall tactics.
Lest I leave you disappointed, I need to tell you now, I have not discovered the perfect strategy to consistently leave your bedtime battles with a peaceful and simple victory. This is not so much about bedtimes, but what they have taught me about the battleground of my own heart. Bedtimes, and parenting in general, has helped me see what deeper idols lie beneath the surface. Peeling back the layers of sin can be ugly and parenting has a way chipping through the layers pretty quickly. My kids' bedtimes have taught me that I love control and comfort too much.
"But dad, I want what I want"
My son's transparency about his desires has helped me see my own more clearly. Earlier this year, when he would not get his way, he began to tell me, "but Dad, I want what I want." He was brutally honest, not knowing his statement betrayed his own selfishness. I began to realize I often feel the same way. Like my son, I really just want what I want.
What I have begun to see is that my experience at bedtime is highly influenced by my own heart idols – by my desire to get what I want. My frustrations can be disproportionate to the good and right motivation I have for my children's obedience and need for sleep. At some point, I am not so much motivated by what is good for them, but I am motivated by my own comfort and control. I just want them to listen, because my idol for control wants to be listened to. I want them to listen, because my idol of comfort wants to move on with the rest of my night.
Their behavior and my heart
Sleep is good and necessary for kids. Learning obedience is good and necessary for kids. Therefore, I stick in the battle for bedtimes, for their good. All the while, I wage war on my own heart idols. It’s important that we distinguish between their behavior and our hearts.
My heart issues do not give my kids the freedom to do whatever they want. We might be inclined to give up on some aspects of parenting, because at times we find ourselves having selfish motives. But we should not give up. We must pray. Repent. And trust in the gospel. Don’t allow your heart idols to stop you from following through on what you know is right and good for your kids.
Not just at bedtime
Bedtime shines a spotlight on my heart, but I have begun to see that my idols of comfort and control are present all over my home. When I walk through the door at the end of a long day at work, my idol of comfort tells me that I deserve to sit down and rest for a bit. When I am bombarded with requests to change a diaper, read a book, play with cars, set the table, take out the garbage, or build a tower, I can feel my idol of comfort fighting to say no, I just got home, I need to sit down for a bit.
My idol of control goes wild when my daughter is taking her brother’s toy… again… In that moment, I don’t want to patiently give her correction and instruction again, my idol of control wants, no demands, that she listen. In those moments, I am not as concerned about helping her understand the impact of her decisions, because I am too preoccupied with my idol of control.
Fighting our Idols
Bedtimes have illuminated some of the ugly that still wages war against my soul. I am not content to allow these patterns to continue, so when I am fighting on the battleground of bedtime, I am reminded there is also a war raging on the battleground of my heart. I cannot ignore what parenting is revealing about my idols, so I continue the lifelong habit of repentance and faith.
When sin is revealed, no matter where or when, even during the daily routine of bedtimes, I am called to repent. I am called to recognize my sin, admit my wrongs and turn away. Sometimes, this will require me to humbly ask for my kids’ forgiveness. In faith, I also remind myself of the beauty of the cross and the grace Jesus offers. As I model this for my children, they get a taste of God’s goodness – which is more important than an extra thirty minutes of sleep anyway.