Carolyn Astfalk reflects on the gift of the “wasted” time spent at her children’s bedsides.
So-called “nighttime parenting” gets a bad rap. I can safely say that, now that all of my children regularly sleep through the night. (My children were each at least four years old before that happened with any regularity.)
Sleep disruption, for all its annoyance and the growing bags under my eyes, is the foundation of many warm memories of snuggling a newborn at my breast, rubbing the back of a toddler awakened by a nightmare, and reading picture books to a preschooler who can’t fall back to sleep.
Some of the most honest, intimate moments I’ve shared with my children have come in nearly dark bedrooms while they lay tucked beneath the sheets, a stuffed companion or two (or more) at their side.
I’ve spent more hours than I could count alongside my children (even at eight months pregnant, sharing a toddler-sized bed) waiting for them to fall asleep.
Once the bedtime story, prayers, and lullabies were complete, I would sit or lie quietly. Sometimes, still, I read, pray, or even proofread books, one hand holding that of a sleepy or not-so-sleepy child.
Many, many days, it took an hour or more for sleep to come. Sometimes I would chafe at the wait, thinking of all the things yet to be done that night or merely wishing I could retire to the couch and watch television with my husband. Truly, there were nights in which it seemed interminable.
But some nights ... some nights my children’s hearts open while I sit at their bedside. Maybe it’s the relative quiet of night. Maybe it’s the dimly lit room. Maybe they are just stalling and trying to prolong their waking hours.
In those minutes before they finally succumb to sleep, I’ve responded to existential questions, biblical confusion, bruised egos, broken hearts, real and imagined fearsome threats, spiritual attacks, flagging self-confidence, wonder, and, yes, endless chatter about video games of which I know next to nothing.
I’ve counseled a child combatting scruples, guided a child struggling with indecision, soothed a self-pitying child, and held a sobbing girl mourning the miscarried siblings that came before her.
There’s a gift there in the near darkness. An opportunity to know my children’s hearts and souls in a way that seldom presents itself in the daylight. It has cost me hours of “wasted” time, sitting bored at a bedside when I could be getting something done. It cost me a few television series and some lost sleep.
It has been worth it. My youngest kids still crave my quiet presence at bedtime. There are many more hours to go. For that, I am grateful.
Copyright 2022 Carolyn Astfalk
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