The best part of my day happens every evening between 7:45 and 8:00 p.m. For the last seven years, I’ve spent the fifteen minutes before bedtime lying next to my pajama-clad children and asking them to tell me about their day. I don’t check my phone, I don’t impart any wisdom, I don’t even interject very much—I just listen. Oh, the wonderful things you can learn if you just listen.
Of course, this is not a new idea. Moms and Dads have enjoyed the soft chatter of their children before bedtime for eons. Any parent will tell you that they learn all sorts of things from their babies in the whispered conversations just moments before they drift off to sleep. My Mom used to tuck my sister and I into bed every evening and sit on the edge of it for a while to listen as we shared our stories and adventures from the day. We would tell her about our travels on Space Pig (the propane tank in the yard that doubled as a pork-themed rocket ship) and attempt to explain the newest make-believe game played that day with Grandma Sears at “Baby Work” (old-fashioned daycare—the kind where the Grandma watches all of the cousins). It was in these precious moments before bed that my little sister would confess all of her sins of the day to my Mom. Forget trying to keep a secret about a broken vase or a missing glove, any minor slip-ups during the day would spill out of my sister’s mouth at night and the jig was up. No wonder she always slept so soundly—a clear conscience provides a restful night.
Many years later, I carried on this tradition with my first-born. As soon as he was able to talk, I would ask him all sorts of questions before he closed his eyes. He caught on quickly to the routine, and would snuggle into his toddler bed and ask, “Mama, talk about our day?” He would go on to tell me about the popsicle his Grandpa Steve snuck him when his Grandma Jan wasn’t looking, the walk he took with his Grandma’s dog Zoe, and the new trick he learned on his tricycle. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t Friday, her day to watch him, he always told me that he went to Grandma Jan’s that day. The bond those two shared was magical—they were thick as thieves and loved every second of each other’s company. Just a few months after his little sister was born and one month after his second birthday, his Grandma Jan passed away on Christmas morning. As anyone who has ever lost a parent knows, the tragedy of this event was almost unbearable. But, the sadness of the days that followed was lifted for a few minutes every night as I listened to my sweet boy tell me about the adventures that he shared with his Grandma Jan that day. It didn’t matter if he was recounting old tales from months ago; I loved listening to his memories and wished they would last forever. I like to believe that they still meet up in his dreams at night to take Zoe for a walk and share popsicles and popcorn.
Lately, I’ve added a new twist to the bedtime routine. A couple of weeks ago I saw an article on Facebook titled, “Three Questions to Ask Your Child Every Night.” I love the conversations that result from these simple prompts and my kids can’t wait to snuggle up on their pillows and give me their answers. Here are the three questions if you’d like to give it a try:
- What is something that made you happy today?
- What is something that made you sad today?
- What is something that you learned today?
Their answers to these questions reveal so much more than their successes and setbacks of the day. I’ve discovered that my kids are in love with their new music teacher who has, according to my son, “the most beautiful voice in the world.” I learned that my daughter likes to chase a certain little boy on the playground and had the “best time ever” during a recent sleepover. I never know where these questions will take us. Last night my son said that he heard on the radio that people were voting in a primary and he wanted to know what that meant. I spent the next ten minutes explaining the presidential election process and describing the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Always the Analyzer-in-Chief, he wrapped up our discussion by declaring, “I know what Grandma Dodson is then…she always takes care of animals, she likes peace instead of guns, and she LOVES Hillary Clinton…she must be a Democrat.”
I like to think that our nightly discussions are laying the groundwork for open lines of communication that will be essential during their teenage years. I’m sure I will learn of countless crushes and heartbreaks this way, and I hope that when that time comes I will have the wisdom to just listen instead of trying to “fix” every problem that comes their way. With any luck, I will discover their fears and their aspirations by sitting at the foot of their beds. Armed with that knowledge, maybe I can help them work through their doubts and encourage their ambitions. If nothing else, I know that when my hair is gray and my nest is empty, I will look back at these little moments and smile, knowing that they were actually the big moments.
(Photo courtesy of Caryn DeFreez Photography)