On January 5, 2005, Jill and I got the call: You’ve been chosen to be foster parents for a two month old little boy. Here’s the address. Please swing by to pick him as soon as you are ready.
Life changed forever in that moment. Just like the rainy day it was in Phoenix, AZ, everything felt different. We were suddenly parents. Most moms and dads have nine months to prepare, we had nine miles. That was the distance we drove across town to pick the little guy up. He needed a place to live and we had room at the inn.
Over the next eighteen months twelve more foster kids would come and go through our home. Four of them ended up sticking around for good; for our good and hopefully theirs too.
While it took us a while to figure most everything out, we did get one thing right from the start and it has made all the difference.
Bedtime. Consistent, early bedtimes.
We have been parents for nearly 4000 days and almost every one of them has ended with our four boys laying down to sleep between 7 and 8 pm.
Really? Yeah, really. And here's why.
Consistent and early bedtimes for the boys are the best way Jill and I have found to create the margin we need to stay on the same page all the while ensuring that our kids get the sleep their little brains and tired bodies desperately need too.
What's the most important relationship in the family? I'd argue that it's the relationship between mom and dad. Our love for one another (or lack thereof) has a cascading effect in family life. It is amazing at how kids pick up on what is really going on. Whether it's the child who wants to squeeze into the middle of a hug or the other who shouts from the other room "stop fighting" when he senses there may be a little tension.
So, early and consistent bedtimes for the kids have allowed Jill and I the margin for three things we might not easily make time for otherwise.
- Date Nights In. It's fun to go out, but a glass of wine on the front porch can do the trick too. We call it our 'wine at nine'. I have come to treasure this nightly tradition where we connect more deeply on "how" we are doing or what we are excited about, or why we are feeling so anxious.
- Family Admin. There are millions of details to discuss and decisions to consider in family life. As the kids get older and sports, activities and friendships increase, so does the need to connect, every night even, on the details of tomorrow, the weekend, next week, and next month.
- Resolve Conflict. Jill and I believe strongly that a husband and wife should not let the 'sun set on their anger', and as such, early bedtimes, have allowed for us to hash out serious matters away from the curious ears of our kids. It's in these moments where marriages can rise and fall. And should a conflict come up that needs to be talked over, without pleading kids around or needing to bolt to work, early bedtimes give us the physical, mental, and emotional space for healthy conflict.
We've made a lot of decisions as parents, but this one practical idea has given us an inordinately good return on our investment. It was a marriage-changing decision and provided precious moments, each day, for Jill and I to get unstuck, to look back, and plan for what's ahead.
Question: What about you? If you have kids, how do you approach the bedtime routine in your family? If you don't have kids, were early bedtimes a big deal in your family growing up?