Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem to characterize our age.— Albert Einstein
I read this quote recently, and I thought how appropriately it characterizes the state of education in America. But it’s also a great thing to consider in your parenting. Are you perfecting means but confusing ends in your parenting?
This is as good a context as any to share one of my struggles/failures as a father (as I recently promised to do). I have been known to get in some really nasty moods, especially late at night, especially if I’ve been eating anything sugary. And I’ve recently seen a pattern in myself of dreading bedtime, i.e. putting our kids to bed. Morgan, my daughter, tends to be the easiest. She’s ready for bed the soonest, and she falls asleep quickly. And Sammy, my oldest son, although he takes his own sweet time (he gets that from me), is pretty cooperative too. But Lucas, who shares a room with Sammy, is my 3-year-old, and he doesn’t like going to bed, at least not lately. And I don’t like putting him to bed. In fact, I recently told my wife Lisa, “I hate bedtime.”
On more than one occasion, Lisa has had to come to relieve me, when she hears Lucas crying. In those cases, I’m tired and cranky and impatient. All I want is for him to stay in his bed and let me go to bed. I don’t want to hear any more. I don’t want to snuggle him, I don’t want to rock him, or make up any more stories. I just want to go to bed.
Fortunately, we’ve recognized the pattern and are starting to do something about it. Lisa and I will be taking turns, so neither of us gets burned out and each of us gets a break. This is a good start. Also, I’ve been attending better to my own sleep and eating habits, which helps prevent those nasty moods. As for getting Lucas to bed, we’ve even started talking about using rewards or punishments to get him to start cooperating. (Yes, I’ve read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, and, yes, I know this is not ideal.)
This is a sad state of affairs, because bedtime can be a great time for connecting with your kids. One of the things Lisa and I both want to do is start intentionally enjoying bedtime. In other words, don’t just perfect the means of getting the ostensible end: getting the kid to sleep. But ask: what other ends, or outcomes, do we want from bedtime? If getting him to sleep were the only aim, then we may as well just drug him. (I’m kidding, sheesh!) What if bedtime was not only a time to get Lucas to sleep but also a time of connecting with him? Of hearing him and understanding him and deepening our relationship? What if a change of perspective is all that’s needed?
I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re still figuring it out. But I’ve started to step back and ask myself, what’s really possible here? What do I really want from bedtime?
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