As a parent, I've often felt the urge to rush through the bedtime ritual - dinner, baths, PJs, teeth, books - with my kids. The few precious hours after they're asleep are sometimes my only time to do chores and pursue personal interests. It's easy to become impatient when a protracted bedtime cuts into that.
In Love 2.0: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson shares a similar experience:
"My second-born was such a good sleeper that my husband or I could place him in his crib awake and he’d happily drift off to sleep all on his own. Our firstborn was altogether different. He needed to be in our arms while he drifted off. He also needed a particular motion, one that we couldn’t achieve in the comfort of a rocking chair, but only by walking. For at least the first year of his life, then, my husband or I would slowly pace across the tiny nursery, holding him in our arms, for up to thirty minutes or more. He trained us well. We learned that we could only place him in his crib after he’d succumbed to a deep sleep. Anything less would lead to another long bout of pacing.
With so many things to juggle as new parents, not to mention our own sleep deprivation, my husband and I began to dread the time-sink of this bedtime ritual. We’d yearn to be released from the shadowy nursery so that we could tackle the mounting dishes and laundry, make headway on a few more work projects by e-mail, or collapse into our own bed."
I had the same experience with both my children when they were babies. On several occasions I had to take my son out for a drive before he would finally fall asleep.
But like any stressful situation, it's not the situation itself that's difficult, it's the interpretation we choose to place on it.
"Then, my husband discovered a radical shift that changed everything. He gave up thinking about where else he could be and immersed himself in this parenting experience. He tuned in to our son’s heartbeat and breath. He appreciated his warmth, his weight in his arms, and the sweet smell of his skin. By doing so, he transformed a parental chore into a string of loving moment. When my husband shared his secret with me, we each not only enjoyed this bedtime ritual all the more, but our son also fell more swiftly into his deep sleep. Looking back, I now recognize that even though we were physically present with our son as we had walked him to sleep, at first we were not also emotionally present."
Instead of seeing bedtime as a chore, by choosing to exercise mindfulness Fredrickson and her husband turned it into an opportunity to connect with their child.