There is very little within the spectrum of average parenting that can’t be made up for with a high-quality tuck in.
The tuck in was an essential nightly ritual in my upbringing which, like my own children, I prolonged with a variety of elaborate efforts: the additional story, the drink, the extra hug and kiss, the need for more blankets, and of course, an onslaught of elaborate and irrelevant questions–all critical tools in the arsenal of extending that sweet moment of one-on-one parental attention.
Perhaps you will think it indicative of arrested development that this ritual continued as long as I lived in the house. But really it was just that I was an only child to a single parent–we both needed the nightly hugs. Still, I hope to use it to prolong the child-parent bedtime connection as long as my kids will allow it.
Now, at the end of an exhausting day where my parenting has been marginal to poor, it is tempting to forgo this procedure with a swift, “Everyone in BED!” and a token, speedy hug and “G’nite, love you.” However, I am starting to see the wonderful redemption opportunity I am giving up when I do this. A few, focused moments at the bedside can leave me, and hopefully my child, ending the day feeling that some good-quality parenting is going on, and love is in the air to fuel sweet kid dreams. This is an illusion I am more than happy to weave.
In my house, perhaps one night in a week, the high-quality tuck in will require an apology for bad behavior on my part. I do try to apologize at the time when I make mistakes with my kids, but there really isn’t an ending moment to my grumpy-mom performance that would make an apology anything but a ridiculous comma in the middle of it. Enter the tuck in, where we calm down with routines and prayer and inside jokes and rituals, and then, as I kneel quietly at the bedside, I can sincerely feel (and not just say) that I’m sorry, and they are in a much better position to forgive.
The tuck in has evolved differently with each of my four kids. With my oldest, I’ve found the
bunk bed is not helpful to this routine. We end up on my bed after I’ve said goodnight to all the others, chatting while my other little guy falls asleep on the lower bunk. He’ll still let me sing to him and pet his hair.
I sincerely feel this daily touchstone of chatting can be the key to holding onto him through both tweendom and teendom. In fact, my Aunt Dede (three daughters) and Uncle John (three boys, three girls), each attested to the fact that this one thing was why they ended up with kids they stayed close to, and who all ended up on the right track in life.
My oldest daughter, now six, will let me fawn on her and dote and croon and sing all night if I wanted to. There must be butterfly kisses, eskimo kisses, endless kisses and cuddles. She was born with an insatiable craving for this kind of encompassing affection, and I’m sad to say she gets just about none of it most days outside of the tuck in. Without this nightly routine, one of her deepest, most urgent emotional needs would be left unmet.
My three-year old goes through the nightly routine of resisting the tuck in at first, because that means bed, “No! NO song! No mommy sing. Go away.” But then he succumbs with all sorts of cuddly goodness. Of course there is the water getting and the request for a second dinner to be served in bed, which is rarely indulged, unless I served something truly gross for dinner which warranted his rejection. Then, he refuses a song as often as he begs for one. His favorite song for the past six months is “Pumpkin in the Straw” (sung to “Turkey in the Straw”) which I made up last Halloween because he requested a pumpkin song. I didn’t know I’d be singing it until he went to college.
Our routine often ends with a kiss, hug, and squeeze, in that order. Tonight I hugged him and, mildly distracted, went to leave. It was the highlight of my day to hear him say, “Mommy! A Fweeze! I need a fweeze!” No matter how many times I’ve been roped into coming back after trying to leave, who could deny that?
I’m just starting a routine with my little 21 month old, who has been babied far to long and put down asleep. Although it’s just a song and kiss, she knows it means I love her and she’s going to bed, like it or not. It’s simple, but it’s a basic foundation for all those late night chats I look forward to when she comes home from a date in 15 years.
I then can emerge from the kids’ room like I would a confessional, feeling free of guilt and ready to try harder. Stephen Covey would say I’ve brought my children’s emotional bank accounts current, especially on those days I’ve become severly overdrawn. And for the good days, I’ve got a little padding, in case grumpy mommy escapes again.
The simple bedtime tuck in–it covers a multitude of parental sins.