Bedtime: A word representing that time of day for a parent that either inspires anticipation or instills dread. For a great many of us, the latter is the case, for when we announce, "It's bedtime!" -- our children often tap into some previously undiscovered energy reserve, which is then channeled into arguing, protesting, and if your children are like mine, the ancient ninja art of escape.
Sometimes, we give in, too tired ourselves to fight, and then they fall asleep in the most unlikely places:
If such a scenario has never happened to you, well, consider yourself fortunate, because, for the rest of us who traverse this ritual on an almost nightly basis, this part of the day can be a nearly constant source of stress.
This morning, however, I had an epiphany surrounding the bedtime ritual, so indulge me for a moment as I provide a bit of background and context.
While viewing various media, we, as parents, are often led to believe that certain products are the solution to life's problems, and let's be honest -- many are. Certain brands of laundry pre-wash spray have saved my family wads of cash by preventing us from having to spend obnoxious amounts of money replacing well-worn clothes that have seen the heat of playground war. However, many, if not most, advertisements exaggerate claims by painting the picture that our hectic and unmanageable lives will suddenly and miraculously right themselves after using certain products. I don't want to name names, but examples abound of seemingly frustrated parents being introduced to a cleaning product, baby care product or portable food item that changes their lives immediately.
This article is not, however, yet another treatise on truth in advertising, so stick around...
What this type of advertising does to all of us, especially parents, is subconsciously orient our way of thinking to focus on products as sole solutions, so that the next time we encounter a problem, regardless of the nature of that problem, we put on our product search glasses and look for products that can solve it. Think about it. Your child is lagging behind in math? Buy flash cards or study software.
Food for thought: How many of life's normal, everyday problems do we approach with mindless, automatic thinking that we can remedy any problem with a product?
It probably comes as no surprise that we carry around this subconscious consumer-oriented approach to problem-solving, seeing as how we've been exposed to marketing messages all our lives, but what if there was another way of looking at things?
As this thought arrived in quiet reflection, the first part of the epiphany came to me.
How many times during my children's lives have I been so focused on some sort of end product that I missed out on the process of arriving there? The list didn't take long to fill in: walking, potty-training, talking, eating solid food, success at school, romantic relationships, driving, first job, ad nauseum. The list was nearly endless. At each and every stage, I was so focused on achieving an end goal (or product) that I hurried my children through the process, and now, possibly one of my biggest regrets as a parent is not having clearer memories of the details marking the transformation that occurs within each process.
The second part of the epiphany came when I wondered if this product-oriented approach to parenting could be the root cause behind the disease of parental perfectionism. After all, at nearly each and every moment in our children's lives, it is easy to imagine an ideal to which they must aspire. For example, I knew what the developmental milestones were in my kids' lives and I anxiously watched for them. My eyes always assessed the end product and what it took to get there.
Perfection, however, is an ideal, and by definition, unattainable, if we treat it as a product to be had. How might our lives change if we used a process-oriented perspective instead? What if I accepted the fact that perfection is an ever-moving concept? What if I focused instead on appreciating the power of the moment and savoring the process of transformation?
Take a look at the following 43-second video and ponder the following question: At which point is the rose perfect?
Answer: You will see perfection if you pause the video at any moment along the time continuum, but only if you appreciate of the inherent beauty found within transformation, instead of focusing only on your anticipation of a fully-bloomed rose.
As I think back to scores of memories of the dreaded bedtime ritual, I realize now that my stress came from within, from me being too focused on an end product and frustrated whenever that end product did not materialize. I then think about what might happen if I appreciate the act of closing yet another day I was fortunate enough to spend with my children, and that is when I realize that I may have prevented regrettably terrible things I may have said or done out of frustration.
Sure, the tradeoff might be later bedtimes on some nights, but those regrets are considerably less expensive when considering the value of the memories I instill of time spent savoring each beautiful moment with my children.