Yesterday morning I heard an article on NPR encouraging parents to build their children’s love of math by giving them a math problem to solve along with their evening bedtimes story each day. OK, love of math is a good thing. But, I am wondering if making it the last word of the day is what we want to do. Children lead fairly intense lives. Part of the reason for the bedtime rituals of water, stories, prayers, more water, hugs, more water… is to help children settle down, feel safe and secure, and thus be able to go to sleep. It is a magical time when parents can help children resolve hanging issues from the day and remind children of the truly important things about themselves and about life in general.
So as families re-establish school routines, I would encourage parents to dedicate themselves to being very intentional with their children about this. In a way parents become their children’s pastors as together they think back through the day identifying things for which to praise and thank God and things for which to apologize to God. This creates opportunities to talk about whatever needs to be discussed. Gifts, growing abilities, good deeds, and just pure fun can be celebrated. Failures (like that bad grade) and disasters (like kicking your friend on the bus) can be addressed. Plans can be made for needed corrections and all the bad feelings around them set in the context of God’s and the parent’s forgiving love and faith in the child. With younger children, the parents can offer the discussed parts of the day to God aloud in prayer with the child. In the process the day’s joy’s and woes are diffused AND the parent models prayer for the child. Older children can be encouraged to take over the praying aloud first in the parent’s presence, later on their own.
Some families conclude this discussion and prayer with the parent signing the child’s forehead with a cross or simply kissing the child and saying a ritual line such as “Remember always that God loves you and I love you – no matter what.”
This is powerfully important stuff and it is simple to do. It requires no special books or equipment. Back to school time is an ideal time to encourage families to initiate it or to build on what they already do. This encouragement could be offered during worship in sermons (several of the texts coming up in the RCL provide opportunities for this) OR in a letter to families with school age children, OR in a newsletter article. So, put it on your August to-do list.
…..and, if math loving parents want to include a problem in the bedtime line-up, bedtime drawing out children will probably welcome the addition. Just make sure the last word of the day is God’s love.