My perfect ending to our day would look like this:
Dinner ready and on the table by 5:15 (cooked by anyone but me). The children bathed (of course!) and in their pyjamas (maybe with their hair still wet), gathered around the living room while my husband reads aloud to us after a long day. He’d close us with Scripture and prayer and we’d usher the children to bed with kisses and soft spoken words. As we closed the door to the children’s bedrooms, we’d smile, look at each other, and have this great feeling of the day concluding perfectly.
Oh, and those dinner dishes and the kitchen? All clean and tidy, ready for a new day … cleaned by the kitchen fairies.
“Do you think we could try and read together as a family at night? You know, lots of families do. And reading together would be so good for our family,” I’ve asked my husband over the years.
His answer: “It’s just not for our family, for this season. Tell me how it would work when we’re racing to get dinner on the table, and it feels so chaotic? Trying to add in a read aloud time with the entire family is just not for us.”
Sometimes I would think I heard him say, “Someday,” but I wasn’t really sure, and I was always disappointed that he didn’t even want to try.
Truth be told he was right. If we were going to try for something of an evening, we may as well try for something that would fit with our current reality.
We have six children. Our oldest is currently 10 and our youngest is 21 months. On a regular, we-haven’t-run-errands-and-are-running-late evening, our newly-turned-4-year-old is in bed by 6:45 pm, our 21-month-old by 7:00 pm, 5-year-old by 7:15 pm, 6-year-old by 7:30 pm, and 8- and 9-year-olds are in bed by 7:45 pm (though they somehow manage to stretch it to 8:00 pm).
We didn’t decide on this schedule; it just evolved as our oldest got older and her bedtime got later, but the younger ones were still going to bed at the original time that worked for us.
For almost two hours we’re doing some sort of bedtime with someone. We stagger bedtime because that’s what works for us — and that’s why a family read aloud doesn’t. At least not yet. (Reading aloud tends to work best with me reading at lunchtime. Daddy misses out on our read aloud but it’s OK, for this season.)
Somewhere along the line I asked if it would be OK if I cleaned the kitchen of an evening while he prayed with the children and tucked them into bed. If it worked out for me to join in, I would. But if he took care of bedtime and I took care of the kitchen, by the time the children were in bed, we could both take a deep breath.
This is the (perfect) evening routine for us during this season. It feels far from a picturesque evening of our family all together until bedtime, enjoying a good book and relaxing together in a hushed, dimly lit room.
We still felt like, even with my husband praying with each of our children, they weren’t getting enough one-on-one time with us on a given day. Taking into account that we staggered bedtime, we decided to start bedtime with each child 15 minutes earlier. In that 15 minutes, they get in their pyjamas (if not already), go to the kitchen for a quick drink, and while I’m playing “kitchen fairy” they’ll say goodnight to me there. Then my husband snuggles up to read a book just for that child, prays with her, and tucks her into bed.
It’s a beautiful time for each of our children. While I wish we could both be there to read aloud, pray, and tuck them in, for now it works beautifully.
I’ll be honest. I sort of wish it were me being able to read to them, pray with them, and tuck them into bed. Or I’d at least like to be a part of it. But really, I’ve been with my children all day – we’ve read together, prayed together, eaten lunch together, and read together again. I’ve had the joy of wiping their tears, laughing at their antics, and teaching them life lessons of how to resolve conflict, bake cookies, or complete a chore well. We’ve ran errands, visited friends, played under the sprinkler, been to the park, skipped down the street while picking up speed and running away from that gigantic purple lion that’s as big as our house, and the list goes on.
I’ve had so many moments with each of my children throughout the day. They need this time with their daddy, and he needs it with them.
So, I’ll say it again: it’s the perfect routine that works for us for this season of our life.
And those book choices? Well, this is what we’re reading at the moment:
4 year old (6:15-6:30 pm) Little Bear
5 year old (6:45-7:00 pm) Frog and Toad
7 year old (7:00-7:15 pm) Little Pilgrim’s Progress
8 year old (7:15-7:30 pm) The Jungle Book
9 year old (7:30-7:45 pm) Unknown to History
If you follow the AmblesideOnline curriculum you may notice that some of these books are assigned books for certain years or a free read.
As books (or treasuries) end, they’ll choose another one to read through together.
For now this works well for us, and I’ll take it!