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sin and bedtime

When Harvey was a little guy, Leah read a Christian parenting book that suggested, among other things, that keeping your child up past his bedtime was a sin. We hadn't thought of that, but since we didn't have any other ideas it kind of stuck in our minds—Leah's especially. Parenting advice does that; "insider knowledge" in general does that. When you haven't thought about something before, some bit of an idea can get in past your critical filters and become part of your decision-making, even though you never really rationally evaluated the claim. Well, it's safe to say that we've now fully evaluated the bedtime argument and we think it's wrong.

I can't recall precisely, but I imagine the author's thought was that kids are important—more important than social engagements or whatnot. Which is true enough, as far as it goes, and certainly when our boys are breaking down for lack of sleep we'll get em home: that's just basic self-preservation. But there are other things to consider too, like making them feel like they can make decisions for themselves, and letting them participate in activities that stretch a little later than they'd usually be awake.

So the last three nights (to say nothing of countless other nights over the past two-plus years) we've done things that this parenting book would never have approved of. Wednesday Zion went to bed early, but Harvey wanted to stay up late and watch us playing a board game with a friend, and we let him—until he said he was tired and was ready for bed. Yesterday we enjoyed dinner at the food pantry and a visit to the playground and library, and walked home after dark, at around 7:30; both boys fell asleep in the stroller. Today we were out at our church small-group, a very kid-friendly environment, until 8:30 or so.

I value a good night's sleep. Lord knows I wish I had more of them myself. But I also value spending time with friends and having fun adventures, and I want the kids to see that those things are worthwhile. More, I want them to be able to be part of things that I like if they want to. We might not be telling them that they're the most important thing in the world—or rather, that their sleep is—and that we're going to stop everything we're doing to get them to bed on time, but I hope that we are telling them that they're important enough to be part of the activities that we do as a family, and important enough that we trust them to make decisions about how soon they need to sleep. I don't think there's any sin in that.


I've sortof come around on this as well. I wonder if the book was a backlash against parents who felt that it was spiritual to take their kids to ministry activities every night. In our old church I remember "sacrificing your children" was considered a virtue, so they'd go to bed at 1 or 2am, when ministry ended. Or maybe not....

So these days I guess we're open to staying up later with the kiddies, and open to Noah's bedtime shifting, though in practice SAfricans have all read that book so nobody will stay up with us...

The backlash idea sounds plausible. We're not from that background, so we didn't have any context for the theory. Also, there's no way I'd make it til 1 or 2 myself!

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