Rich just finished teaching a 9-week parenting class at church, and one of the books he often quoted was H. Clay Trumbull's Hints on Child Training. Written in 1891 by Elisabeth Elliot's grandfather, this book is better than most contemporary offerings on the subject. The title is a bit humble - I would consider Trumbull's thoughts to be more than "hints." I have been re-reading it, and while the whole book is excellent, there were a few chapters that really made an impression on me. One of them, which ministered to me greatly, was "the power of a mother's love." I thought about speaking about that, and then another chapter that was titled "Good-Night Words," made an impression on me. It spoke of that tender time when we put our children to bed, and our opportunity to make a huge impression on our children at that time. The way and method of how we do such can touch their hearts in a very special way. Here is an exerpt from that chapter and what I shared at the shower. It's a bit long, so get yourself a nice cup of coffee or tea and enjoy these words of wisdom from over a hundred years ago!
If there is one time more than another when children ought to hear only loving words from their parents, and be helped to feel that theirs is a home of love and gladness, it is when they are going to bed at night. Good-night words to a child ought to be the best of words, as they are words of greatest potency. Yet not every parent realizes this important truth, nor does every child have the benefit of it.
The last waking thoughts of a child have a peculiar power over his mind and heart, and are influential in fixing his impressions and in shaping his character for all time. When he turns from play and playmates, and leaves the busy occupations of his little world, to lie down by himself to sleep, a child has a sense of loneliness and dependence which he does not feel at another time. Then he craves sympathy; he appreciates kindness; he is grieved by harshness or cold neglect.
How glad a true child is to kneel by his mother's knee to pray his evening prayer, or to have his father kneel with him as he prays! How he enjoys words of approval and encouragement when they precede the good-night kiss from either parent! With what warm and grateful affection his young heart glows as he feels the tender impress of his mother's hand or lips upon his forehead before he drops asleep. How bright and dear to him that home seems at such an hour! How sorry he is for every word or act of unkindness which he then recalls from his conduct of the day! How ready he is to confess his specific acts of misdoing, and all his remembered failures, and to make new resolves and purposes for better doing for the future!
There is perhaps no one thing in which parents generally more liable to err than in impatient or unloving words to their children when their little ones are going to bed. The parents are tired, and their stock of patience is at its lowest. If the children are not quiet and orderly and prompt as they should be, the parents rebuke them more sharply than they would for similar offenses during the day. Too often children go to bed smarting under a sense of injustice from their parents, and brood over their troubles as they try to quiet themselves down to sleep. Their pillows are often wet with their tears of sorrow, and their little hearts are, perhaps, embittered and calloused through the abiding impressions of the wrong they have suffered, or the harshness they have experienced, while they were most susceptible to parental influences for good or ill.
Even where there is no harshness or manner or severity of treatment on the part of the parents, there is often an unwise giving of prominence, just then, to a child's faults and failures, so as to sadden and depress the child unduly, and to cast a shade over that hour which ought to be the most hopeful and restful of all waking hours. Whatever is said by a parent in the line of instruction toward a better course, at such a time, should be in the way of holding up a standard to be reached out after, rather than of rebuking the child's misdoings and shortcomings in the irrevocable past. The latest waking impressions of every day, on every child, ought to be impressions of peace and joy and holy hope.
A wise parent will prize and will rightly use the hour of the children's bedtime. That is the golden hour for good impressions on the children's hearts. That is the parent's choicest opportunity for holy influence. There should be no severity then, no punishment at that time. Every word spoken in that hour should be a word of gentleness and affection. The words which are most likely to be borne in the mind by the children, in all their later years, as best illustrating the spirit and influence of their parents, are the good-night words of those parents. And it may be that those words are the last that the parents shall ever have the privilege of speaking to their children; for every night of sleep is a pregnant suggestion of the night of the last sleep. Let then, the good-night words of parents to their children be always those words by which the parents would be glad to be remembered when their voices are forever hushed; and which they themselves can gladly recall if their children's ears are never again open to good-night words from them.
Now, I know there are times when a child does need discipline at bedtime; I recall the many years of putting the children to bed and then hearing the pitter-patter of little feet coming towards the living room! But, this really speaks in general of making that time a profitable time as much as you can. Make bedtime special and be sure you are accessible and not distracted.
When children are very little, this may include an age appropriate bible story and prayer time, and of course snuggle time (kids love it when you climb in their bed and linger). As they get older, you can read straight from God's word, or even start a series, or read something like Pilgrim's Progress that provokes gospel conversation. I know it is a time when you are tired from the day and are most tempted to want to get them in bed as fast as possible, but if you are proactive in planning bedtime, it can be of rich benefit to your children. They will enjoy the time spent with you, no matter how you choose to do it.
I have to say this, too: Two of our children came to us at night to express concern over their spiritual state. This was after they were in bed, and they came to our room to pour out what was in their hearts. And even though Drew doesn't sleep here much anymore, when he does, he comes and sits on our bed and unloads on us (in a good way!) It just shows you what a special time of day that is! May God help you to redeem that special time.