“Man, I’m proud of you!” I whispered. “Sometimes you blow my mind.”
“Because there are times you are just so selfless. It’s like I am seeing Jesus as I watch you!”
“Uh, that’s weird. And what’s selfless?”
I lay on my seven-year-old daughter’s bed in the quiet darkness. My wife sat across the room with our other daughter, talking in hushed tones about her day.
“Selfless is like the opposite of selfish. It’s when you give to other people instead of expecting them to give to you. It’s when you serve and show love, no matter what.”
“I don’t remember doing that today.”
“Well, I saw it several times. When you offered your sister the only blanket in the car, even though you were chilly too, that was so selfless. When you offered your cousin the seat in the van that you wanted, that was selfless. And, what’s even more exciting to me is that you didn’t even notice how selfless you were being because it’s just a part of who you are! You are becoming so much like Jesus that it defines you. I’m so proud I might cry.”
“I’ve never seen you cry.”
“Yes, you have. When the Royals won the World Series.”
These conversations in a quiet bedroom at night have become so valuable for our relationship. Bedrooms are intimate places in which proverbial walls tend to come down. Similar to the way a husband and wife might discuss their hopes, fears, pains, frustrations, and joys within the intimacy of their bedroom, our kids’ bedrooms can also act as the same platform.
In Think Orange, Reggie Joiner talks about the meaningful conversations that can happen between a parent and child in the kid’s bedroom. “There is something about the private domain of a child’s room that gives the parent a chance to have an intimate conversation and become the kind of counselor who listens to the heart of a child.” In the same way that I knew my daughter would be receptive to my praise of her selflessness in her bedroom at the end of the day, she seems to instinctively know that her bedroom is a good place to unload her own feelings.
We have helped them build both a literal and metaphorical comfort zone. Each night at bedtime, we, the parents, are invited in.
Reggie Joiner goes on, “Have you ever seen a child get mad and go to her room and shut the door? It’s like she is saying, ‘I am upset with you and closing you out.’ The door to a child’s room is an important metaphorical door to keep open.”
A child’s bedroom is the most natural place for intimate conversation. It is likely the only space in the house they’ve been allowed to customize to their liking, choosing a bedspread they like, what stuffed animals go on it, what posters are on the wall, what trophies are displayed on the shelf, what books are on the bedside table, etc. The whole house is the family’s house, but a child’s bedroom is their space. They own it. They’re responsible for cleaning it. They get to decorate it. As a result, we have helped them build both a literal and metaphorical comfort zone. Each night at bedtime, we, the parents, are invited in.
Sometimes we can use these moments to teach, but more often it is a perfect time to reflect and listen. Use these times to offer praise rather than admonition so that your kids fall asleep knowing how proud you are. Use these times to ask some basic, probing questions to get conversation started (if questions are needed—with my girls there’s usually no shortage of conversation). At my daughter’s bedside, she is likely to finally open up about what’s been bothering her or tell me what she’s nervous about. In these quiet moments of prayer, she has asked more spiritual questions than any other time. She asks me about what God thinks of her or how we know God is real. She has asked about God’s plan for her life. Just the other night, she asked when she was finally going to hear (audibly) from God.
As kids get older, they get easier and easier to put to bed. Actually, my wife and I sent our girls to bed (as opposed to took them to bed) for the very first time recently. We felt this moment of freedom. We looked at each other and said, “That was it?!” Sending them to bed was so much easier! Hellllooo Netflix by 8 p.m.!
We quickly realized, though, how much we would miss our bedside conversations. We felt like we knew our girls’ hearts, and that they knew ours, because of these times in the quiet darkness, surrounded by stuffed unicorns and Beauty and the Beast posters. As tempting as it was to start sending them to bed on their own, we couldn’t let go of these times. And we didn’t want to deprive the girls of our listening ears. These are our chances to play the role of spiritual and emotional counselors, part of our parenting job description that our kids need us to take seriously.
Moses said to all of Israel, “And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7, NLT, emphasis added). There’s something about faith conversations at the bedside that made them even important enough to mention to the whole of the nation after Moses received the commandments from God.
Don’t let the call of a sink full of dishes or new episodes of your favorite show steer you away from these opportunities with your kids. Whether they’re three or thirteen, their bedroom is where you’ll have the most open line of communication with them. Use it to talk. Use it to listen. Use it to know each other.