Sleep Is One of the Five Most Important Things for Families

Amy Rees
January 29, 2009

Call us conflicted.  We tend to cast a jaundiced eye at the "new year, new you" promises we hear this time of year.  And, yet, we place real faith in any opportunity for reflection that offers a bit of perspective, a perch from which we can look at ourselves, see what we like, wince a little at what we don't, and resolve to tip the balance a bit going forward.

We especially like the chance for a wide view, a sweep across parenting's horizon.   

Of all the things we do as parents, what really matters? 

What really doesn't? 

Put your hand up to your brow and gaze out with us:

Kindness really matters.  Sometimes that means good old-fashioned manners -- asking politely, looking someone in the eye, learning to apologize.  Sometimes that means the little flickers of empathy in a preschooler's world, starting with taking turns.  Always that means treating everyone in your family, your crew and your world with respect.  And tough as it is, grown-ups gotta lead on this one.  Kids only learn it in one place, and they only learn it once:  here and now.

Reading really matters.  Talk to your kids, using and explaining real words as needed.  Read to your kids -- stories, poems, street signs.  Rhyme and make word games.  Sing, and sing loudly.  Take your kids to a library or a bookstore for a treat, and you've equated a book with a cupcake.  Gold star!

A mantra really matters.  Families who know who they are and what they're doing have a secret: they have a family motto.  And they repeat that motto like a mantra, when times are good and bad,  writing it in invisible ink above their mailbox as a sign of them.  "Each year, each child" is one that works wonders -- a reminder to commit only so far as what each particular child needs most from school, life, his world for that year.  "The days are long, but the years are short" is another with profound resonance.  There's even wisdom in "if Mama's not happy, nobody's happy," right? Whatever works for you.  Define it and repeat it.

Sleep really matters -- or at least rest, or downtime.  You can be pretty sure that no one in your family is getting as much sleep as she should.  Remember when he was a babe in arms and the surest remedy for Sudden Onset Fussiness was a nap or a snack?  Same rules apply for toddlers, preschoolers, preteens and grown-ups.  Take it easy, take a break, go play, go rest, call it off/early/in.  Tomorrow is another day.

Being open really matters.  To people.  To changes, life's curveballs.  To new foods.  To ourselves.

And from the "eh, not so much" list? 

We'd start with: being the first (or last) kid to walk, talk, stay dry, know the alphabet, or absolutely anything else doesn't matter one bit. 

And we'd end with:  being a perfect parent doesn't matter one bit either.  It's also impossible, which helps.  Parenthood is humbling, from the first instant on.  Accept it, and stop beating yourself about the ways in which you're not living up to unrealistic standards, likely of your own invention.  The more we look around, the more realize this:  the best we can really do for our kids is love them completely, tell them so and keep trying to get out of their way.

In between those two, what else doesn't matter much?  We're sure you've got a plenty long list of your own.... 

From the Parents

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