A recent UK study of 10,000 children shows that children with a consistent bedtime are significantly less likely to misbehave, while children with erratic bedtimes “demonstrate symptoms similar to jet lag” and are prone to disobedience. Well, duh.
Anyone who’s raised kids knows this. Kids need sleep. Kids need consistency. Kids need a schedule that allows their little bodies and minds to adapt to a consistent rhythm. Growing up without a regular and predictable schedule “induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning,” observes one of the study’s authors. “It follows that disruptions to sleep, especially if they occur at key times in development, could have important lifelong impacts on health.”
So what should parents do? Well, of course, they should regiment their lives in order to get their kids on a consistent schedule. Which will mean sacrifice on their part. Those new parents who have recently declined their friends’ invitation for drinks at 9 because their toddler needs to be in bed by 7 know exactly what I’m talking about. Having kids changes your life. You make sacrifices for the good of your children. And sometimes those sacrifices are significant.
But we live in a culture of self-worship, where nothing must interrupt your right to utter and total self-determination. So the authors of this study go out of their way to reassure parents who are already doing the math in their heads and lamenting their lost freedom. “Family routines can be difficult to maintain when parents are working long and potentially unsociable hours,” they write. “Thus policy development is needed to better support families to provide conditions in which young children can flourish.” Rest assured that in the wake of feminism and individualism, the “policy development” in question won’t include encouraging parents to work less, pay off debt and reduce their income needs, and make economic and career sacrifices for the sake of their children. Rather, the policy wonks will propose more government intervention, more company-sponsored daycares, more nanny-state bureaucracy.
But, you ask: how do I know this? Isn’t this just inflammatory rhetoric? Aren’t I guilty of reactionism, conservatism, fundamentalism, and whatever other -isms are currently unfashionable? Aren’t I prognosticating rather confidently about a future that remains in flux?
Maybe. I guess it’s possible that the academic and political taste-makers could suddenly begin to affirm mothers choosing to stay at home during their kids’ formative years. I guess it’s possible that advertisers and credit card companies could encourage couples to consume less, live more simply, and incur less debt. I guess it’s possible that public opinion could sway back toward the stable nuclear family, where kids have a predictable bedtime routine, not to mention predictable mealtimes and predictable family rhythms and predictable gender roles.
But it’s not likely.
So, moms and dads: I’ll go ahead and tell you what no one else will tell you. You’ve been entrusted with little human beings made in the image of God. The most significant thing you’ll ever do in life will be the shaping, training, forming, and raising of these eternal souls. The Bible, common sense, and social science all tell you that the rhythms you build into them right now will affect their development and their flourishing. So don’t disdain the little things. Achieving a regular bedtime doesn’t seem like a huge parenting triumph. In fact, it will feel pretty… routine. But according to the research, it’s anything but.
What’s more, not disdaining the little things means taking stock of bigger things – things like budgets and work schedules and life goals and career decisions. Consider this your encouragement toward a little family “policy development.” Are your life decisions creating “conditions in which young children can flourish?” God and future generations are going to praise or blame you – not Miss Maggie’s Daycare or Neighborhood Public School – for how your kids turn out.
“A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (Proverbs 10:1).