Today I want to dive into a child-led parenting topic that we can all deeply relate to, and that is Bedtime Rituals.
Every single day we wake up, and every night, after another day of growing, working, playing, we close our eyes and drift off into life-sustaining rest.
No matter what your personal parenting style may be, we can all agree that the bedtime process is one of the most important moments we share with our children. Creating and incorporating a healthy set of bedtime rituals around this daily moment helps us bring balance into our process.
I love the word ritual and what it represents. It holds a sacred and enriching feeling for me rather than the word routine, or even habit. I feel myself being called to perform rituals, bringing that richness into my day, every day. I noticed this in my coaching, as I’ve been working one on one with clients for almost a decade now, the bulk of the work that I do with them (no matter what they come to me for) is related to their rituals. Because these rituals are what form the rhythm of our entire lives. In the end, it always comes down to these little details: what we choose each day.
What are your daily rituals? What are you choosing daily, weekly, seasonally?
I know that I wasn’t necessarily taught the importance of rituals as I was growing up. There are a few memories that come to mind when I think about my upbringing and the rituals I always enjoyed. Like one that I hold on to, that was big in my family, we would make these sounds with our fingers and sprinkle dream dust as we went to bed. I also have really sweet memories, when I was at my dad’s house, he would massage my back. But overall, I don’t recall a lot of other rituals from those days, or really any set of routines beyond brushing teeth before bed being encouraged.
I am a creature who is always seeking balance. Sometimes the way that we find balance is by hitting up against our edges, finding ourselves stuck in a space of too much consistency or too much chaos, sometimes we swing from one extreme to the other until we find our rhythm. The longer I am in this relationship with Ilya (that’s my three-year-old), I recognize the importance of having a steady, consistent rhythm to our day, while maintaining room for flexibility.
Ilya has helped me become a more balanced being.
There is something so sacred and powerful about grounding down with our children at the end of the day. Like, literally, to ground in and honor the day we’ve just had. Making sure our nervous system has the time to relax into that parasympathetic state, easing our way into sleep. As I am talking about this, I can feel it… like a sunset. Imagine the warmth of the sun as it’s setting, you’re being held by the space surrounding you. Like a nurturing caregiver creating an environment that lulls you into a state of ease and relaxation, you simply slip into sleep, just like that last ray of light as the sun dips past the horizon.
There is this continuum we go through, mama and child. From, literally, carrying this seed inside of us (if you carried your child), then evolving as we separate from each other as our child leaves our body. And once outside of our body, they continue to grow more and more autonomously, and become their own being. However, throughout this process, there is a co-regulating relationship that our children really need, in order to succeed in their process of becoming their own being. The degree to which our children naturally regulate with us shifts over time as they become more of their own leader, but it is a continuum. One which, on some level, may exist forever.
I think about this, about the energy that we embody in this process, and how powerfully we are impacting our children. In these early years, it’s important to offer our children a grounded source of energy, so that we are offering them healthy co-regulation, as opposed to dis-regulation. In our family, we have found ways to do this that work really well for us, and I think our bedtime rituals will highlight a lot of them that are easy to relate to and gain inspiration from.
Our family falls on the more radical side of the spectrum, with unique elements that don’t always fit into a status quo. Because of this, it sometimes surprises people to know that we tend to live a pretty routine life. We all place a lot of value on our self-care rituals and sleep is no exception.
So, what does this look like for us?
Our Bedtime Rituals:
We usually have our evening meal around 4:30 or 5 o’clock. After that, we wind down with a gentle playful activity. We love to take a walk around the neighborhood, or in the woods by our house. Taking time outside, putting our feet on the earth to literally ground ourselves and sync up with nature. Sometimes we take a bike ride or go walk over to a place we call the meadow to watch the sun as it begins to set.
We currently live in Austin, Texas, and right now it’s super-hot, so this time of year we don’t tend to go for walks, and instead, we’ll do some gentle playing inside. We have these things called magna tiles we really love to play with, or we will build little forts or houses for cars. Lately, Ilya has been really excited about hide and seek, so we have been playing that. Another favorite of ours is a game we play with the “Animal Kin Oracle” cards we have, which Ilya really loves. We will play charades; we pull out the cards and maybe pretend to be the different animals or make the sounds the animals make. We do this until around six o’clock, and then we begin our bedtime rituals.
Lately Ilya’s been having a sleepy time tincture. Ilya really enjoys this part, which is less about the tincture and more about the ritual and what it signifies. I’ll say “Ilya, do you want your sleepy time tincture?” And Ilya will say, “Yeah!” and Ilya will repeat things I’ve said, like “It helps me sleep through the night, and sleep with peace and ease.” It’s these words we use, the language we choose, that sets the intentions. As we form these stories we tell ourselves, they literally become our beliefs. It is a powerful time to set intentions, and the Sleepy Time tincture has been a fun way for us to do that.
Next, Ilya pees and then we’ll go to the bedroom where everything’s all set up for bed. We have low lighting in our house, we don’t use any fluorescent lights, in fact we don’t use any light bulbs except salt lamps. This keeps us in rhythm with nature, and so when we go into the bedroom, it’s already low lighting. I’ve already closed the shades. I usually set this up after dinner, it takes me like two minutes just to make sure the bed is ready so all the things we need for our bedtime rituals are ready when Ilya gets to the family bedroom for our remaining rituals.
Then, we usually watch an episode or two of a short show (3-4 minutes long), when it’s in the flow. Ilya has recently been into Puffin Rock. This has been a helpful process for us, because teeth brushing hasn’t always been something that Ilya’s enjoyed. So, when we brush while we do a show, Ilya can relax and enjoy the process, and even have fun being a part of it and practicing brushing without our help too. Then I’ll brush Ilyas hair with our wide tooth wooden comb. After this, I’ll usually ask if Ilya wants a massage, and if so, we’ll get the jojoba oil and I’ll give Ilya a sweet little massage. This is also when I turn on the rain, which is our little sound machine that makes the sound of the rain. Then, Ilya and I lay down together and do boob (what Ilya calls breastfeeding). We share our moments of gratitude for the day, share that we love each other, and read some books. Usually, it’s only about 1-2 books in, and then Ilya has fallen asleep.
The books that I love reading are based on what I know will be grounding for Ilya’s nervous system, (which is also what is grounding for my nervous system). There is a Smithsonian collection of animal books, which are beautiful because they all focus on different animals. They tell a story about these animals and include really cool and interesting facts interwoven throughout the story. Another series I love, which is older, are National Geographic stories of the “Kids Like to Know” series. They are non-fiction books about animals, times of year, etc. We also really love the “Little Owl” Books series, the illustrations are so creative and “Little Owl’s Night” is a beautiful bedtime story.
After about 5 minutes, I unlatch my breast from Ilya, get up from our bed and watch Ilya on my phone (linked to the Ilya-view camera), as I go about my own evening and bedtime rituals.
This has been our bedtime ritual rhythm for about the last six months, maybe more, and it has been rocking my world, rocking Ilya’s world and honestly has been such a game changer for our family. For so long, we had only elements of this in our bedtime routine. For whatever divine reasons, it just wasn’t happening. Sometimes winding down could end up being up to 2 hours, and it was unpredictable. Ilya wasn’t mature enough or ready for certain aspects of this routine, and for the longest time Ilya wanted to have a sleep dance to fall asleep to, being held by one of us while we danced with Ilya in the pack to soothing music. There are three of us co-parenting Ilya, and we’ve practiced attachment parenting, so pretty much from the day of birth, nursing and being rocked to sleep was our ritual. However, once Ilya hit about age 2-and-a-half, and 30lbs of long body, the sleep-dances were pretty taxing on our bodies, and we knew we needed a new ritual.
Needless to say, having this new routine of bedtime rituals has been epic for us as a family.
I love it so much! And so does Ilya. Ilya will even ask for bedtime rituals when Ilya feels ready.
Ilya is three years and two months now and I have chosen to follow a child-led weaning/long-term breastfeeding method for our breastfeeding ritual. I’m available for nursing whenever Ilya wants to, of course checking in with myself and making sure I feel aligned as well, and so far, it really does. Because of this we’ve had an interesting sleep journey. I’ve gotten so many questions about this, around nursing at night and other related topics.
Look out for my next podcast at “Parenting our Children, Re-parenting Ourselves” where I will explore my reasons for child-led weaning and answer these questions.
There is so much shifting as babies grow into their own young being and having these rituals and a routine really helps a child find their own self-led rhythm. I know for us in our family, we were really craving a steady routine for a long time. From my experience, I believe it just happens on different timelines for different children and families. Some people choose to organize their own process in certain ways, depending on what really makes sense for them and their family. I recognize that I choose a path of deep surrender, encouraging radical autonomy for Ilya. I really want Ilya to be the one guiding a lot of what we do, when in line with my instincts, offering Ilya my support.
Thank you for tuning into this blog about the bedtime rituals in our family. I hope that this will stimulate new ideas and areas of growth within your own parenting style and family rituals.
Check out my podcast “Parenting our Children, Re-parenting Ourselves” where you can find this episode on Bedtime Rituals and more.
Keep an eye out for the upcoming episode where I will jump into the world of long-term or natural-term breastfeeding and child-led weaning.
We have some amazing episodes planned for season 2 of the podcast, where we will connect with other bad-ass beings who I admire.
If you are interested in One-on-One Coaching with me: Check out my programs and set up a free 20-min Consultation: https://brittanytaylor.co/coaching
Check out my Toothpaste Recipe for Natural Mama’s here:
RESOURCES FOR THE BEDTIME PRODUCTS REFERENCED IN THIS BLOG:
Animal Kin Oracle Cards:
Sleepy time tincture:
Salt lamp lights: https://amzn.to/3PZYGuS
Wide-tooth wooden comb: https://amzn.to/3d8qr61
Sound machine: https://amzn.to/3vDvx0i
Jojoba oil: https://amzn.to/3QhajgH
BOOKS FOR BEDTIME:
“Smithsonian Collection”: https://amzn.to/3BAQYD8
“Kids Want to Know”: https://amzn.to/3d1subU
“Little Owl” books: https://amzn.to/3QmkJvF
CONNECT WITH BRITTANY:
Coaching with Brittany: https://brittanytaylor.co/coaching
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org (For coaching or event inquiries)