Lessons from a sleep-deprived night

As I write this article, I realize that when I finish, I need to go to confession. It’s hard to find a confessional booth in a Baptist church, so I’ll just look for a nearby bathroom stall.

Remember a long time ago when you were frustrated with one of your children and loudly proclaimed, “I hope one of these days, you have a kid just like yourself!”

You didn’t mean it, because why would you want to curse your future grandchild that way? But 20 years later, those words come back to haunt you.

My youngest son Caleb, father of my two grandsons, works in the same building I do. So each morning, I get a report on what happened in their home the night before.  I often look up and watch him come dragging down the hallway.

“How was your night?” I ask, knowing by the bloodshot eyes, droopy shoulders, wrinkled clothes and slow shuffle that he didn’t get much sleep. With slurred speech, he responds, “Cohen the Goodhearted was teething, and he screamed all night. We rocked him and gave him baby Tylenol, but he wouldn’t quit. About five o’clock in the morning, he finally went to sleep. Thirty minutes later, we heard an angelic little voice calling out, ‘Gooooood morning; time to get up!’ Dad, I only had a half-hour of sleep.”

I try to put on my concerned father face, but deep inside, I feel a chuckle begin as I think, You don’t know how many nights you kept us up.

Still, I try to let him know I understand what he is going through. I can tell he doesn’t really believe I ever spent a night with a screaming, teething child or one who is erupting like a volcano out of both ends.

Yes, it’s been a number of years since we had little children living in our home, and we tend to forget those late nights spent walking the floor, attempting to soothe the inconsolable. As I journey with my children through raising their own children, I need to remind myself of five things:

  1. Grace, not gloat: As grandparents, we sometimes think we need to remind our children of every pain they caused us. “Do you know how many hours your mom was in labor only to have you come home and keep us up all night?” Let’s extend some grace during the difficult season of child-raising. Try saying, “You’re doing a great job taking care of this little screamer.”
  2. Encourage, not educate: We often get into educate mode. “Well, you should have tried this …” as we explain what we used to do in the old days. If it were up to my grandmother, the answer for everything would be a tablespoon of honey and a shot of whiskey. (This may be the reason I don’t drink alcohol to this day.) Yes, you may have some good things to teach them, but there is a time to educate and a time to encourage. When your adult child is sleepwalking from exhaustion is a time for encouragement.
  3. Help, not history: One of the things we senior adults like to do is relate every current event to something in the past. “I remember when you screamed for three days and three nights without taking a single breath.” (When you told the story last year, the screaming lasted two days and two nights.) But now isn’t the time for a history lesson. How about offering a helping hand instead? “Can I bring you a meal or take care of the other children while this one is struggling through the teething process?”
  4. Reflect and respond: Sometimes we forget what raising children is like. My wife and I spent many nights lighting candles and begging Jesus to come back. We couldn’t wait for the break of day to come because of one or more sick children. Now, we need to remember how difficult those times were and respond to our children with a soft touch and a kind heart. All we need to do is to let them know we feel their pain.
  5. Amnesia plus accolades: Sometimes it’s best to forget when and how you did things; just induce a little child-rearing amnesia on yourself. And then give the new parents some accolades for making it through the night and dragging into the office looking like something from The Walking Dead.

So here I am, sitting in the stall and praying: God, when Caleb comes down the hallway tomorrow, please remind me of what I wrote. After all, You could pull out a bigger list than I can telling me how much pain I’ve caused. But instead, You always extend grace.

Heavenly Father, help me be like You.