My Terrible Bedtime Tale

My Terrible Bedtime Tale

One of the main reasons that my mothering life is easier now with 8 children than it was when my family was smaller is that nowadays I don’t do bedtime.

By 7 PM I’m off duty! So I can run errands, go on a walk, clean up my hurricane-hit kitchen in peace, while my older kids put my younger kids to bed (at least until their charges come downstairs “starving” at 8:30 PM–begging for pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches, 5 cookies…My rule is, though, after bedtime “starving” kids can only eat rice cakes or fruit, that generally reminds them they aren’t so hungry after all…)

Anyway, last night was different.

My older kids were all away on a youth-group hike. So at bedtime it was just me and my young ‘uns.

By that point, it had been a long day already, Yaakov had an interview for 1st grade, which stressed me out, and then I had to prepare our Tu B’Shvat Seder, and then my husband headed out for the airport for a short work trip, which always leaves me feeling emotionally topsy-turvy.

So there I was, at 8 PM, grouchy and topsy-turvy with a 3, 5, and 7 year-old on a dried-fruit sugar high to get to bed.

Despite my best efforts to shepherd them upstairs, 3-year-old Yoni kept on climbing up on the rocking chair to turn the grating Tu B’Shvat CD on at a volume of 52, while 5-year-old Yaakov was chasing 7-year-old, screeching Tsofia around the living room with a dried papaya and a plastic spoon.

I started with a perky, “OK everyone, whoever gets ready for bed and brushes teeth can watch the video! Let’s get going!”

But within a few minutes, my ineffectual bedding efforts descended sharply into, “You better get upstairs, or YOU WILL BE SORRY, believe me!”

And I roared my terrible roars and gnashed my terrible teeth and rolled my terrible eyes…

Until I managed to corral them all upstairs, change their clothing, brush their teeth-through much leg kicking and biting tooth brushes and hiding from me in the upper bunk.

Until, about 20 minutes later, the 3 of them were sitting quietly in front of their Meir Kids video.

By the time the video was done, my older daughters were home. And within a minute my daughter had all the young ‘uns lying peacefully in bed (until Yaakov came downstairs “starving,” and requesting, you guessed it, 5 cookies.)

Anyway, I felt awful after that for an hour or two. Like a grouch. Like a mothering failure. Like an eema who can’t manage the simplest mothering tasks, leaving emotional scars galore.

And then, I went on a walk. And I cleaned my kitchen in peace and listened to a class. And I vegged out in front of a video.

And then, before I went to sleep, I read the following words, based on the wisdom of the Baal HaTanya*:

“Depression is one of the most powerful weapons employed by the Animal Soul.

“He invests tremendous effort into [making us depressed], since he knows that it’s much easier to get us to follow him when we are down and broken.

“Therefore, bear this in mind: if you are in the middle of [performing a mitzvah] , and you get hit with a wave of depression over sins you’ve committed, it’s clearly coming from the Animal Soul, which wants you to give up…”

Which reminded me…

When I beat myself up for my failings, and start getting all down on myself for being a terrible mother, I’m falling right into the trap of the Animal Soul.

He wants us to feel like we are awful mothers so that we will start acting even more awful. “I’m the world’s worst mother anyway, so why even TRY to control myself?” As the screams and spanks and insults ricochet around the home.

Like the woman who breaks her diet with a piece of cake, and then feels so awful about herself, (“I’m fat with no self control, and I’ll always be fat with no self control!”) that she sits herself down and eats the entire cake.

So last night, with that Tanya in mind, I realized I’d eaten an entire piece of cake, but I could still put down my fork.

“I’m a good mother who had a hard night…Like all mothers do sometimes.”

And I walked around to all my sleeping young ‘uns in their beds, to make sure that none had kicked off their blankets…

And I went to bed, and woke up, a new day ahead

* GPS for the Soul by Rabbi Nadav Cohen, pages 204-5


  1. Thank you for this post – especially sharing the wisdom of the Baal HaTayna. We’ve all been there! I am curious, why your older kids are responsible for putting your younger ones to bed at night. Do they mind? Do they hire out?

    • some of my older kids mind, and some like it. So the ones who like it put the younger ones to bed. It’s not officially their responsibility, they just do it! And I’m way too fried by bedtime to deal with bedtime, so I’m happy they do!! I’m not sure what you mean by “hire out.”

  2. I completely identify with you. This post got me thinking, I stopped doing bedtime routine after my fourth baby was born, after about 7 years of doing bedtime with 3 rambunctious boys. I was emotionally scarred, never mind my kids. I realise now 7 years later that only recently I have healed and now, when once in a while my husband isn’t around at bedtime and the task falls on me, I am in a much better place emotionally and not only am i calm but it’s even enjoyable. BUT only once in a while!

  3. I absolutely loved this post, it really made my day. Such wonderful, powerful advice to keep in mind when I’m feeling down on myself! Thank you 🙂

  4. Yes! I think one cause of our mothering falls can be setting our hopes too high. I would have had a calmer night last night, too, if I hadn’t tried setting up a Tu B’Shvat table with everything the kids brought home, only to get supper majorly delayed by one kid’s kinim, which always make me cranky. But without Tu B’Shvat plans, I may have just let them eat corn shnitzel and skip showers while I dealt with reality.
    Very inspiring post!

  5. Thank you, that is a very uplifting, encouraging post!

  6. Great reminder! Thanks so much. As a side note, there is a big rav I have heard say a few times that having 12 kids is easier than having 5, but a lot of people “break” at 5 🙂

  7. love your writing chana jenny. each article is a gem! true enough, more makes it easier. never had much time for bedtime routine letting kids fall asleep on the couch after their basically begging me to bring them upstairs to bed. “soon, soon, i’ll just finish this and that.” leaving the older ones to drag the smaller ones up the stairs and into bed. then i would go up and say shma with each and turn on a tape with stories in each room. and then have ‘free’ time to do sponja on second floor, after all i was upstairs already, finally. these are wonderful and comforting memories now that they are all grown up with children of their own.

  8. Thanks for this lovely article. I love reading your perspectives and the Torah sources you bring. Just wondering (I am sure you have thought this through),do you not feel you are missing out on an important few moments with the child before they go to sleep? This is usually the time when my kids tell me some gem about their day that they were too busy to share earlier, or complain about something at school/gan that they had just wanted to forget but now start thinking about the next day and it comes up. I find putting them to bed (i also have a 3, 5 and 8 year old as my 3 youngest of 6) is actually a really important mothering moment, though of course hugely draining and a massive middot test.WOuld love to hear your thoughts.

    • that’s interesting. It might be different for me since my kids come home earlier, my younger set by 2, so I have quite a few hours with them before bedtime. Maybe that’s why when I used to do it, I don’t remember bedtime being a special bonding time for me so much (though saying shma and singing with them before bed is so sweet, I still do that sometimes). But it sounds quite wonderful!

  9. My rule is, though, after bedtime “starving” kids can only eat rice cakes or fruit, that generally reminds them they aren’t so hungry after all…)

    That is a good one! I employ “The Kitchen is Closed for the Night!”.

  10. I love this post

  11. This sounds like my house. I have 8 kids and official bedtime went out the window after 5 kids. It had always been my job to get everyone to bed.
    Now I rock my 2 yr old to sleep while sipping tea and read something devotional. My oldest daughter and two boys, 16 & 14 queue the others up for their turn in the bathroom brushing their teeth. The little ones lie down and either play with their toys or watch an educational video. Its not perfect, but it is more peaceful. In turn, the older ones, who have a later bedtime, get a quiet house to enjoy reading, drawing, writing, etc. Later, when everyone’s asleep, I will go and say bedtime blessings and tuck people in. Then I knit in a quiet kitchen with the sound of the dishwasher running.😊

  12. Thank you for this post. Bedtime battles…. what a work in progress. I’m linking this one to my homepage to remind myself that I’m not the only one who has a hard night with bedtime here and there!

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