I’ve learned that in parenting small children, one can’t sweat the small stuff. I have a picture in my mind of what a better parent would do; of what I would do if only I had more time/money/patience/determination/wine. It didn’t take me very long to learn that I had to let some of that go before I drove myself crazy trying to live up to a fantasy.
Among the things I’ve let go of are:
- Dressing my children in the clothes I’d prefer they wear. Bug, my three-year-old, refuses anything with buttons, a collar, a zipper, or a hood. I’ve coaxed, begged, and bribed, and now I’m genuinely over it. I do not care what he wears, so long as it is weather-appropriate.
- Strict bedtimes. By the time we get home from work and school, eat dinner, and play, it’s already past the typical bedtime. Factor in bathtime, getting into PJs, brushing teeth, and bedtime stories, and the cajoling and sweet-talking and consequence-doling it takes to get there, and it’s practically morning. I’m over it. No one wakes up cranky or falls asleep in school, so why stress?
- Eating dinner as a family. They are hungry at 5:00. I am not. They prefer their food sauceless. I value flavor. They ask for milk/help in the bathroom/something else to eat. I like to sit down and enjoy my meal uninterrupted.
For some reason, I decided today would be different. I put our history of unenjoyable shared dinners aside, turned on a movie so they’d let me cook, and made a dinner for us all to share.
While I cooked, Bug shouted from the other room, “Something smells.” Clearly a bad omen, but I shrugged it off. A few minutes later, after he wandered in to assess what was happening, he said casually, “I don’t eat broccoli.” I shooed him back to the TV.
I made a chicken stir-fry with broccoli and water chestnuts. I served it on top of brown rice. There was nothing not to like about this meal.
“I don’t like sauce,” Bee said without trying the sauce.
“Why is the chicken mixed up with the broccoli? I don’t like it mixed up. And what are these (pointing to a water chestnut)? And what is this (pointing to an onion)?” Bug said without trying a bite.
“Let’s all try it!” I said with delight and enthusiasm. “We don’t know whether we like it or not until we’ve at least tried it.” I sat down in my chair and began to take a bite as the boys looked at their bowls with suspicion.
Before I could even get my fork to my mouth, they both asked for drinks.
Once he had his orange juice at the ready, Bee took a bite and promptly began to pretend he was choking. “Spicy,” he gasped, gulping down his drink. I rolled my eyes. It was Trader Joe’s stir fry sauce. What could be spicy? I took a bite of my own and realized that it did have a faint tinge of spice. To be clear, it was not spicy, but I knew immediately that no one would be eating this dinner, and I should’ve tasted the sauce before dumping it on.
I noticed then that Bug had a funny look on his face. “Do you have to go potty?” I asked. He shook his head, looking pained and obviously lying.
“You guys, this is a little spicy,” I admitted, even though Bug hadn’t even taken a bite to determine this for himself. “Would you like me to make you something else?” They both nodded.
I’d broken one of my cardinal rules - one I rarely let go of - you eat what you’re given or you go hungry. But I felt bad about the tinge of spice, so I cleared their plates and while my own food cooled, I made a couple of PB&Js and cut up an apple. So much for a shared meal.
Back at the table with the sandwiches, Bug still had a pained expression. “Buggy, do you have to go potty?” He shook his head and moved his food around his plate. Bee took a half-hearted bite. I managed to swallow two bites of room temperature stir-fry when Bug said, “Mommy, I do have to go potty.” We left the table, argued over which bathroom to use, discussed, then argued, about whether he had to poop or not, and returned to the table, which now was down one person.
Bee was lying in the easy chair, clutching his stomach. “I’m not hungry,” he moaned. Bug decided he wasn’t, either, and joined his brother in the other room.
I sat down to my now-cold dinner and considered the situation. I’d made not one but two meals for my children, neither of which was eaten. I’d left the table several times in order to meet their various needs. I was left at the table, alone, with a bowl of food I did not even want anymore. My annoyance grew as the boys began to argue and then cry about whether or not Bug was a crybaby.
It was 6:30pm, a time as good as any for them to go to bed.
Upon later reflection, I realized my mistake: I had broken from routine twice today - first by trying to eat dinner together, and then by forcing a strict bedtime. The former backfired, but the latter allowed me quiet contemplation with a glass of wine. And here is what I came up with: do not eat dinner with the kids again, and try harder not to sweat the small stuff.