The Gift of Permission
The Rotund commented on this LJ entry about a father, one night, letting this three young daughters choose to eat anything and everything they wanted for dessert. She said it made her cry, and I gotta admit, I got all misty-eyed as well.
As she says, the idea of being given utter permission like that is simultaneously exciting and scary.
The interesting thing was, I read it less with an eye to how the daughters felt at the time, and more with an eye to how it effected them. What did they learn from it? I saw it, I suppose, more as a fellow parent to that father, than from the author’s point of view.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time, honestly. I’ve been struggling with that very thing the past few days, in fact. There was a trick-or-treat event at the zoo this past weekend, and I took my kids, and we also did some MAJOR grocery shopping over the weekend, so our place is STOCKED. Seriously, there’s food everywhere – both “good” and “bad.”
I gotta admit, it’s a little heady sometimes even for me. We’ve been living a weird barebones sort of existence for a while, and so now to go, “Gosh, I’m hungry,” and open the refrigerator to find choices and options practically spilling out of the thing is, well… both exciting and scary. And I’m a grownup, y’know?
My kids, on the other hand, are 3 years old, so of course they want nothing but their Halloween candy and ice cream and maybe the occasional Goldfish cracker to round things out. Obviously, as a responsible parent, not to mention a renter who has not QUITE given up hope that we may yet receive some small portion of our security deposit back whenever we move out of this place, I can’t let them do that.
But at the same time, I don’t want to teach them to moralize about food the way I do. I certainly don’t want them to associate “bad” foods with love or affection. I certainly don’t want them to come to associate all foods they enjoy, regardless of nutritional content, as “bad” like I do.
So I wind up walking this weird little tightrope between trying to help them appreciate all kinds of foods and not stigmatize the “bad” foods. And it’s not easy. Some days I feel like I do a lot better than others. Some days I get a Magna-Doodle chucked at my head for not letting them breakfast on Dots and Tootsie Rolls (that would be yesterday – fun times…).
Sometimes I worry that I’m too much of a soft touch – do I let them eat too much crap? Should I be tougher about setting limits? Should I be more diligent about keeping snacks to a minimum, and preventing grazing but instead encourage them to eat only at proscribed meal and snack times?
But when I throw open the refrigerator and they crowd in front of it and one reaches for a plum and the other reaches for a stick of cheddar cheese, I’m reminded to have a little faith. That they ARE only 3 years old, and there’s a lot more to stigmatizing food than just having a mom who won’t let you eat gummi fruits until you vomit.
Truthfully, sometimes it is through them that I’m reminded to give myself permission to eat whatever I want as well, and reminded to give myself credit for choosing a variety of foods, and not just an endless well of crap, as my Inner Fat-Hater would have me believe.
So this afternoon, when I decided, “Y’know what? Normally I would say we had to wait until after dinner to have some ice cream, but if you want some now, that’s okay too,” well, I like to think I was being like that dad. That I was giving permission at a time when it’s good for permission to be given. And when I threw a scoop of spumoni in the dish for me, along with their scoop of strawberry? That’s okay too.
Because once we ate our ice cream? They asked for fruit, and yogurt, and foods which I am only too glad to give them.
The reality is, sometimes the harder part is not in helping them make good choices, but in silencing my own hateful inner voices, to trust in the choices they make for themselves.