Sometimes I let my children eat dessert first. And I don’t mean sometimes like once-in-a-crazy-blue-moon when I’m overly tired or it’s their birthday or just because they caught me doing it, and I feel too guilty to refuse them. I mean sometimes like just about whenever they want if there’s actual dessert in the vicinity.
When my older boys were toddlers I read somewhere that we give children portions that are too large. They see that plate coming at them with portions four times the size of their stomach and can’t bring themselves to even try it. If, however, the plate looks manageable, they’ll dig right in and probably finish every bite. It was one of those theories I knew in my mama heart to make complete sense and be absolutely true.
Children will eat when they’re hungry, I also heard, and immediately I stopped caring whether or not they ate a big lunch or supper at exactly noon and five p.m. And then there are the commercials that suggest, “If we would all leave just a little bit on our plate…” in terms of decreasing our ridiculous American portions and thereby being much healthier. And from that moment on I felt validated for refusing the ol’ clean-your-plate-there-are-starving-children-somewhere adage that still haunts many adults in America. I routinely leave exactly one bite, if not more, on my plate. It makes me feel less like my appetite controls me (even though you’ll never see me leave a single bite of a candy bar anywhere).
I decided the dessert thing at some point in their early childhood too. And it’s worked fine. I’m going to make them eat the peanut butter sandwich anyway. And I’m going to let them have the cookie eventually too. So instead of making the cookie the bribe, I let them make it a part of the meal.
I’m very proud of the way I mother, including where it comes to food. And I’m not proud because it all came so naturally and I’m one of those women who’s been mothering people since I was a child myself and my kids have never burned their leg on my curling iron or choked on hard candy at a receptionist’s counter. I’m proud because I learn. And because even as I’ve stumbled through some less-than-stellar moments with my children when it comes to safety and diet, they seem to really like me. And they’re healthy. And they know they’re loved. I’m proud of all of it.
I’m reading a memoir by Teri Hatcher at the moment. I’ve read it before, and I notice she’s proud of the way she mothers too, more unmixedly proud of that than of anything else in her life. Teri lets her daughter keep candy in her bedroom because she’s determined not to pass on the guilt associated with sweets that she sees in other women and the prison of constantly dieting that follows. She and I have a lot of similarities, actually, on how we mother and the way pretty much everything we analyze about ourselves has to do with how it will affect our children. But I know there are lots of mothers out there not similar to us in any way. They probably only feed their children strawberries and yogurt for dessert. And they’d gasp at the candy in the bedroom.
What I love is that we’re both right, theoretically. Motherhood is one of those things in life we can all do very different ways and still feel it’s the best thing we accomplish every moment, every day. I hope you do. I hope your children like you and know how much they’re loved. And if they do, be proud. Whatever you’re doing, it’s dessert.