In some fit of insane parenting inspiration yesterday, we took out the bags of birthday party piñata candy, which have been multiplying at breakneck speed through this springtime kiddo party season, and let the kids have at it. Negotiating with them every. single. day. about whether they could have any of it, and how much, and when, and why not, and <insert monotonous whining noise here>, had become a huge pain in my ass, but throwing it all away felt too evil. So I told them they could have one day of eating whatever they wanted, and then we were going to put it away for a while. (Which nicely echoed Mama Bear's familiar plan of putting the treats in the freezer and forgetting about them in Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food, a favorite of my girls.) I've heard from other trusted, wise parents who do this with the Halloween loot that it's actually healthier and better for their teeth to get it out of the way in one day rather than dragging it out endlessly and getting the kids in the habit of having treats every day, which makes sense. It did seem absolutely crazy to let them eat as much as they wanted, but it was liberating too, just to say yes. Yes! I really mean it - have as much as you want. Stop if you start to feel yucky - really, try to see if you can stop before that happens, but don't worry too much. Just listen to your body and enjoy yourself.
Because truly, I would rather have them learn their own limits through trial and error (and they did stop before it was all gone, and even ate their dinner afterwards) than be in constant battle with me about what I think their limits should be. That's much easier said than done, but I'm working on it. Did you see that great Will Smith quote going around a couple of days ago, in which he's responding to surprise that they let their 11-year old daughter shave her head:
“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”
I LOVE that last sentence. That really is parenting in a nutshell, isn't it?
So: candy binges all the time? Hell no. And I was careful not to call it a "pig-out session" or put my own weird grown-up-woman opinions onto it. Will Smith's point about giving one's daughter command of her body seems especially crucial to me when it comes to food. But in the end, it wasn't such a big deal. They didn't act like little coked-up crazy people, as I'd been worrying they would, and bedtime was no greater or lesser a battle than usual. It seemed funny, afterwards, that I'd been fighting over and resenting these stupid bags of candy for so many weeks.
It just goes to show that in parenting, as in life - and certainly as in pursuing a creative life - the right decisions aren't always the ones that look best on paper. (If you had told me when Stella was a baby that I'd be letting her binge on candy on a regular Wednesday afternoon, I would never have believed you.) And I think the right decisions are often not the ones that other people agree with. But you have got to figure out your own limits, your own truth. Otherwise, you'll be wasting your time fighting with someone else -- an individual someone or the collective culture; real or imagined -- about what they think you should be doing, who they think you should be.
Ask yourself: Creatively, what version of a candy fiesta could I give myself? A sewing class that would mean you're out of the house one evening a week and can't do dinner with your kids? Leaving the dishes in the sink or the laundry in the hamper so you can go write, or paint, or shoot pictures for an hour instead? A whole day gorging yourself on art at your favorite museums? A night out dancing? What's something you've been saying NO to out of the fear of being irresponsible, but that would feel wild and liberating to say YES to instead?
And then try to open up the bag and dump all the candy out onto the floor, whatever that means to you. I can almost guarantee it won't turn out anything like what you're scared it will.