The other morning I was cruel to my beloved 6-year-old. It was stupid, it was unnecessary, and I was completely in the wrong. When she got home, I apologized to her, and she, being the sweet, loving child that she is, immediately forgave me. It was another reminder that I am not yet where I want to be in relation to my children, nor am I parenting from a reality of abundance. So what exactly happened?
Anyone who could have witnessed it would have seen me lose my cool over Little A not finishing her milk. She had asked me to pour her a small amount of milk (maybe 1/4 cup) in her glass to drink with her breakfast. Then she drank a few sips and wandered off to play before having to get ready for the bus. I asked her multiple times to please finish her milk. There might have been a tablespoon or two left. She persisted in ignoring me.
When it was time for her to brush her teeth, I reminded her again to finish and she scootched past me towards the bathroom, giggling. I grabbed her as she passed, and wrapped her up in one arm while holding the cup with the other, telling her she had to finish her milk. I tried coaxing. “It’s only a tiny bit. One swallow and it will be done.” I tried screaming. When I was about to force it to her lips, and she cringed away from me with a look of terror on her face, I realized I was being a monster. I let her go and she ran to the bathroom to brush her teeth.
What was I thinking? That is not how I want to behave with my children. I love my children fiercely, but I was not showing it at that moment. My coaxing words came back to me from the other side of my mind. “It’s only a tiny bit. It is no big deal to just dump it down the drain, or even drink it yourself if you are that insistent that it be drunk. Is this how you want to send your child off to school? Is this the memory of you that you want her to carry with her today while she is gone?”
It was a stab to my heart. No, that was not what I wanted her to think of when she was at school. Feeling full of shame, I helped her get her snow gear on and gave her a hug and kiss as usual before she walked out the door to wait for the bus.
Why did I react so dramatically over a measly tablespoon of milk? My actions certainly were not motivated from the deep love I hold for her. Rather they were motivated from habit and fear. We do not waste food. Clean your plate. We can’t afford to throw away perfectly good food. The starving children in Ethiopia would love to have that. These were the echoes from my childhood. They are based in fear – the fear of not having enough food.
You see, I grew up poor. My mom stayed home to raise me and my brothers, and my dad was a blue-collar worker, who often changed jobs. I do not begrduge them their decisions. On the contrary, I am very grateful to have had the privilege of a SAHM. My dad worked hard to support us, and had side gigs when the paycheck wasn’t enough. I never knew hunger. Not real hunger. There was always food on the table.
I remember when I was about 10 years old, my dad lamented that he could only afford to give me 75 cents a week for allowance. That was fine with me. I did aspire to someday get a dollar a week, but 75 cents was fine. He told me that he wished he could give me $5 every week, and I was confused. What would I need $5/week for? How would I ever spend so much money? This was in the mid-80s, so in today’s dollars, that would be $11/week. It is twice what I currently give my eleven-year-old son for pocket money.
My constantly hearing “We can’t afford that special trip, event, etc.,” led to my developing a fear of wasting money, because we can’t afford it. That fear turned me into a monster the other morning as I seriously considered pouring milk into an innocent child’s closed mouth. I don’t in any way blame my parents. They were just trying to show me “reality”, just as they were shown when they were children. No one ever thought then that presenting “reality” could cause any harm.
Why do I keep putting reality in quotes? Because reality is what you make of it. There is no one reality. I can pull up one “reality” and say, “We can’t waste milk because every penny counts.” Or I can pull up another equally valid “reality” and say, “We have enough money available in our food budget that I can afford to buy us top quality organic milk from the local farm.” We waste lots more milk when someone accidentally knocks over their glass at the dinner table, and yet we don’t berate them, or make them lick it up off of the table so as not to waste it. It is just a matter of which “reality” I want to look at.
I would much rather parent from a reality of abundance rather than fear. Fear turns me into a monster, and I want my children to get nothing but the best me I can be.