A couple of weeks ago my children were clearly disgruntled when they got off the school bus. Since they normally greet me with hugs so enthusiastic I’m nearly knocked to the ground I knew something was seriously wrong. And Man, was it wrong! Mommy, goddess of food and all things domestic (but especially food) had messed up the lunch boxes (gasp!). Normally, the boys’ lunches contain one sandwich, one serving of fruit or baby carrots, one snack like goldfish or a granola bar, and one drink—a water bottle or a juice box. But on this fateful day that will live in lunchbox infamy, I (in my early-morning haze) gave one boy got both containers of baby carrots and gave the other both granola bars.
Owen wrote me this note:
Owen’s sense of fair play would never have allowed him to eat both granola bars (or gunola bars as he calls them in his note)—he knew perfectly well that one was supposed to be for his brother so he didn’t touch it. And James was never going to eat two servings of carrots—I mean a carrot is a vegetable. I’m grateful that he’ll eat one serving—never mind two. So I’m sure they were a little more hungry than usual when they got off the bus that fateful day—fortunately the remedy for hunger was a five-minute walk away.
It’s tough to discover that our parents make mistakes. Especially when those mistakes involve food. It’s probably even more upsetting when Mommy doesn’t feel especially remorseful about it. Let’s face it, there are children at school who didn’t have dinner waiting for them that night. My kids can be pretty certain that there will not only be dinner, but snacks and dessert if necessary (and when isn’t dessert necessary?). I figure if I make four people three meals a day, seven days a week (minus the very occasional take-out or Sunday breakfast out) I’m bound to screw up sooner or later. I’m not going to waste too much energy feeling badly about it.
I take yoga classes with a very devout Christian. She often says, “Remember to give yourself Grace.” I think it’s her sunny way of saying “Everyone f#$@s up now and then. Forgive yourself and move on.” It’s good advice—especially for parents. It can be so easy to succumb to guilt. Children are really good at dishing it out. Don’t get me wrong. There are things we do that we ought to be guilty about and things that we shouldn’t. Here are a few:
Your client is a jackass who makes your life a living hell so after a really bad day you scream at your kids for laughing too loud. Feel guilty for that one—leave the client at work where he belongs, grab the kid with the craziest laugh and tickle him until you’re both laughing.
It’s time to get the kids to school and someone is suddenly feeling a little under the weather. You tell him to stop complaining and get ready for school. A few hours later you get a call from the school nurse. Little Freddy has a temperature of 103 and is the color of wet newspaper. Skip the guilt. If he truly didn’t seem sick, don’t sweat it. If on the other hand, you really thought he might be sick and dosed him with Tylenol and crossed your fingers, you deserve the guilt.
It’s been a busy week and you haven’t had time to shop. There is almost nothing in the house to eat and you just can’t drag yourself to go grocery shopping. If your budget allows, order pizza. If not, make pancakes—kids love breakfast for dinner. You probably have flour, eggs, sugar, oil, baking powder, milk and salt in the house. No? Really? Maybe you should feel guilty. Sorry, my mother was a Home Ec Teacher. My worldview may be a bit skewed when in comes to pantry essentials.
As a parent, you learn pretty early on that you need to pick your battles. It’s the same thing with guilt. If your mistakes cause no one in your family any harm—physical or emotional, skip the guilt trip. Admit it, apologize, make it right and move on. Remember to give yourself grace.