This weekend, we took all of the sugar out of our house.
Well, okay. Not all the sugar. I still have, you know, some actual sugar. And a couple of cake mixes and some chocolate covered protein bars.
But pretty much everything else went out. No more mini-bars of chocolate from Trader Joes. No box of leftover Valentines candy on top of the fridge. No more cookies in the pantry, not even that box of Thin Mints I’d been “saving” inside of the oatmeal.
Because my daughter has a sweet tooth the size of the space needle. And she doesn’t know how to take no for an answer for longer than 15 minutes.
This is, I know, entirely my fault. , and at the doctor’s recommendation, we used to serve her tablespoons of Haagen Dazs after every meal as a toddler.
This limit is not about her weight. She’s still a string bean, and probably always will be (her favorite food is ice, and her favorite drink is Crystal Light). But oh man, that sweet tooth! She begs, she whines, she refuses to eat other foods so she can “save room for dessert.”
And finally we’ve had enough.
I’m sure this came as a huge shock to her, especially because this is also the week she has a bedtime again. We’ve started at 9 p.m., much later than it will need to be in two weeks when school starts. But it's still significantly more structured than the rest of the summer has been. Between travel, family visits, the outdoor movies, sleepovers (sometimes multiple in a row), and just general “it stays light really late now” summer insomnia, her bedtime has been somewhere between 10 and dawn.
And next week, unbeknownst to her, the screen time limits go back on. Sigh. So long, getting stuff done on rainy days while she watches endless Spongebob marathons.
I will go out on a parenting limb, and say flat out that limits are important. Your child must learn that want does not equal get. Otherwise, her or she can end up a sugared up, overtired jerk who runs all over people. Including you.
So, set limits. But if you state that your child will never eat sugar again or watch more than one television show a day or even use their voice louder than a certain decibel level, you are trapping yourself in a challenging parenting box. Here are my limits on limits.
First, don’t be arbitrary. If you have a top number of texts or minutes allowed on a cell phone, make sure it’s for a reason that you can explain to your child. Money, time, parental sanity; there does not have to be an explanation that they agree with, but there does have to be one they can understand.
Second, tie your limits to your values. Sugar has to go because we need less whining, and it supports mommy’s weight loss efforts. Bedtime is back because we believe school is important enough to be well rested for. Help your kids see the bigger picture behind their restrictions, and they may resent those restrictions less.
Third, make sure it’s a limit you can live with. If you need an hour of television in order to get in a shower, then do NOT limit TV time to a half hour a day. When that one show is over, your hair will still have shampoo in it, and both you and your child will be resentful all day. That’s hardly worth one less episode of Thundercats.
Fourth, and most importantly, don’t be inflexible. If your child has a fever, that’s when all the stops come out. When I was sick as a kid, it was white sugar on white rice with white milk, while wrapped in a blanket and watching all the TV I wanted, including Grandma’s “stories.” I intend to do the same for my daughter.
There are days, and sometimes months, when limits must be relaxed. Summer, sickness, snow days…give yourself some parenting room to breathe. It will make tightening the reins much less awful when your kids know it’s not forever.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, we’re off to take three shopping bags of sugary treats to the food bank. After all, for some things, like charity, there are no limits.