I came home from work the other night intending to enjoy some coconut ice cream with hot fudge before bed. It had been a long day and I was ready to put my feet up and indulge in the silence and sweetness of the late evening.
The baby was asleep and the boys were reading upstairs. Yosi was at the gym. It was just me and my ice cream. I scooped some into a barely clean dish and reached for the hot fudge. Much to my surprise, it was nearly empty.
You can imagine my instant heated frown upon realizing that in the two days since its purchase, the hot fudge had disappeared. I call Christian Daniel down the stairs to inquire about the situation. The conversation went like this:
“Christian, did you eat the rest of the hot fudge today?”
“Yes! For dinner we did.”
“Wait. What? You had ice cream for dinner?”
“Oh no, Mom. We had peanut butter sandwiches and carrots.”
……. “And hot fudge?”
“Yeah. On the sandwich.”
“So you’re telling me that you and your brother had peanut butter and hot fudge sandwiches for dinner?”
“Yep. And carrots.”
I sent the young man back upstairs, because I did not know the appropriate reaction. I wasn’t sure if I should be angry at my husband for letting the boys make their own dinner. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh at the lack of control I have over my growing boys. I wasn’t sure if I should cry in shame and embarrassment.
It’s been a few days since then and the first thing I decided to do was to stop entertaining all the shitty self-talk that sounds like:
“My God, Carmen. You could at least make sure that your children are well nourished.”
Or, “Well, this proves what we’ve known all along. Terrible Mother.”
Or, “If you would just spend more time at home, focused on your family, things like this wouldn’t happen.”
And of course, “Nobody else’s child has ever eaten such a thing for a meal. Every other child eats curried kale, freshly caught salmon, and organic squash for supper. What a disgrace.”
It’s not that I don’t hear those things, trust me, these messages are resounding. I’ve just decided not to believe them. I’ve decided that there’s enough guilt and shame circulating through our collective veins. I’ve decided to believe something else instead. I have spent time carefully considering the hot fudge incident, and these are realizations I’ve come to:
My child displayed independence, initiative, kindness, and resourcefulness in asking to make dinner for himself and his brother. He was creative and adventurous to try something new on his sandwich. He was honest and brave with his mother when he sensed he may have done something ‘wrong.’
As soon as I was able to reframe the story, I realized that these are all qualities I am proud of. Through the years our parenting style has evolved with us – and the kids. Where we were once rigid and fearful, we’re now lax and supportive. This was intentional and organic. It was important to both of us to raise children who know how to look for answers to questions they have, who are honest and resourceful, and have a sense of connectedness to their families (given, chosen, and global).
Life has a funny way of teaching me things. It’s often not in the way I’d prefer, but always in the way I need. This experience, though a seemingly insignificant supper SNAFU, has been the perfect moment for me to learn some important lessons.
Lesson one: You choose your story. This is a lesson I’ve been working on for a while. In this particular experience, I was able to choose not to be angry at my husband and kids. I decided not to listen to the guilty shamey self-talk. I actively chose a different story than what was my default, and everyone benefited from this choice.
Lesson two: Life isn’t perfect. Kids aren’t perfect. Dads aren’t perfect. Moms aren’t perfect. Dinners don’t have to be perfect. On repeat extra loud for the people in the back. It’s ok, though. The expectation is not perfection. The expectation is love.
Lesson three: The kids are alright. Parenting, by far, is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. And as it turns out, the kids are doing just fine. Better yet, they’re actually wonderful people who are taking on some pretty important qualities that we’re proud of.
We’re doing a good thing here. The work is boring and holy and hard and exhausting. The minutia of day-to-day parenting sometimes threatens to swallow me whole. But then there’s a moment like this. Where I can see, if only through a sugar sandwich, that our efforts are making a difference in the people our children are and the people they are becoming. And if I can catch that glimpse of hope from a place where formerly I would have found nothing but guilt, I guess you could say I’m doing ok too.
Carmen Pacheco is a self-care coach helping women show up more authentically in their lives. She lives and breathes in the Midwest where she fumbles through wifehood, motherhood, and adulthood with equal parts coffee and grace. You can read more from Carmen at MulberryandGrace.com, on Facebook and @mulberryandgrace on Instagram.