It ended with a broken bowl, cereal all over the table, milk over the walls and floor.
Our boys had a mini-food fight this morning.
My wife freaked out. The boys ended up in their room for hours. The text messages and conversations followed as she tried to figure out why they were so naughty and so defiant.
Replies came back in waves of sympathy; “hang in there” and “OMG”, to “they have no respect or no fear” to the classic, “stop this now before they carry this through into adulthood”.
Hang on. The last time I had a food fight, I was a teenager. The tomato sauce sprayed out the bottle like a water pistol. The hamburger and chips were squashed into my face and hair. Ice cream went down my shirt. It looked like a food bomb had exploded. It took hours to clean. It was so much fun. It was a great memory. I did not grow up to be a serial killer.
What is this need to justify the actions of our kids, within our own home, to others? Why do I need to feel like I am a model parent with model kids? Maybe it’s just our own self-consciousness and need for emotional support that makes us feel this way.
I once wrote that I was sick of the sound of my own voice and all I felt I was doing was shouting at my kids. That was a phase. Another one of the colourful experiences that make up the life of a parent.
I often tell my boys that my job as a dad is to make sure they are safe, happy , do well at school and learn to be respectful and responsible. That means, more often than not, I have to be strict, stop them doing dangerous things they see as fun and make them study hard when they need to. All they hear is bla-bla-bla– get to your room, bla-bla-bla-listen to me, bla-bla-bla-eat your veggies, bla-bla-bla-stop beating up your brother.
I don’t tell them that their job is to go through 7 changes of clothes a day, leave trails of food wherever they go, leave lego on the floor for me to stand on, stall, negotiate and plead for anything that looks or tastes good.
We each have a role to play.
It’s time to give ourselves a break. Stop focusing on the negatives, accept that children are children. They are defiant, they will constantly test boundaries and do crazy things. This is how they are programmed. It is how they are wired. They are children. Their brains do not allow them to do any different.
I don’t think our role as parents is to create a perfect version of ourselves and it rarely, if ever, works.
Our role is to nurture, model and lead our children down a path we believe to be the right one. We each have our own set of values, our own set of morals. This sets us apart from one another. This makes us unique. Our children are unique too. Let them grow and learn and have fun. Let them stay up late on occasion. When they fight with each other, cake themselves in mud or soak themselves with the hose , it is ok. When they have a tantrum because they did not get an ice cream, when they rip off all their clothes and run down the street, when they swear within earshot of the grandparents, it is not the end of the world. Millions of other kids are doing the same thing. Most will not become delinquents.
I know this all sounds well and good in those moments of clarity. But when you are stressed and tired, when the noise is unrelenting and you have a headache. When you wake up first thing to the kids rampaging round the house and breakfast all over the floor it is not so easy to be clear and calm. That’s ok. Just like our kids, we are not perfect. And we should not try to be. This is advice I need to heed.
But you are not alone. If you need help, guidance or advice there are places to go, people to speak to, websites to review. Just know it is normal. Websites like:
offers a way for parents to connect and discuss issues they may have. It feels good to know others are experiencing the same.
So why not make a point of having a meal in the garden one day. Start a food fight. You won’t regret it. You might even enjoy it. And don’t justify your actions to anyone.