Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Limited Choices

I won't lie, no matter how mindful I am, how much deep breathing I do, how much gratitude I practice, weekday mornings are hard.

The girls can drive me nuts in a very short period of time.  If one of them wakes up in a bad mood, in particular, things can go downhill pretty fast.  Some days they can't even be in the same room without fighting.  Other days they make a big fuss over the smallest little thing (like the injustice of having to dress themselves or make their beds).  Every day breakfast is an issue.  I've mostly given up on trying to get them to eat what I would like them to eat (oatmeal, fruit, protein, etc.), but the battle is about getting breakfast made and eaten in a reasonable amount of time and me not ending up feeling like their servant.

This didn't used to be as much of an issue because they were both - particularly Big A - super early risers.  But lately they are sleeping later, which means they get started with the whole routine later, which means that we get out the door later.  So when Little A takes 15 minutes just to decide what she wants to eat, or Big A claims that she is STILL hungry after she has already eaten a peanut butter and honey sandwich, 2 yogurts and a bowl of cereal, I end up feeling like getting them to school on time is about as likely as running through quicksand.  I then become really resentful of the fact that I can't get out of the kitchen because I am acting as short-order cook, often with my bathrobe on and hair dripping wet from the shower.  And that's when I start to lose my cool.

Many months ago Adam suggested that I give them no choice of breakfast.  I didn't think that would ever work.  The girls usually want different things (Little A often wants grilled cheese while Big A only wants sweet things).  There was also the parenting guilt about sending my kids to school when they might be hungry.  But no matter how much I fed them, they were always 'still hungry', even requesting additional 'snacks' to eat on the way.  It has been getting absurd, but since Adam and I are huge eaters (If only I had a dime for every time someone told me they couldn't believe, "someone so small can eat so much!"), so its not implausible that they just have big appetites too.  I had visions of one of their teachers stopping me one day to tell me that my child can't concentrate because she starving, or, worse, police showing up to take me away in handcuffs for willful child neglect.  Oh the guilt!!

I also have always abided by the parenting advice I have read so many times, that is to give kids choices to make them feel in control and less likely to be defiant.  Yeah, well what I've learned is that (1) Not all parenting strategies work for all families, and (2) Giving kids too many choices is never advisable.  Things were sliding down a slippery slope in this house, breakfast options had become too plentiful, and we needed to step back a bit. 

So last week I finally told the girls we were putting an end to this whole scene.  We would sit down, agree on a set menu (1 breakfast choice for each day of the week), and there would be nothing else.  Period.  Weekends, when we aren't in a rush, they can have whatever they want.  To my surprise, they showed almost no resistance to this idea, and got excited about making the chart.  Wow, who knew?  [YES ADAM, I AM ADMITTING YOU WERE RIGHT!]

So the options they chose are not too bad (yogurt and flat breads with jam, oatmeal, cereal, grilled cheese and peanut butter and honey sandwiches), and so far, the new system has worked like a charm.  Because its already decided what's for breakfast, I can get it ready before they get up, if necessary, and once they are done, they are done.  We have been getting out of the house earlier and I have been feeling less like their highly underpaid and underappreciated personal chef.  I have also been refusing them additional snacks to "eat on the way." I realized that even if they do go to school with some stomach space available, I always pack them a lunch and snacks, and maybe now they won't leave over half the food as sometimes happens. 

Its funny how we think the solution to a problem is so much more complicated than it really is.  Looking back, many of the problems I have had with the girls come from giving them too much power and control.  Yes, I do think kids should have some choices, but, at least in this house, there needs to be firm limits.

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