Love, Chocolate and Parenting Fails
By Anya Concoff
In my family, the physical embodiment of love is chocolate. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I know all about the psychological damage done when food is used as reward and punishment. There were extenuating circumstances, I swear! A toddler that would not eat to the point of losing weight and doctor who told us to try chocolate ice cream... It worked and resulted in a kid who is addicted to, motivated by and planning to marry chocolate. This is a kid who, at, three, cried at someone else’s birthday party because the “cake’s not chocolate!”. Who will, without emotion, toss away fistfuls of Skittles and Smarties from her Valentine’s bag, yet squeal with delight over one Hersey Kiss.
Due to a cruel mother who refuses to offer an uninterrupted supply of chocolate (me) and a smart, reasonable girl who understands why not (the now eight-year old chocolate fiend) and a tiny, ridiculous toddler who wants everything her sister has and goes nuclear ten minutes after a second cookie (the two-year old), we struggle to find other ways to express love in our house, and leave chocolate for breakfast (Nutella on pancakes) and special treats (everytime she goes to Gramma’s house).
Snuggles are a popular stand-in for sweets, but nothing is easy in my house. The biggirl only wants to cuddle when I am on the phone, nursing the baby or very short on patience after the third hour of bedtime. When I offer a spontaneous hug, she can’t be bothered. “Ack, stop squeezing me! I’m reading!” If she accepts the hug, the toddler runs up and tries to pry us apart. “Mine Mama! Noooo!” You can’t win.
So we try positive reinforcement. “I love the way you put your shoes away and helped your sister with her’s!” I said, last Tuesday. “Well, I knew you’d yell at me if I didn’t.” Um, Okay. At least she’s learning. Twenty-minutes later. “Stella, will you please wash your hands for dinner?” Her reply, “Oh my God, I was just going to watch Zombie Style on Youtube. You ruin all the fun! You’re always interrupting meeeeee!” She shouts, I shout. We all lose. She buries her nose in a book, I fantasize about a bathtub of Sauvignon Blanc at 8:05 PM. I think about the chocolate brownies I made for dessert, unsure if I can serve them now. Is that rewarding bad behavior? If I put them away for tomorrow is it withholding food as punishment? My brain hurts.
In truth, the reason not to use food as a reward is because when it feels like time to put limits on the junk-food madness, it feels like a sudden withholding of love. The children feel like they are being punished, rather than protected and nourished with good food in place of the junk. But what does one do when they have already gone down the rabbit hole?
It is possible and preferable to slowly shift things... Dessert happens occasionally, whether the plate is cleaned or not. A reward for good grades is a trip to the pottery painting studio. A treat for showing initiative is something from the new toy drawer... (I’ll teach you how to get rid of all those junky toys and chipped, half-painted kittens in my next article, Minimalism with Mini Me’s!) The point is, be consistent and take time to transition from sugary motivation to non-food rewards. Doing it in one fell swoop is sure to backfire.