The night I sent my seven year old to bed hungry

It wasn’t that she didn’t eat her dinner or that I didn’t serve food she likes to eat. It wasn’t that she was horribly behaved and was sent to her room without  the opportunity to eat. I served all three children a well rounded, child friendly, enjoyable meal at 5pm, (which was  a little early by our standards) before dance class, a grocery trip and basketball practices. Then the littlest muffin and I chilled at home with reading, games, PBS, and a lovely bowl of soup for mommy. She chose to wait  until it was well PAST time, as we were heading to bed to tell me she was “starving, and she hadn’t eaten anything for dinner yet…”

But now, hours later and moments before I head to bed, I am struck with a sudden slight hunger pang myself. Being an adult, rather than a whiney child, I can go to the kitchen to get a few handfuls of chips, or a cookie, or maybe a piece of cheese, all the while knowing I have eaten well most of the day and a small snack will tide me over till morning.  I will then happily and quietly brush my teeth and head to bed. A child, MY child, on the other hand will hem and haw about WHAT to eat, argue about sugary or healthy, then the process of which plate, bowl or cup, and finally the actual eating (or not eating) of said snack, which may take at least good hour while bed time slips by the way side. 

When I did not cave to my child’s sad requests for food, we went upstairs to brush teeth and read stories. The extreme hunger was forgotten as I held her on my lap to check that all her teeth were clean, as well as when we snuggled and giggled reading her favorite chapter book for 15 minutes. It was after all that, as I reached for the light switch that she remembered her sad plight and resumed her case for food (or for just not going to sleep). Some crying and an attempt at reasoning with me, was followed by pouting, and then quiet. We lay for a while, snuggled and still…almost ten minutes actually. I drifted off to light sleep, only to be awaken by her asking if five minutes (our magic amount of ‘try to go to sleep’ time) had gone by yet. Then the battle resumed its downward spiral.

In the end, I let her come back down and get a small green salad, (like her sisters who were out late at basketball practice and ballet lessons). This came at the expense of me not returning upstairs with her to read more books, or hold her hand for another 10 minutes (while she came up with other reasons not to sleep). She had already cried over this choice while we were laying snuggled in her bed the first time. A tough choice for a little person: food to feed my body, or comfort to feed my soul?

So now, I feel guilty. She was just a little hungry, just needed a little more momma time, just made a bad use of her evening time. I feel like the mean old mommy who never gives love to the poor, sad child. I could have laid back down with her, and reassured her I was always there for her. I could have given her the salad when she first said she was starving and didn’t get any dinner. I could have let her eat a few crackers in bed while I read her the story. I could have, but I didn’t. 

What I think I did was teach her gently that we can’t always have everything, but we will survive. Things might not always go our way, but we can still be happy (be getting enough sleep) with our over all life. And also, that there are tough choices in life, with clear boundaries and limits. Then again, I may have taught her to whine and cry until you get what you want and that mommy can get so mad that she doesn’t love you anymore to snuggle you to sleep…

Once again I am faced with the balancing act, their needs against my needs, their choices against my choices, trying to help them to learn important lessons while also reassuring them they are unconditionally loved. Someday, someday, I might find the balance and the peace. Tonight, I question, and wonder, and second guess my parenting. Tonight I close my eyes and remind myself I am doing my best and still trying to do better.

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