When my kids were toddlers, I read Wendy Mogel’s “The Blessings of a Skinned Knee.”
I didn’t feel the need to read another parenting book after reading Mogel’s. Her no-nonsense approach to child rearing really spoke to me. Her Jewish values serve as the backdrop to her views on raising self-reliant children. I’m Jewish too, and like Wendy, I also think it’s OK for my kids to have skinned knees.
And though I never met Mogel, she was kind of everything to me when my kids were younger and I was trying to figure out what kind of parent I should be. She was my mother, my grandmother, a high priestess, an all-knowing spirit I channeled often. “What would Wendy do?” I thought to myself at least a half a dozen times a day when faced with one of many parenting conundrums.
So when it was really cold outside and my kids didn’t want to wear their sweater or jacket, I let them be cold instead of forcing the issue. Maybe next time they’d learn to wear their sweater. Maybe not. I knew Mogel would be OK with either.
Mogel believes that children should find their own path in life. “If they stay carefully protected in the nest of the family,” she states, “children will become weak and fearful or feel too comfortable and never want to leave.” Many parents, she feels, are too busy “fretting and fixing” every problem when it comes to their children.
I didn’t drive to school with my son’s homework when he forgot it–even when it was a project he worked on for days and stayed up late finishing. It took all my strength not to get in my car and run the project over to school for him. But I didn’t.
Then there was the day the teacher was really hard on my daughter and embarrassed her in front of the entire class. She cried, as a result, right in front of all her peers. I didn’t think what he did was right, but I didn’t call the school, and I didn’t say anything to the teacher. As much as it upset me, I wanted her to figure it out all on her own. Ugh. It was not easy for me. I wanted so badly to call that teacher and yell at him. But I didn’t.
I want my kids to learn about grit and resilience. I want them to learn how to pick themselves up after they fall. I don’t want to shield them from being uncomfortable. I want them to learn that the world is not waiting for them with tissues or a sweater. When they get knocked down, I want them to learn how to get back up.
But deep down, I’m desperate to spoil my children–to fix and to fret, to tell them they are perfect and special. I want to soothe with abandon.
So here’s my confession. I channel all these pent up and pushed down feelings. I spoil my kids with food.
You fell? I’ll wait. I’ll be calm. But have a cookie.
You had a hard day? I made your favorite stew.
A long day of school, sports, and homework? It’s Sloppy Joes to the rescue.
Got a cold? Matzah ball soup with egg noodles made just the way you like it–more broth and more noodles. Less carrots and celery.
Some girl trouble at school? I’ll pack you a really terrific lunch. They’ll be envious!
And speaking of lunches, my kids are too old for me to pack their lunch. But I do it anyway. I love it. I fuss and all the while I’m making it, I think about the smiles on their faces when they open their lunch boxes in the middle of their hectic day. Today they had a mushroom and farro salad with a chopped fruit salad and something called Dosa chips which look kind of fancy and maybe seem healthy but really are just chips. And a brownie.
Frankly, I’m giddy with excitement when I see a new recipe in my inbox from The Kitchn–something that I know my kids will love. And I can’t wait to try out a pasta dish from the “The Flour & Water Cookbook.” Perhaps I’ll wait for just the perfect day to make it. Maybe in celebration of my daughter’s graduation from middle school.
Perhaps I’m just a throwback to my Jewish grandmother. But maybe it’s because everything’s gotten so serious–this parenting business. Raising self-reliant children. Raising my daughter to be a feminist. Raising my son to learn how to sit still and share his feelings. Isn’t Mogel a Jewish mother, too? Would she understand my need to have a parenting realm where I can wholeheartedly indulge my kids? Does she get the food/love connection?
Mogel feels when it comes to kids and food most people have trouble “culminating a guilt-free celebration of food. It’s not that we don’t love to eat, it’s just that so many of us believe that if food is not nutritious it is inherently bad.” She goes on to say that, “much more than a generation ago, we tarnish our children’s experiences of food with joyless theology.” Not me! There is a lot of food joy in my house.
Food is not another vehicle for me to control my kids. Rather it’s a vehicle for me to indulge them. Eating and enjoying food together–whether it’s a banana split or fresh fruit from the farmer’s market–is not only one of life’s simple pleasures, but one that should be left alone to enjoy for no other reason than it’s yummy and it feels good to eat it.
I love my kids like crazy. I wonder how their day was today. Maybe I’ll make fish tacos for dinner.