My wife doesn’t have much of a sweet-tooth, so when she says she’s craving brownie sundaes, she really means it. So the other night while she was at work, my son and I got all our brownie implements and ingredients ready. Brownie mix: check. Glass bowl: check. Big wooden spoon: check. Oil and egg: check and check.
My son pushed a bar stool over to the slick granite countertop to pour in the pre-measured ingredients and stir. Once everything was combined in the bowl, he went to town on the concoction. I went about cleaning the countertops when I heard a slip and a cry, and turned around to see the bowl on its way to the floor. Thankfully, the Pyrex bounced off the forgiving hardwood, landing upside down over a mound of brown paste, like a biodome set upon fertile soil.
“I’m sorry dad. I’m sorry dad. I’m sorry dad,” my son recited. I quickly bit my tongue. Part of me wanted to chastise him for not being more careful. He should have held the bowl like I asked. He should have sat there properly. He shouldn’t have been so wiggly. In spite of my urge to criticise, I listened to the remorse in his voice, which steadied me.
“That’s okay, buddy,” I said. “It was an accident.” But the reassurance wasn’t enough. He broke down in tears, continuing to apologize between sobs. I continued trying to soothe him, but couldn’t make my way over to him for hug with a field of brownie spatter in my path. I got down on hands and knees, turning over the bowl and transferring big handfuls of chocolate goop back into it. He eventually settled, and I was able to clear a path and give him a hug.
After it was all over, I still wanted brownies, dammit. I called my son over to me.
“I want you to go upstairs and get $3 from your allowance money, and we’ll go back out and buy brownies.” Seeing this as his opportunity to make good, he jumped at the chance and ran upstairs. We went out, bought a new package, mixed up the ingredients (on a lower wooden table in a plastic bowl), and had brownie sundaes for dessert when my wife got home.
After all was said and done, I felt like an ass. I told my wife the whole story, and told her how remorseful I felt about the allowance thing. In our family, food is a big deal. Our son isn’t allowed to call food “his”. Instead, we emphasize that food is for the family and that we always share. Even when we go out to eat, we order dishes together, with everyone in mind, so that we can share plates. Our rationale for the emphasis on sharing food is that mom and dad work hard for the family’s food. We work for the money that pays for the food and mom works hard to make the food. So, we all share the food. Food doesn’t belong to any one of us, food belongs to all of us.
That’s why I felt like such a hypocrite about the brownies. On the one hand, I acknowledged that the spill was an accident, and that my son hadn’t done anything wrong. But on the other, I asserted that he’d have to pay for the mess, suggesting that he’d done something wrong and was responsible. But if it was truly an accident, and if food was really owned by the whole family, then why should he pay for the brownies?
I concluded I’d made a mistake and had to rectify it. The next day, he and I were at the same counter where the spill took place. I put three dollars on the counter and told him that I was wrong, that the spill really was an accident, and that he shouldn’t have to pay for it. I reiterated that food is family food, and he shouldn’t have to pay for food that we all eat.
The good kid that he is, he slid the cash back to me and insisted I keep it. This made me feel more terrible. My son is already an extremely moral guy, and anxious on top of that. So my initial insistence that he pay only strengthened the message that he’d been bad. We went back and forth with this game for a while, and I told him to leave the money on the counter and I’d put it back up in his wallet.
This was perhaps the first time that I’ve apologized for a mistake of discipline. When my son does something wrong, there’s usually a consequence that makes sense, and we stick to it. But in this instance, I felt like I really needed to swallow my pride. I had to see that I was reactive in the situation (I mean, come on, I wanted brownies!) and that I acted too quickly, in a way that didn’t make sense given the morals of our family. I think this is one of the struggles of mindful parenting. Discipline is a tough thing, and takes a lot of thought in order to be effective and consistent. Mindful parenting means revisiting situations that might not have gone well, in order to make things right.