Why I Disciplined my Daughter for Eating Kiwi

My daughter said something yesterday that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. We were talking after a timeout, one which she’d earned for getting into the fridge without asking.

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Check out the number of implements my three-year-old used to get into this kiwi. Impressive.

The culprit? Kiwi. Sweet, luscious green kiwi. (It’s day 25 of my 40-day fast. Forgive me if I wax poetic about anything food-related.)

Okay. I know. Who punishes their child for snacking on health food? Well, me. Why? Because my daughter doesn’t just stop at the fruit drawer. Yesterday alone I caught her sneaking a juice box, graham crackers, a kiwi, and carrots. All harmless, really, but it’s the principle that I’m worried about. I don’t want her taking things without asking.

At this stage, she has no concept of the need for self-control.

So after her third mistake/timeout session, I sat down on the stairs next to her and said something like, “Don’t you care that mama told you to ASK for something that you want, instead of just taking it?” Her response was so close to human nature that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Well, sometimes I do care, but sometimes I don’t.

Bless my baby. At least she’s honest.

That’s simply the black and white of it. Sometimes we care about doing the right thing, and sometimes, we just don’t.

For children, it seems to be an issue of motivation. In my house, the consequences of getting caught with contraband food usually aren’t that bad. Timeout. Discussion. Besides. What mom wants to punish her daughter for eating a carrot?

For adults, it’s another story. Most of us know right from wrong. Motivation still plays a role, but it’s different sort of reward we’re after now. And self-control?  Not if we can help it.

No one wants to tell themselves no. It’s like a rite of passage for adults. Maybe we went without when we were kids, or teens, in our twenties or as newlyweds, but dang it NOW we should be able to have everything we want.

We earned it. We deserve it. We think we need it, because want and need have become two inextricable things in our mind.

But when did want become as honorable as need?

Twice yesterday, the topic of self-control came up. The first was my best friend telling me that Katy Perry prays for self-control every day. (Katy Perry is the LAST person I’d think would be praying for self-control, so I was shocked, and also a little envious at her brilliance for praying for something that could make all the difference in the course of one’s day.)

There’s also a matter of this verse, which God pulled into the conversation when I was talking with my high school small group girls last night about what faith in real life looks like. It’s from the new testament book of Galatians 5:22 & 23.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I’m learning a few things as a result of my fast. One of them is this: I REALLY don’t like to tell myself no. And when it comes to food, I don’t know that I EVER really tell myself no. If I want it, I make it, buy it, drive to a restaurant and order it.

Should I be surprised then that my daughter does the same thing on a smaller scale?

I think Katy Perry is onto something.

Present when I need it most

It starts at 3:23 am, a hungry cry.

And then another, 4:08.

7:07 welcomes a broken chunk of window lattice, and Ellis rapping on the window. Followed by an exclamation. “Mama, I’m poopy.”

7:11, a glance in the mirror when no glance should have been taken, hair three days bedraggled, face a tired shade of pale.

Ellis asks me at 7:14 if I am crabby. I do not lie.

There is snow on the ground and the floors are chilly, so I attempt to build a fire at 7:34.

At 7:40, there is no longer a fire.

I am in the middle of a soggy bowl of Special K when the hunger chorus erupts from upstairs at 7:45.

8:30 – Diaper time for all three girls.

At 8:52, the twins are asleep in their swings. (And as a quick aside, one of the best pieces of advice someone gave me about living with twins was to never to put anything off. If the time is available to do something, it behooves you to make the most of it. So when my girls sleep, it’s the perfect time to get my toddler outside in the morning.)

I cajole Ellis into her snowsuit, boots, hat, and mittens.  We venture outside to let the chickens out, collect eggs, and generally burn off steam.

I am away from the clock at this point, but I know we have at least an hour or so of solid sleep time. Ellis needs to play outside as much as I need to go straight back to bed. She wins. Until suddenly the world is tragic, and the only way she can fight off her frustration is to flop face first into the snow when I’m trying to get her to walk. And then something happens.

I break. Every single frustrating minute from the morning pile-drives my patience and I have to fight back against the weight of it. So I yell. I yell at my daughter to stop laying in the snow so we can walk down the driveway. She yells back, and we both stand there, snorting steam into the winter air. I imagine we look like rams, heads lowered, ready to clash again at any moment.

I turn away, staring down the length of the snow-covered driveway. I feel a thousand miles away from anyone.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

The verse from Proverbs 15 comes from out of nowhere, slips in the door without knocking, stands in front of me.

It is another confrontation. But this one I know how to handle.

I pick my little girl up off the ground, and then I get down on my knees in the snow. Her blue eyes are crystalline with tears. I apologize for my yelling, tell her I love her. The wind blows around us and I feel it pushing away the heat of my anger.

Happy now

Happy now

My daughter looks at me, wiping her nose on the back of her mitten, and says, I sorry too mama. I happy now. I laugh. Happy now is her code for everything’s okay. I’m ready to move on.

And just like that, it IS okay. We walk down the rest of the driveway, check the mailbox, come back to play on the play set, and journey off to go pick another bunch of wild grapes growing on our corn crib. They are incredibly sweet after the frost.

I grew up in the church, so I’m familiar with the phrase “the word of God is living and active”. I also get that it sounds a little fake, or maybe just too evangelical, but hear me out. Because I haven’t ever felt a bible verse be more present and real than in that moment, in the snow, having a face-off with my toddler.

The verse became more than a platitude. It became truth – real, actionable, truth. Anger put a sudden halt on my discipline, but Forgiveness let me walk hand in hand with my daughter.

I don’t have a lot of time for quiet, introspective Bible reading these days. I think God knows. I think He also understands, and in the moments when I’m almost ready to crumble, He carefully places a verse in my palms.

Then He waits for me to do something with it. Because it’s not enough just to know truth.Truth needs to be practiced, moment by moment, mess by mess, until it’s meaning emerges.

Living. Active. Present when I need it most.