An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

Mission accomplished

Earlier this month I mentioned that we had stopped giving Leta treats, and many readers wrote to inquire how we went about such warfare and whether or not there were any casualties. I’ll admit, I thought it was going to be the worst battle we had ever fought as parents, worse even than when we refused to let her inject Elmo into her forearm, but it actually turned out to be one of the easiest, for a couple of reasons. One, when your child is already complaining about everything, is already going around moaning COCO EXISTS! or BREATHING AIR IS SO EXHAUSTING! you don’t really notice it when she starts objecting to yet another unacceptable reality. Two, when she realized we weren’t giving in, she tried to seize control of the situation and started bragging about how she didn’t need treats, had never really wanted them in the first place. Oh, snap! Don’t we feel stupid NOW.

The upside is that we no longer spend our meals bargaining with each other. There is no more of this:

Leta: “How many bites do I have to eat before I get my treat?”

Me: “Leta, you’ve barely eaten anything all day. Don’t you want the whole thing?”

Leta: “How many bites?”

Me: “Fine… ten.”

Leta: “How about I eat nine?”

Me: “Ten.”

Leta: “How about eight?”

Me: “I said ten. End of discussion.”

Leta: “So, eight it is.”

Now she only gets treats on special occasions at school or when my mother WILLFULLY DISREGARDS ME. Last week while we were in Kansas City she stayed with my mother for a couple of nights, and when presented with an ice cream cone after dinner Leta didn’t know what to do. My mother assured her that it was perfectly okay, but Leta, not believing her for one second, asked, “Promise you won’t tell my Mama?”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s OH SO SAD. Mean mother denies child treats. What monster does this to her own daughter? ME. THAT’S WHAT MONSTER. I don’t mind the occasional treat, that’s not what this is about. This is about the constant negotiating during meals when I would much rather be enjoying my spaghetti. This is about teaching her to eat when she’s hungry and stopping when she’s full. This is also very much about making her suffer.

When I confronted Leta about the ice cream cone, something I found out about because my mother’s urge to rub it in my face far outweighed her loyalty to her grandchild, Leta didn’t say a word, she just looked up at me like a rabbit flipped over on its back by a wolf. I told her it was okay, not to worry, she’s allowed to have a treat now and then, and I asked her if she enjoyed it. “Yes, Mama,” she said, quickly regaining her footing. Smiling broadly she continued, “Does ‘now and then’ mean tonight?”

Earlier this week we got notice that her school Halloween party was going to be held today, and yesterday I found out that I needed to prepare a couple dozen cookies. This is one facet of parenthood that I have mastered, The Cookie Platter, and because of this I can forgive myself for all the other things I’m not so good at, like sewing clothes or building things out of Legos or pretending that Daddy has any idea what he’s talking about. Leta can always be confident in the fact that when I send of plate of cookies with her to school that she will walk in the door and all the kids will be nudging each other going DUDE. LETA’S MOM MADE COOKIES. Which will be a welcome change from DUDE. LETA’S MOM IS WEARING THE SAME SHIRT SHE WORE YESTERDAY.

My secret is easy: do not follow the instructions on the back of the package. Hell no, they’re not made from scratch, they’re just removed from the oven about five minutes before they’re fully-cooked and then left to finish cooking on the pan. Leta loves this recipe, and last night when I removed the first batch from the oven she was suddenly standing next to me in the kitchen having appeared out of nowhere. “What are those?” she asked, not knowing if she should beg for one or pretend that she didn’t need one. I told her they were cookies for her Halloween party, and because it was a special occasion we were all going to eat one after dinner. I got the feeling that she didn’t trust me, and in as calm and deliberate a tone as she could muster she said, “Well then, I think it would be a good idea if we all had dinner right now.”

Another upside of removing treats? Getting to see the glee in her face when she’s allowed to eat one. After dinner I handed her the biggest cookie from the batch, and she was so excited she couldn’t keep her fingers still. “Leta,” I said as she carefully balanced the cookie between two trembling hands, “do you know how much I love you?”

She nodded enthusiastically, took a bite full of chocolate chips and mumbled through a mouth full of crumbs, “Can you be quiet? I’m eating a cookie.”

  • Laura

    A Cookie is a Sometime Food!

    WARNING: Not for people with an anti-children’s songs agenda.

  • Heather, you are both wise and brave. We have **exactly** the same negotiations over dinner in our house, and we hate it. so far we’ve considered “treats on special occasions only,” but we haven’t committed to it. You’re giving me hope.

  • great storytelling (and parenting)!

    My piece of advice, don’t try to control grandma. If g’ma wants to spoil & give treats than let them. It isn’t worth the battle. Unless you enjoy the battle… then have fun fighting about it!

    The grandparents are good for one thing in particular… letting Leta know that she is loved and adored no matter what. They don’t have to train her up or discipline her or do any boring parent thing like that… they just have to ensure that she feels loved unconditionally and can do no wrong in their eyes.


  • Jenny Sylvester

    Treats for school made at home?! Wow! I always imagined I would get to do that and when my son started school there was a ‘rule’ of only store bought/sealed packages of goodies. ack.

    Oh yes, the years of negotiations…. I learned to tune it out and every time my son would say one more I would make it one less and then if he countered I said – okay, none it is AND stuck to it. I should have gone your brave route. However, I have survived this fun activity for 11 years now and am convinced he will be some sort of lawyer or negotiator at some point in his life.

    Gotta love the grandparents – UGH…my kiddo always would come home full of junk.

  • Amy

    Heather! Ya’ll were in Kansas City? You didn’t let us know so we could get books signed and enjoy some really good bbq with you!

  • Kristin

    Damn that was funny! You must also be involving her in the Slow Food Movement…she seems to be learning to savor her food, mindful eating. Well done. I totally agree with getting away from negotiations with children. They’re persistent little buggers!

  • Well done! I love that, “be quiet, I’m eating a cookie”!

    What I really want to say though is, will there be another Chuck calender any time soon? For the past 2 years we’ve had our copy hanging on the kitchen wall directly above the cat food bowls, just to purplex the moggies! I buy it for my husband who loves your photos. So, where is the one for 2009? Your Welsh readers want Chuck!

  • Amy

    Great story, as always. I am putting this comment here because you closed it for the David Sedaris post. I too was at David Sedaris, but I find it interesting that you seem surprised that the audience would laugh and respond to him as we did. (Yes, I realize that you are most likely being sarcastic, but hear me out) Is it not possible that 98% of the people there KNOW who he is and what he talks about, so why would I be surprised by what he has to say? That is like me going to George Carlin in Salt Lake, which I did, and then being annoyed that he said Fuck. I mean seriously. Not every person in Utah is Mormon (and even if they were, not all Mormons follow their religion to the letter) I think what I am trying to say here is that, I find it ignorant on your part to assume that MOST of the audience would freak out by his readings or what he has to say.

  • I tell my five-year-old I love her and usually get back, “mmkay.”

  • Diana

    So freaking funny! I am glad you decided to put your foot down about the bargaining. It is a horrible game kids play and parents fall prey to. Love your stories!

    Happy Halloween : )

  • Kateastrophe

    Can you send me some COOKIES?!? I’ve been very good and I promise you won’t be reduced to negotiations. I will eat every last bite of my spaghetti and even lick the plate clean…

    By the way, I dreamt that I drove my sister’s RV to your house because we were long-lost friends. When can we become BFFs?!?

    *maybe I should lay off the sugar…I’ll take a raincheck on those cookies. :p

  • My son turned down a slice of homemade Ooey-Gooey butter cake yesterday in favor of grapes. I feel I need to bribe him to eat treats so he isn’t beaten up his first day of kindergarten for requesting broccoli to go with his milk carton.

  • Our daughters are now 13 and 16: to the point – my mother used to do the same thing with ice cream, but out of our sight. We never served dessert, but had battles anyway. After a while we just decided that they knew what their bodies needed. (Younger kid used to gag when it was green.) Best times: “no manners” night meant they could eat with elbows on the table, sitting on or under the table or whatever. And now we have healthy girls who do not have eating disorders and stop when they are full.

  • Leta reminds me way too much of my little sister.

    But she eats way to many sweets and not enough vegetables.

  • Anonymous

    According to my extended family I am the meanest mom ever because I don’t let my son have treats all the time. They even go behind my back to try and give him stuff. So good for you. Treats are called treats because they are for special occasions. If you get them all the time they are called food.

  • This is too funny. I love how Leta totally thinks she’s on the ball with everything and tries to talk you into things with her innocent little suggestions. Want a cookie? Have dinner immediately then. Brilliant.

  • sandra

    Awesome to see you being the grownups and making sure Leta knows it. You’re not mean for not giving in to treats…your the *adult* who knows best. Parenting doesn’t have to be an ongoing power struggle or a continuous stream of negotiations. It’s not a battle if you refuse to play the game.

    My kids get their fair share of treats, only because they are awesome eaters who like an almost limitless variety of healthy foods. There’s a healthy balance, and I’m at peace knowing that the junk isn’t displacing heathy food. In our house there are 3 classifications of food: Meals, Snacks and Junk. The kids know the difference and they know better than to push their luck when they say “I want something to eat.”

  • Sara

    Leta is freakishly intelligent and hilarious. My sister’s youngest child out of 4, and the only girl, God bless my sister, reminds me so much of Leta (they’re just a couple months apart…wonder if there was something in the air that year). Couple of pissants they are.

    And GOOD FOR YOU! Would it be weird to say I’m proud of you? For taking away treats? I grew up being allowed to eat whatever the hell I wanted, and if that meant sugar in place of real food, that was fine. So I’m totally on the “treats are exactly that–TREATS” wagon. It makes them that much more special when the little mongrels don’t get them on a regular basis. My 2 y/o daughter helps me make cookies sometimes, and oh my goodness, you’d think the kid had died and gone to Cookie Heaven with Jesus. I’ve stopped letting it piss me off when her grandparents give her candy. I realize that is a battle I will never, ever win. It’s a grandmommy thing. Darn grandmommies and their disregard for our Nazi Mom Rules.

  • kitchenbeard

    The scene: Kitchenbeard’s childhood.

    Kitchenbeard to his mother after visiting with Grandma: And then we got to eat (insert junk food item here). How come we don’t get to eat that at home.

    Kitchenbeard’s Mother: Because I love you more than she does.

  • You may have cookies, but *I* have cupcakes. TAKE THAT!

    Seriously though, I’ve really got to stop the how many more bites bargaining as well. You have, dare I say, been inspirational.

  • mdawg

    My parents cut sugar out of my diet when I was little. It took a few years, but I broke them. Sure, my divide-and-conquer approach shook the foundations of their marriage, but that was such a small price to pay for Coco Puffs. Go Team Leta!

  • I’ve gotta hand it to ya’… I’ve said the same thing to my kids (no treats), and I usually cave after a few weeks. And by “few weeks” I mean 20 minutes.

  • In defense of your mother, it is her JOB as a grandparent to spoil Leta. It is her responsibility to willfully disregard your wishes in exactly the same way that it was your job in your teens to willfully disregard her wishes (although it sounds as though you didn’t really take on that job until your 20s — but you more than made up for it then!!!)

    Oh, my heavens, though…Leta and her “Be quiet; I’m eating a cookie” must be one of the funniest things I’ve read in forever. That moment made all the taking away of treats completely worth it! Bravo!!!

    I’m in the process of adopting and I can’t WAIT to have my own child to torture with lack of treats! GO DOOCE!

  • Andree

    Pfff. Your mother’s a hack. My grandfather TOOK LIMA BEANS AWAY FROM MY TWO YEAR OLD, which she was happily eating, and gave her OREOS. He refused to wait two minutes until she finished her beans.

  • Keith

    I meant to get this question in on your previous post. Perhaps you can address it at some later date…

    Is it permitted for one to wear a merken in La Verkin? Can one even buy one there?

  • Nicole

    Funny, my boyfriend has the same reaction as Leta…

  • As cookies are my favorite food on the planet, I know exactly how she felt.

  • Chris

    You should tell people when you’re places. We all could’ve had a KC Dooce-fest.

    That doesn’t sound right, but the basic principle is sound.

    Anyway, congrats on the treats. More for me…

  • “So, eight it is.”

    I can completely relate to this! I volunteered to read for young children at the local school not too long ago, and it is a complete PAIN to get them to pay attention/read for themselves. Children will be children.

  • Lisa

    When someone finds the child rearing manual, I am sure we will be sleeping better at night. In the meantime, being a parent is like a wild experiment. Being real and consistent are important in parenting. Can’t wait until Leta can’t live without makeup….or boys!

    As for Grandparents…..there are no rules for them. The only rule is that they need to be available.

    Great post!

  • I don’t have any kids yet but the “trial and error” that seems to be parenting really kind of freaks me out. I really do wish they came with a manual. a very precise manual.

  • Jen

    Smart Mama!!! I believe kids should eat when hungry and only until full- not eat to get something else. I babysit, and treats or snacks are for nighttime or mid afternoon, and are normally very fruitfilled!! Fruit salads, yogurts, are the choices he makes over cookies. Which is good, because they only buy Smarties once a month for him. 🙂
    I think you’re doing a great job with Leta.

  • Bek

    Guh…Home baked cookies? Our school requires “store bought” only. What fun is that?!

    Leta is brilliant. And hysterical. But I’m sure you already knew that.

  • My first thoughts were “You mean you guys can have Halloween parties there?” They are all but banned here in California. And the homemade treat thing too – i’ve heard that some schools aren’t letting homemade treats in either. store bought only, which, um ew!

  • I give my kids a salt lick every once in a while. Minerals are a treat.

  • Natalie

    So my question is, if you don’t negotiate “how many bites” with a treat afterwards, does that mean that the negotiations just stopped? My DD is 6 and suprisingly is not a big sweets person but we still have the discussion of how many more bites does she have to take until she can be done. Do you just let Leta decide when to be done or does she just now finish a meal without question? Does she still say “can I be done if I eat ## more bites?” even though there isn’t a treat for later?
    I’m glad it went so well! Not nearly as hard as taking the pacifier away, huh!

  • April

    I totally agree with Kelley’s suggestion for the t-shirt, in fact I can think of a few Leta-isms that belong on t-shirts. She’s such a doll.

    You take a lot of shit on this site about your parenting but I think you’re fantastic. Keep at it. She’s gonna be a great woman.


    I had cookies in the oven when I read this, so I jumped up to take them out early. Thanks! Much better.

  • Anu

    Ouch!! That last statement must have hurt….hahahah 🙂

  • For a second there, I read “we were going to eat the cookies for dinner”, and I thought, what is this? Reverse psychology?…

    My roomate once said “The best part of being an adult is that I can actually have dessert before my dinner if I want to.” But yeah, limiting treats is probably a good idea… I still feel badly if I have dessert before dinner.

  • p.s. The upside to this, is that you should be proud that your daughter is learning practical, real-world negotiation skills!

  • My 2 year old nephew’s first word was “cookie,” and his first full spoken sentence was, “I want a cookie.” This remains his favorite thing to say. Pity the day his mother decides to remove treats from his diet!

  • Malita

    I didn’t learn how to only eat when i was hungry and stop when I’m full till I was 25!!! As a result I am just now (32 years old) at my correct weight and not a little piggy!!! So in my opinion you are right on!!

  • Heather–just had to come back to say: #58 (Amy) is hilarious! You know, in an ignorant way. File this under: Readers who don’t “get it”.

  • OMG! Let me say that again–O M G. How much are you editing and shaping and creating vignettes like this, Heather? Because if this is even 62% verbatim, Leta will be master of the universe and boss of us all before she’s sixteen.

  • You’re right on with limiting treats – and an inspiration! Whether kids or adults, goodies always taste better when they’re just that – TREATS – not every day occurrences.

  • laelephant

    I hope you are preparing for law school, your kid seems quite the negotiator, lol!

  • I can’t believe the things that come out of the mouths of babes. If I didn’t know she was your daughter, I’d swear you’re making up all the stuff you say she says.

    Leta is a riot! Good for you for raising such a spirited daughter.

    And yeah, I agree that you should print up bookmarkers, stickers, tshirts, or whatever else you can think of with all the stuff she says… Starting with, but not limited to: OH MY GOD THE HELL!!!!!

  • My mom only let me buy Hershey’s bars from the grocery store occasionally. There was no such thing as after dinner ice cream or cookies. Or at least, none that I can remember, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I was a DEPRIVED child.

    She did, however, let me drink Coke out of my bottle when I was age 3. I remember it, and so do our family friends, but she says, THAT’S NOT TRUE! It’s her story and she’s sticking to it.

  • Another great story. I’m glad you have found a way that works for your family.

    We actually went in the opposite direction. I stopped treating sweets as anything special at all. I offer choices freely of whatever we have available, “treats” included. My kids eat what satisfies them. What nourishes them. And yes, what fulfills a craving for sweet. But like you said, they pay attention to their body’s cues rather than figuring out how to bargain for the dessert. They know they can have their dessert whenever they want and it’s lost all of its power over them.

    Just another way to approach it. Thought you might find it interesting.

    PS Leta is way cool.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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