Part 4 in my Series on Giving and Forgiving
You can also read Part 1: Deck the Halls with PsychoAnal Gifts Part 2: The Spirit of Giving and Forgiving and Part 3: Balancing the Four Rooms.
My two oldest sons and I were getting into mischief downtown this past weekend. They were running around the green space in front of the performing arts centre and enjoying the crisp December weather.
A horse and large carriage comes along the main street, complete with jingling harness and a-caroling people. My kids run up to see it just as I notice the sign on the carriage’s side for a certain religious group that promotes intolerance and hatred. While I attempt to diplomatically explain to Nat, the 5yo, who the people are as he is sounding out the words on the sign, I don’t notice the carriage is flanked by walking people carrying baskets.
One of the people comes up to us brandishing candy canes as big as my children’s’ heads, wrapped in bags that contain shiny, colorful religious pamphlets. After wishing us a firm, “Merry Christmas” in reply to my own “Happy Holidays” response to his greeting, he extends the sweet to Gan, the 3yo, then says warningly, “Only if your mom says it’s okay.”
I’m uncomfortable with this entire situation, yet also slightly glad for the candy distraction from Nat’s curiosity about who they are. I say yes, deciding that I will handle the candy “situation” (yes, I coined it so in my mind) later.
The Forgiving Crux
I felt like the entire situation was a set up for this group to spread their message of intolerance. It was an unwelcome intrusion into my enjoyable time with my children and felt against the spirit of the holidays.
I understand their point of view that they are spreading the word of love and acceptance into their special group of happiness. I don’t have an issue with this type of spreading the love as long as it’s unconditional. But, I mind when it is used to exclude, dehumanize or pass judgment.
The exclusions and requirements to be accepted into the group are where the message leaves me chilled. And my feeling process in those moments was like this:
Using Christmas icons and candy feels like a proverbial trap inside a gingerbread house to me. It opens the door a crack to lure someone into a gradual decent of excluding those who are different. This particular group is highly vocal about who they consider immoral. They have no problem bashing away the humanity of those who disagree with their views. It’s bullying and it’s hate-speech. And it defiles those who practice the same religion in an accepting way.
I had to get to a place of forgiveness about this situation. I was angry about the outward show of love hiding a cold hate. I was angry about the candy being proffered to my kids in this passive aggressive way that made me look like the bad guy if I said no. I was upset that I was going to have to figure out a way to get rid of the religious pamphlets without reading them with my kids.
I was frustrated that our carefree time together was now poised on the tip of this candy cane.
I decided that I didn’t have to like any of this. I didn’t have to stay silent about what I didn’t like either. I told the candy cane person, politely, that we would accept the candy canes, but give back their literature. He handed over the candy and left in a huff before I could return the papers to him, with another firm over his shoulder, “Merry Christmas. I will put you in my prayers.”
I took the canes out of the bags and told my kids we could mail the colorful holiday papers to the candy cane people for the holidays. They were satisfied enough with this and distracted by the incoming sugar that I didn’t have to discuss it further much to my relief. But, I expect that Nat will remember to bring it up in the future.
Then, I handed the candy canes without the papers back to the kids. That’s when I started laying down the rules.
The Giving Crux
I don’t think the canes had even left my hands before I said they needed to keep them wrapped until it was time to eat them. And they couldn’t eat them until after we had finished dinner at the restaurant we were going to after running around the greenspace.
This was their cue to begin negotiating. I listened calmly and empathized as we walked to the restaurant. I knew that acting anything but unflappably patient would not end the negotiations, but would move them to the level of whining and then possibly tantruming.
Besides, they’re kids holding candy. It’s sweet, delicious treasure in their hands. Of course, they want to try to get it. That’s natural. My thwarting them wasn’t going to magically negate these feelings. If I were holding a candy cane as big as my head and someone told me to wait, I’d be annoyed, too.
We got to the restaurant, ordered our food, and I settled in for the next round of negotiations. I checked in with myself and noticed I had a similar kind of anxiety as I had while next to the horse and carriage. I was feeling resigned and stuck. Then, I checked in with my kids. They were holding candy given to them and acting quite calm about it, actually.
Wait…candy that was given to them.
This wasn’t my candy. This was their candy. And I was holding parental power over them, as if I was the owner of the candy. No wonder this felt wrong.
So, I said with honesty, “I am sorry. I was acting unfairly. Those are your candy canes, not mine. It’s your decision when and how much of them to eat.”
Nat, who is the kid that will say, “I’m not hungry for dinner. Can I just eat broccoli?” wanted to save his candy cane for dessert. Gan, who is the kid that won’t speak for stuffing treats in his mouth, decided to unwrap his candy cane and eat some of it before dinner and some after.
The world didn’t come to a screeching halt; my kids didn’t become obsessed with candy; they don’t suddenly expected to get candy, candy, candy all the time; their morals and teeth haven’t become rotten.
Actually, I think this has created a healthier, more empowering relationship with candy for them. Like most kids, they adore candy, but since they felt respected and unlimited, I think the power around obtaining it is diffused-at least for a little while-this is candy, after all. I’m not expecting them to suddenly become abstemious or anything.
I believe in natural consequences. For example, if it’s cold outside, but the kids want to wear shorts, they’ll feel cold and change into something warmer or not. I don’t argue with them or try to make them do things.
Most importantly, I feel as a parent, it is my job to observe, support and facilitate them as they learn to navigate life. We discuss the ramifications of decisions. I try to explain things in ways they will understand as often and as patiently as needed. So, I will probably bring warm clothes with me to produce if asked, out of courtesy and support.
I try to practice natural consequences. I try not to hover or insert my judgments. And I’m constantly finding new ways that I have to think or act differently to be the parent they deserve. I have opinions on things and will share them, hoping I do my best to give space for other opinions.
We have spoken about the types of foods that help you grow and foods that don’t. And we have spoken about people who are mean and people that are loving. I am sure that both of these will be conversations we will have for many years.
Ultimately, I hope to model the skills for tolerance, conscious choices, critical thinking, and forgiving on their own terms. If nothing else, they can see what an imperfect person looks like as they strive toward unconditional giving and forgiving.
How do you handle candy in your family? Is giving candy in a separate category from giving gifts? Why or why not?
Remember, anonymous comments are always welcome. I’d love to hear from you.
Questions from Part 1: Have you ever been charged for receiving a gift? Do you have expectations when you give to someone else?
Questions from Part 2: Do you feel that giving and receiving freely is important or is a gift a gift? What do you think about the concept that giving objects are a representation of the feelings inside?
Questions from Part 3: Do you visit the four rooms of your house? Are there any areas you need to offer the key of self-forgiveness before you unlock them?
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- Deck the Halls with Psychoanal Gifts (touchstonez.com)
- The Spirit of Giving and Forgiving (touchstonez.com)
- Balancing the Four Rooms (touchstonez.com)
- Guest Post: The Key to Everything (touchstonez.com)
- When the Chitta Hits the Fan (touchstonez.com)
- Giving from the Heart (vibrantwanderings.com)
- Family Traditions: To Santa or Not to Santa (naturalparentsnetwork.com)
- What’s Not Ok? (A Self-Forgiveness Post) (itsokblog.com)
- Yama, Niyama and the Red Pajama Mama (naturalparentsnetwork.com)
- Further proof that children are socially cooperative creatures (hobomama.com)
- More on the Culture of More(angelbabyjazzymama.blogspot.com)