Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Don't Like Broccoli

Thanks to guest writer Matthew Croke for filling in for Dan today!

I’m thinking about getting a second family, one with a wife and kids.  I could take out an ad in a newspaper, “Man looking for wife and kids to help him figure out his own children.  Family must know man and his three children will live in another house.”  That should get me married in less than two weeks.

Why, do you ask, am I going all ‘Big Love’ kid version?  Because all of a sudden my three-year-old will no longer eat her Lucky Charms for breakfast.  She won’t do it.  Two spoonfuls and she says “I’m no longer hungry.”  It’s Lucky Charms!  It’s as close to giving a child a bowl of sugar and a straw for a meal.  So I tried a different cereal, no dice.  Now her non-eating  is spilling over to dinner, I come home from work and see a plate full of food on the kitchen table – the table has since been long been abandoned by the children - and my Mom tells me “Molly said she wasn’t hungry.”

So then the question I ask myself the most, when it comes to my children, finds its way to my brain.  “Is my child being a three-year-old who is inserting her independence, or is she being a three-year-old who lost her mother and is acting out.”  Do I go with the flow, “Oh, those kids” as I scrape the plate of pasta, carrots, and chicken into the garbage.  Or do I jump on the phone and set up an appointment with a therapist as I take the uneaten food, put it in a zip lock baggie, and mark it with a black Sharpie: Exhibit #1.   
Yes, I know kids don’t eat full meals. 
Yes, I know kids don’t listen to their parents.
Yes, I know my kids will get in trouble and break the law and drink someday.

I get it, I truly do.  But it’s also a mistake not to keep an eye out for signs they need a little more attention due to me being an only parent.  It’s a bad idea not to look for context clues from the kids struggling with not getting enough affection.  And trying to guess their pain is challenging, because they don’t come up and volunteer their grief; you have to be creative in having it come out.  I do belong to some amazing groups that help the kids and I deal with this part of grief.  I do.

However, it’s still difficult to resist the temptation of every time they hit one another, to sit them down and say, “Now, do you really miss mom and you are looking for someone to hold you and instead are replacing it with negative contact that leads to anger which in itself is easier to emote than love?”  The child looks at me and says, “No, Haley knocked over my Lego tower on purpose and I’m mad.” “Oh… then off you go. Just don’t hit her in the face.”

Can you see where my second family would come in handy?   I can be sitting down for dinner and my middle child will say, “Dad, I don’t like broccoli, I’m not going to eat it.”  I can then get up from the table, hop in my car and go to my second family (where I have a wife), join them in the middle of their dinner, turn to the middle child and say, “Hey child number two, you have a mom and me as a dad, no issues there, are you going to eat your broccoli?”  “Are you crazy Dad, I’m a kid, I hate broccoli!” I can get back up, run out the door, go back to my house, go over to Kelly, pick her up, and swing her around in circles saying, “You’re not traumatized, you’re just being a kid.”  

Only to have her throw up all over me and my eldest daughter say, “Dad, why would you spin her around like that during dinner?  Did you forget, or is it because you miss Mom?”


  1. I so can relate to this post! My boys were 10 and 12 when my husband died over 2 1/2 years ago and I constantly find myself second guessing everything with them. Is _______ because they are teenagers or is it because they miss their Dad and need his amazing influence in their lives? I ask the question, I have trouble getting an answer. I don't want them to get away with something just because their Dad died but I do want to allow for their grief to be acknowledged and allowed for. It's such a tightrope that us "only parents" are walking and there is no right answer, unfortunately. We can only go with our gut instincts as we deal with each individual child. I wish there was a "control group family" that we could constantly refer to to know how our kids are doing!

  2. Really great post, Matthew. Funny and very true. Good writing.

  3. Love it! It's so hard to know what is "normal" and what is grief-related, especially when your children were young when they lost a parent. I find myself trying not to use it as an excuse for their behavior, but wondering what part it plays in who they are. Great post!

  4. When you find the control group.... I have a laundry list of questions about our 10 and 6 year old sons. My problem is that I am a girl and they are boys...I know NOTHING about raising can be gross. But I want them to be gross if gross is normal. I'm going insane trying to ensure that they manage and feel and allow their grief to happen but to not let it get in the way of growing up, becoming responsible and having fun. A panel of kids would be great. I found camp comfort zone for my kids fro We are wait listed for our first camp. I'm hoping it really helps with the 10 year olds' need to be my man. He wants to step into dad's shoes and I'm not willing to let him. He deserves to be 10. Yes...a control family would really come in handy. :-). Great post!

  5. Great Post and comments.
    I need that control family also!!!- being a girl and having two boys- I get stuck wondering also what is truly "boy Gross" vs- "I am acting out rush me to a therapist". No small animals hurt - just not sure how many times is normal for boy gross stuff correction - like how many times i need to repeat "I have gone to gas station bathrooms that are cleaner" - "can you truly not aim and are you really that angry that your dad is dead that you want me to clean that up"?
    "Well it is a good thing he is not alive because you would not like him either right now and he was a lot bigger than me - he would pick you up and set you straight" Oh "and he would never tolerate the way you think it is ok to speak to me your mother his wife" -for clarity - with no results so I am not giving any recomendations here but I do say often "I want the same language that you would use in school when your in my house." I do admit to having to pull the I know your dad is dead but he would not tolerate your behavior "card". Sometimes it makes them laugh and others it makes them mad that I "went that low" and when it is most troubling is when it has no effect at all and I am left wondering if it is just a boy-teen-hormone induced lack of common sense non-dead dad related thing(similar to they are kids and broccoli is not a food some of them will eat at times). There was a commercial out last week that truly helped me-probably helped parents that are not SOLO parents also... it is one where the kid is looking right in the freezer at a box of frozen pizza while on the phone telling his mother that it is not in the freezer and she tells him to look to the left-more. Seems like kids all over are blind as bats when they become teenagers.
    Finally, I got it that my kid was not always being difficult (I did get him glasses/contacts) still had "I can not see it -find it disease"
    it is a normal thing to not see things right in front of their faces. I thought they were being difficult on purpose:) Very good post..I probably shared too much but at least I have hope that by sharing it will help someone else and they might not panic as often as you tend to in the first few years...always wondering about DEEPER Meanings and not wanting to miss signals for help.(hard to avoid and part of the journey no one bought a ticket for) Going to hug my boys((hugs to other struggling parents reading this))

  6. Thank you so much for this post; I can totally relate, as with the other commenters. My partner died in June, and we (I) have a just turned four year old. How much of his behavior is grief-related, and how much is just being a temperamental pre-schooler? If anyone knows the answer, send me some advice!
    ~Grace in Bellingham, WA

  7. But Lucky Charms? This is often considered "dinner" at our house...shh, don't tell my dentist. As a lone parent, I do struggle with knowing the difference between child rearing and childhood grieving. As a medical professional, I would suggest a trip to your daughter's therapist as it's risking her health for her not to eat and also impacting her view of food.

    Will say a prayer for you!

  8. As an adult whose father died when I was six years old, and now a parent of a 10 year old, I can relate to both ends of the situation. First off, let me just say that even though, yes, this is a traumatic time, don't keep dwelling on it, especially in front of your child(ren). Life goes on is what should be focused on, but please don't be afraid to talk about the missing parent. Unless your child is giving extreme examples of 'acting out', why the therapy or support groups for them? As a child growing up, I would LOVE to hear my mother tell me stories about my dad. That was enough for me. What was skimmed over as a child, were the details of his death. Hey, save it for a later date, when your child is old enough to understand.

    As for the not eating thing...when my son was three, it was a chore to get him to eat anything. I figured out that spoon feeding on the run was the only way to get anything into his system. However, that means you or Gramma will need to sit at the table while the 3 year old makes tracks around you. Every once in a while, hold out the spoon or fork and tell her to take a bite. It lasted until he was five. He started eating at the table on his own. Normal child behavior in my mind. Hope this helps.

  9. My mother was widowed at 27. I was 34 when my husband died. It's seemed to work very well for us to acknowledge that sometimes things will be different and our children will grieve... but grief is normal. It's not something to wallow in, it's something to address and move on. We address it regularly. Good behavior is expected. Kids will do what you expect them to do. If you expect them to be healthy and offer them support when they express that they are in a needier place... they will communicate and then move in healthy activity (I have 3 boys, they still manage to communicate). Our family motto is "Grow in love." Two of the kids are autism spectrum. They are not average or normal- but they are fabulous in their own way. As parents, strive to help your kids, "grow in love." Being in a single parent family is what's normal for our children now. Don't treat them like it's something that is going to screw them up for life... and it won't.