Parenting and the McDonald's Playplace


Like most families, we have a few meal time rules that keep our kids healthy and our meal times sane. I serve healthy foods, and my kids are reasonably expected to eat what I serve. We all sit at the table together until everyone is done. We don't graze. When my kids get down to play, I put their food away for good. 

But here's the deal. NONE of those rules apply to my kids at the McDonald's play place.

I was pondering this the other day while sitting alone at my table surrounded by half-eaten chicken nuggets. I watched a young mother and her two-year-old engage in the epic YOU-MUST-EAT-ALL-YOUR-FOOD-BEFORE-YOU-GO-PLAY food battle. Her struggle was real, and her little boy's determination admirable.

For years now I've taken my kids to fast food play places as a fun, well-controlled place for them to let off a little energy, and it never fails that I see at least one parent who is trying desperately to enforce the standard meal time rules while their child is staring dreamy-eyed at all the other kids running around and having fun. 

Those other kids are my kids. Their food is sitting out on our table almost completely untouched for the moment. They will come back in 10 minutes or so and eat for a while until something catches their eye and they are off to play again. I'm personally am okay with that. 

I brought them here to play and be kids and enjoy a very unhealthy lunch because it's fun and we needed a break from our regular turkey, cheese, and carrots. This is a treat, and a fighting food battle right now really kind of takes the joy out of it. 

You won't ever hear me saying things like, "Eat all your french fries and then you can go play," because honestly, french fries aren't that good for them anyway. I'd much rather them enjoy themselves, leaving me and everyone around me to eat in peace. 

And sometimes we eat cookies in the Wal-Mart parking lot. 
Of course, I understand that not all moms feel as I do about these things. Maybe it's important to you that your child eat their meal. Maybe you are on a road trip and won't get to eat again for several hours. Maybe you just have a big problem with wasting food. Maybe your child is severely malnourished and *needs* those french fries right now. 

There are definitely times when I need my kids to focus on their meal instead of being distracted by the play ground, and at those time, we choose to sit somewhere else. I really don't enjoy tempting my kids with disobedience, and if we sit in the play place area they will be tempted to disobey me (and whine and complain about it) until I finally relent and they get to go play. 

So many of the battles we fight as parents have to do with teaching our kids good habits for life. We want them to grow up and know how to live in the real world as responsible, kind, and not-annoying adults. I don't want to win a battle for the sake of winning. I want to make sure that the lesson I'm teaching is one that matters for a lifetime, and I want to make learning that lesson as easy on my kids as I can. 

Really the point here isn't about McDonald's at all. Whether you choose to make your kids eat every last french fry or not, I think it's important as parents that we keep our "why" in mind. Why am I enforcing *this* rule? Am I just trying to win this fight or am I parenting with my child's long-term best interest at heart? 

There are so many days I find myself beating my head against the wall, frustrated with my kids and their constant disobedience. I have to stop and ask myself, "what am I doing wrong?!?!" 

9 times out of 10 I'm trying too hard to enforce rules that don't really matter. I'm setting my kids up for failure again and again because I'm parenting to win, rather than parenting to love. 

He's not running away. He just LOVES pulling my suitcase down the sidewalk.
Sometimes as parents we have to let go of our preconceived ideas about what our kids should and shouldn't do, and just ask ourselves, "how can I love them best right now?"

Sometimes that means enforcing the rules for their own good even if it means making them unhappy in the moment, and sometimes that means letting them be kids and trusting that they will eventually outgrow whatever behavior is currently driving us crazy. 

It's all about balance and perspective and picking your battles wisely so that in the end, everybody wins. 

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