Parenting – the tuna fish sandwich story…

My wife and I have managed to raise 4 children to adulthood. I always hesitate to say “successfully”, because who knows what the definition is of success in raising children? I think my 4  children are amazing, independent, smart, hard-working individuals. In my mind, that measures success. In our 30 years of child raising, we have made many mistakes, and had many victories. And it is always a compliment to hear that others want to know about how we did it.

I recall once being at a party and having a younger mom corner me to talk about parenting Her children were grade school age, while mine were in late High School and College. We had met a time or two before through mutual friends, but our families were not at all close. She told me that she and her husband have laid in bed at night hoping they could be parents like us, because our children all had it together and were such fine people. I naturally swelled with pride, not for myself, but proud that my children made such a mark on someone I knew only casually.

She, like others before and since, wanted to know what our “secret” was. I had to tell her that we didn’t have any secrets or magic for raising children. We used a lot of common sense, communicated well with each other and our children, and were consistent. At the end of the brief conversation, I felt like I had let her down a bit because I didn’t have any lofty, grandiose advice for her.

That conversation, and the starting of my blog, have made me think more about our parenting. What we have done right, what has failed. So, at the suggestion of my wife and others, I am going to start posting a few stories from time to time on parenting.

The first story involved our older son (second of four in age in our family). He was about four or five years old when this happened. We had a rule that there was a minimum amount that the kids had to eat at dinner. We weren’t stuffing them like swollen ticks, but we did want them to eat healthy and balanced diets. This particular night we had tuna fish sandwiches. My wife and I like tuna sandwiches, tuna noodle salad and tuna casserole very much. Our younger daughter has become something of an expert on making all of those dishes, because she shares our love. At the time, my son did not share that love.

So, our rule was that we ate together at the kitchen table. Everyone stayed until they had finished eating. My wife and I would stay a reasonable amount of time while waiting, but we would eventually leave them back at the table to finish their portion. My son had two sandwich quarters to finish. He had eaten his vegetables, drank his milk, and had just a couple of bites left. As was our way, we left him at the table to finish.

We live in a tri-level house, so the rest of us went about our business. My wife and I went to the family room to watch some TV. Very soon after leaving the table he joined us. I asked him if he had finished his sandwich, and he emphatically told me that he had. Suspicious, I went to investigate.

I looked in the trash, nothing. I looked in the sink, nothing. I looked under his baby brother’s booster seat, nothing. I was stumped. I was certain that he had stashed the sandwich somewhere, but had not idea where. Then I hit on an idea.

I went back to the family room and called his name. In a fairly stern voice I told him that I had found where he hid the sandwich, and that HE needed to take his mother and show her where I found it. I was bluffing, of course, but he bit on the bait. With head low, he took his mother up to the kitchen. At the time we had bi-fold doors over our doorwall, and he had stashed the food behind them. As it was summer, and those doors were open a lot, it would have been a day or two before we found them during a thorough floor sweeping, or from the odor. This story has lived on in legend in the family as the day Dad outsmarted his son with a clever bluff.

Now, I don’t hold this up as an example of how to be a good parent. I am sure that some well-meaning PhDs out there would tell you how awful I was for lying to my son. But, in this case it was effective. Because of that bluff, two things happened:

  • We found the tuna sandwich the easy way (the smell would be the hard way).
  • My son got an idea that Dad was pretty thorough, and wasn’t going to let things slide.

I don’t pretend to think that lying to us stopped that day for him, or any of our other children. But, on that day my wife and I came out ahead.

There is no set formula that works 100% of the time for raising children. For every book you read claiming to have THE ANSWER, there are others that have the opposite, or at least conflicting advice. The best advice I can give you is to keep trying, stay with it, and don’t let the bad days get you down. If your children are blessed to have two parents in their house, then make sure the two of you are on the same page, and just consistently apply what you know.

Are you sure to succeed every day? No – nothing in life is certain. But, if you work hard at it, your failures will be overshadowed by your successes. Whenever I talk to new parents that are worried about whether they will be good enough, I usually say the same thing. The fact that you care enough to want to be better, will make you a better parent. You will make mistakes, because we all do. But, because you care about improving, you will learn from those mistakes and be a better parent for it.

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