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Cheat Day

Sometimes I Need a Cheat Day in Parenting

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I’m not a big dieter, but I’ve always loved the concept of a cheat day—a scheduled day, about once a week, when all the restrictions are tossed out the window. Just about anything goes on a cheat day, as long as it’s legal, I guess. The rationale behind the cheat day is that it makes maintaining a diet more mentally and physically attainable. Mentally because you can relax those strict rules for a day and eat according to desires, and physically because it revs up the metabolism.

Wonderful idea—now can I apply it to parenting?

I enjoy research, learning about new findings in health, wellness, environmentalism, parenting and child development. I find it fascinating to learn about the ever-changing landscape of what is optimal for adults, families and kids, and what should be avoided. I like to enjoy good health and a positive mental outlook, so I’m keen to delve deep into how to achieve it.

But quite frankly, it’s exhausting—and I don’t mean the research side of things. What’s draining is trying to live by these standards for an optimal life—and that goes for the wellbeing of the entire family, society, and the Earth. It is trying to communicate to children the perils of sugar, screen time, processed foods and plastic straws. In talking about values and how we can live by them I feel like I am constantly saying no to all the fun stuff in life, from Oreos to video games.

I feel like a killjoy and I’m sick of it.

So from time to time I like to slip in a cheat day, half-day, or even just an hour. That’s a time when, instead of saying no and explaining myself, I just say yes to the asks. Yes to requests for extra treats, screen time and chips. Yes to buying a new game on the iPad, or even an expensive toy, or perhaps a sparkly new top. Yes to ordering pizza and eating it in front of some mindless TV, not carefully prepping the meal from organic ingredients and engaging in some carefully curated conversation at the dinner table.

Saying yes is easier than saying no. And while I’m not recommending all chocolate, all the time, or ten straight hours of iPad, a little laxity is a good thing. Because my kids agree with my values and decisions for the most part. Sure, sometimes they regard my “yes” with suspicion, wondering what the catch is. Perhaps they even think it’s some form of reverse psychology, or passive aggressive behaviour.

But no, I’m just trying not to be the one who always says “no” to things.

The other day I couldn’t even tempt my son with a rare Happy Meal from McDonald’s, because he had learned about processed foods from me and from school. My daughter often declines an after-meal treat if she feels satisfied or that she’s had enough for one day. They’re pretty good at saying yes to hikes, or creative play, or accepting digital detox challenges from teachers. They aspire to adopt habits that are gentler on the environment. Often they’re the ones inspiring me to be healthier, more aware and living according to our values. So they’re clearly learning something, and generally see the rationale of not going full hog on all the forbidden yet delectable things in life. They’ve noted that too much of anything—whether sugar or screen time—is not necessarily a good thing.

As for me, I feel lighter and less like a nag when I can say yes. It gives me a chance to reset my patience levels and to recharge my values, as well. These dieters are really on to something with the cheat day—knowing that it exists and is coming soon makes it easier to get back on track after a little bit of fun.

Because a double chocolate muffin for breakfast is fun some of the time, but not every day. Those whole grain pumpkin seed loaves need a chance to shine as well.

Do you have cheat days in parenting? I’d love to hear what they look like.

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