“I’m full,” our son said.
“Finish your eggs,” My husband growled in that grumpy, terse morning voice that could cause a hardened criminal to wet his pants.
Tension knotted up my muscles and crept into my jaw.
Not this marriage issue again.
I glanced at the kid’s plate. There were maybe four bites of scrambled eggs left. How could four bites of food cause so much marital and family tension?
“I’m fuuuulll,” the child whined.
“I don’t care. Eat them,” my husband insisted.
Scenes from my adolescence passed through my mind: My mother policing my breakfast habits. Me filling bowls with milk and a few Cheerios and then dumping them in the sink to make it look as if I’d eaten. The more she policed, the more evasive and secretive I became. Soon, I was packing lunch and then throwing it into the trash can at school.
Human beings, as a general rule, crave autonomy. Take it away and they will find freedom in their defiance. The more you seek to control, the less control you have. Life is perverse like that.
As a health writer, I also know that one of the biggest problems with American waistlines is this: we’re out of touch with our natural hunger and fullness signals. We don’t know the difference between stomach hunger, craving, and “I’m not hungry, but that looks delicious.” We rarely, if ever, stop eating because we’re full. No, we stop eating because all the food is gone, and that’s hundreds of calories too late.
My son doesn’t have this affliction. He’s capable of eating half an ice cream cone and saying, “I’m full. Do you want the rest?” I would pay someone to give me this ability, you know? I’m guessing you would, too. His ability to leave food on his plate is downright beautiful and wonderful. So why was my husband trying to train it out of him?
“What good…” I started to say. “Forget it.”
As much as I knew my husband was wrong, I also knew that one of the fastest ways to destroy one’s marriage is this: Undermine your spouse in front of your child. Still, how could I allow my husband to continue to enforce this outdated and downright harmful rule?
I hung back and tried to distract myself by focusing on my breathing.
The husband growled. The kid resisted. There were tears. Eventually the child choked down the last few bites of eggs and went to school. Later, when we were alone, I asked, “Why do you force him to eat everything on his plate? This is how people gain weight. They lose their ability to tell when they are full. Why would you want to override that?”
The husband glared at me, rolled his eyes, cleared his throat, and then said, “Kids should do what their parents tell them to do.”
“Yes, true. But what does forcing him to clean his plate accomplish? What are you teaching him? Can any good come from it?”
He looked at me as if I’d just suggested he wrap his head in aluminum foil to stop the government from stealing his thoughts.
That’s when I knew I’d won the argument.
You must understand that my husband avoids saying three words more than any others: You are right. This used to bother me. I wanted closure. I wanted a victory dance. I wanted my ego stroked. I wanted him to acknowledge that I knew best.
It took many years for it to sink in that holding out for a “You’re right” was not only an exercise in futility, the practice could very well destroy my marriage. Sometimes I can be right. Other times I can be happy. Many times I can’t be both. When forced to choose, I’ll pick happy over being told that I am right.
The following morning, all of the ingredients for the morning breakfast war were in place. The kid was eating scrambled eggs. Each bite took longer and longer. I could tell that a few bits would end up left on the plate, quite possibly as an act of defiance.
Sure enough, with two forkfuls left, the kid said, “I’m full.”
“You can give the rest to the dog,” my husband said. He actually had a smile on his face. I turned so he couldn’t see me smiling, too.
Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.