Intentional Parenting and the Beet Brownie Incident

If you had a traumatic experience in your childhood, you don’t decide that your own children need to experience that same trauma.

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By Dr. John Rich

In an interview with Mr. Carlos Holmes at my university (found by clicking here), I talk about my new book, Positive Parenting. Let me tell you a story.

My wife, bless her intelligent and attractive soul, decided one day to make us all some brownies. She went searching for some recipes, and she found one that was supposed to be just as delicious as regular brownies, but with half the sugar. I can picture my wife thinking, “Half the sugar! Why, that’s close to 50% of the sugar. I conceptualize myself as a healthy person, who wants to instill healthy eating habits in my children. This will be a good opportunity to show them that they don’t have to sacrifice taste for health.” [Trust me, this is how she talks.]

She’d continue with her fantasy, rubbing her hands together with glee all the while: “When they taste these brownies…Oh, my God!”

“When they taste these brownies, they are going to think that they are just regular brownies…” [She’d begin rocking back and forth right about now. She can barely contain her excitement.] “I’ll wait until they’re finished eating them. And then I’ll say [giggle], ‘How were they?” And then, when they tell me that they were great, I’ll tell them that they only had half the sugar. They’ll ask me, “Mom, how in the world were you able to pull off such an incredible feat? I mean, we had no idea!” And I’ll tell them, “The secret…[making them wait for it]… the secret ingredient…is BEETS.”

Cue the sound of happy music. Confetti falls to the ground, and in walks a committee which had just voted her mother of the year. My wife graciously accepts her award: “I want to thank all the little people who made this success possible.”

All right. Enough making fun of my wife. She made the beet brownies, and served them to us. We all took a bite, and they were terrible! They tasted like they had been made with something that grew in the ground. The term “beet brownies” lives on in our house as a reference to anything bad. (E.g., “I’d rate that movie four beet brownies.”)

Here are a few questions for you to ponder:

1) Do you think my wife ever made beet brownies again?

2) When my children grow older, do you think that they will make beet brownies for their children?

3) Let me ask you that last question one more time in a different way: When my children grow older, and they have their own children, do you think they will decide that making them eat beet brownies, while not pleasant, is a necessary part of growing up, and the right thing for parents to do? Do you think they’ll say to themselves: “My Mom made me beet brownies, and I’m gonna make them for my kids, too. It’ll make them tougher, and it’ll hammer home the fact that I am the boss and they are the children, and they will do whatever I tell them to do?”

The answer to all of these questions is no, of course. If you reflect on things you have done, and they didn’t work out, you change course. That’s how you do a good job at anything. You stare your mistakes in the face, and then make a decision to do things differently the next time. If you had a traumatic experience in your childhood, you don’t decide that your own children need to experience that same trauma. When you grow up, you have the right and the obligation to think about how your own parents did things, and then pick and choose which practices you would like to repeat, and which ones you think need changing.

Your parenting, your romantic relationships, your workplace behavior, and your own self-care can all be improved. Just reflect on what’s going well, and what’s not. Take what you’ve been doing unsuccessfully, and try out a new way. Retrain your brain to go about interpreting and responding to those problematic situations differently. It will be difficult at first, and then, just like learning to hold a tennis racket a new way, or learning to shoot a basketball in a new stance, it will gradually become more natural. If you don’t do that, you’re going to be stuck with the same lack of success you’ve been having.

I encourage you to add some sugar to your brownies. You’ve been using beets for too long, and it’s time. to. stop.

This story was originally published on and republished on The Good Men Project.

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