A long time ago, when I was a single mother of four, I began dating a man (whom we shall call Brett) who was charming and sweet. He coached my son's soccer team; I was the team Mom. Not far into our relationship, he started coming over to spend time with us on the weekends. I wondered if he might be *the one.*
I had my own home and one of my rules, having four small children and their friends tromping in and out everyday, was "no shoes in the house." My kids knew that when they came in they were to leave their shoes in the entryway, and their friends did, too. It kept my light colored carpets from becoming a wreck of dirty footprints. But I never asked adult visitors to remove their shoes. It wasn't that big of a deal.
One day Brett told me his parents very much wanted to meet me and my kids and it would mean a lot to him for me to meet them as well. I decided to have them over for lunch one weekend. I was excited and nervous and prepped my kids with reminders on good behavior. I cleaned the house and set everything up nicely and made a yummy lunch. I couldn't wait! I wanted to make a good impression and hoped we would all hit it off.
I went to the bathroom about 5 minutes before we were expecting them. I didn't hear a doorbell ring, but when I came out of the bathroom, I heard a discussion going on at the door. Brett was insisting, "you HAVE to take your shoes off! That is the RULE!" His mother and father were not even up the front steps to the porch yet. They were standing on the sidewalk at the bottom of the stairs, looking upset and frustrated. Just as I came to the door they were turning around to leave and get back in their car. "Oh, please come in!" I said, "you don't need to take your shoes off! That's just something I have the kids do!" They turned and looked at me, Dad with a scowl on his face, Mother looking like she was about to cry. "Really!" I insisted, as Brett interrupted and said "they can take their shoes off! We don't want the carpet dirty..." and I stepped in front of him, down the stairs to his parents, apologizing: "I'm sorry, Brett didn't understand! We never ask guests to take their shoes off, please come in!" The Mother said meekly, "are you SURE?" Finally they did come inside, shoes and all, and we had a nice visit. But the whole 'first impression' thing was not what I imagined at all. And from then on, they declined every invitation to my home.
I wondered where Brett had gotten his strict attitude about rules, but not for long. A few weeks later, we were invited to his parents' home for dinner and to meet his sister and her husband. It was warm outside so they were having a barbecue in the back yard. My kids were playing games together, we were all visiting, and everyone was having a nice time. When it was time to eat, we gathered in the yard, plated our burgers, and sat around some large outdoor tables under the trees. As we ate, my oldest son (who was about ten) started talking about school and what he was learning in his math class. He was happy and animated; we always share parts of our day at the dinner table. Apparently, though, there was a different rule at Mother and Dad's home: We Eat In Silence. I was not informed of this rule, but within minutes of sitting down to eat, Dad was scowling and giving sideways glances at my son who was sharing about his day. About 30 seconds later, he slammed down his fork and boomed, "WILL YOU BE QUIET! THIS IS DINNER, NOT AN ALGEBRA LESSON! WE ARE TRYING TO EAT!" My son, shocked and silent, stared into his plate. We left shortly after.
You can guess that the dating did not go on for long. This family propensity for rigid rule enforcement bled over into other aspects of life, and I ended the relationship and didn't date again for a lot of years. But my main point is this: There is a time and place for rules... even strict ones. But there is also a time and place to set them aside. Sometimes, we let rules be the forefront and forget about the actual, real-life effects and the people involved.
I've lived a lot of my life with loads of dieting rules. Eat this, don't eat that. This much protein, this many calories. You can only eat the things on this list. You have to exercise x number of minutes a day. Follow these rules for success or you are a failure. Never, ever break the rules. 100% or nothing.
It is only recently (and with age and experience) that I have begun to understand the benefit of flexibility in 'diet' rules. Just like flexibility in other aspects of life, being able to change and adapt in our eating and exercise can be a very good thing and even contribute to our success. Rigidity, for me, only makes me feel bad when I cannot keep the rules perfectly. I try to think about alternate ways to eat healthy and be active, even when I need to let my usual rules slide for whatever reason. That is why I have an eating Plan B.
I am coming to realize that a Plan B can be *very* useful and comforting in other things as well. If there is a snowstorm or a sick child or a knee injury that keeps me from taking my usual walk, I have to find ways to stay active indoors while caring for that child or not worsening an injury. If my bike breaks or I am away from home or I run out of time or energy, I need to find ways to keep my activity level up *overall* for the week. Even gentle stretching at the end of the day is a relaxing activity that helps me stay healthy. Even doing a handful of strength training exercises is better than nothing at all. And doubling the walk the next day is a good way not to let my exercise time and miles for the week go downhill.
My life is no longer all or nothing. It is such a relief to not be a slave to strict rules. Now, I am not saying there should *never* be strict rules. I have some in my house, especially for my kids, that are non-negotiable: no drinking, no smoking, no friends over without permission, no physical violence. Sometimes you draw a line in the sand (mine, for myself, is "no cake.") But generally, flexibility works better for me. There are times you just let someone come in your house with their shoes on, because the person is more important than the carpet.
Personal update: I finally am starting to feel better. I think I got about 6 hours of sleep last night and it was fairly restful, too. I spent four days this week working on two big issues (kid issue and dog issue) and am optimistic about how things are going. On Tuesday it seemed like everything was spinning completely out of control. I felt very helpless to fix things. But the work paid off, and today things seem manageable. My dog is *much* improved on medication and with special care. My son is getting the help he needs. And I am sooooo thankful for a three-day weekend! I really needed a break! I'll be making some kind of veggie-rich soup for dinner, hopping back on the bike, and enjoying the company of my children. Have a great weekend!
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