It’s a Marshmallow World for the Kiddos: My Losing Battle With Candy

Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes…how do you measure—measure a year?

If my kids were to answer this question, I guarantee their answer would be “in pieces of candy.” And if that annual number added up to anything less than 2,000, I further guarantee that they would consider that year to be an ultimate failure.

As a parent, I find myself measuring a year by seasons. And in case you think I’m talking about the standard four seasons of the year, allow me to clarify. As a parent of young children, there are two seasons: Candy Season and Non-candy Season. At the moment we are rounding out what has been—in our house, anyway—a frustratingly robust Candy Season. Let me break it down for you. Take a stroll with me through Candy Land, holiday edition:

We kick off the season in October with Halloween, a holiday whose sole purpose (as best I can tell, anyway) is to encourage the purchasing and consumption of—you guessed it!—candy.

We sail right past Thanksgiving, one of the few holidays that mercifully doesn’t center around candy, in November. (We’ll turn a blind eye to the fact that it does center around gluttonous overeating for the purposes of this post.)

In December we land on Christmas, a holiday filled with so much celebration that it basically lasts an entire month…an entire month of candy canes, Peppermint Hershey’s kisses, and gumdrops, among millions of other confections and baked goods.  

We take a break in January to finish eating all the candy we have acquired over the past three months.

We move on from there to Valentine’s Day in February, another rather commercial holiday that revolves around—yep!—candy. From chocolate samplers to candy hearts and everything in between, if you can escape this holiday without adopting several fistfuls of candy, you’re a better mom than I.

And we conclude Candy Season with a sizable bang at Easter. Favorite celebratory treats at our house include chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, any kind of sour egg-shaped candy, and of course, Peeps. Once you finish Easter, you can breathe a huge sigh of relief as you enjoy a nice candy-free respite until Candy Season picks up in full swing again at Halloween.

So, can we talk for a minute about how out of control this candy thing has become? I say “has become” as if it weren’t always this way only because I feel like Candy Season holidays and the giving that accompanies them have extended way beyond the day of the actual holiday itself. It would be one thing if kids received candy only on one day each month, but I’ve found that the candy flows like water for a good week—or two or three—before the actual day of the holiday. From school parties to little gifts from well-intentioned friends and family members to church and community festivals, the seasonal avalanche of sugar spilling into our house has become more than a little bit excessive.

Surely I can’t be the only one who groaned this year when her precious cavities on legs children returned home from school on February 14 with a cute little red shoebox filled to the brim with heart-shaped lollipops and boxes of impossible-to-decipher conversation hearts. I had just finished clearing out my ever-overflowing “secret candy shelf” at the very tippy top of the pantry, and it was immediately abundantly clear to me that I’d have to start the elimination process all over again after the Valentine’s Day haul my kiddos brought home. (Special shout out to those schools who have banned candy from Valentine’s Day celebrations. I like your style!)

I really don’t know how to maneuver my way around the surplus of candy that this season brings in. My children feel very entitled to the candy that their friends and relatives (or in the case of Halloween, complete strangers) have given them, and while I certainly don’t want them to eat all of it (or even most of it), I also don’t want to be the parent who bans sugar from her house. I was friends with children growing up whose parents banned sugar from their houses. These friends were so starved for candy that the moment they arrived at my house—which was clearly a very sugar-friendly zone—they were, well, like a kid in a candy store. They went nuts. They were unstoppable. The amount of sticky contraband they ingested was enough to make Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka look like a poster child for clean living. I remember making a mental note very early on that I never wanted to be the dud parent who forbade candy from entering the equation. It seemed to me a very counter-productive strategy.

So enter my career as a parent of toddlers. At first, candy was my friend. The promise of a Dum-Dums lollipop was an excellent motivator for any number of activities: finishing a meal, trying a new vegetable, cleaning one’s room, letting mommy shop at HEB without a wild hyena hanging out the side of her shopping cart…the list goes on. But it soon became clear that my children’s appetite for candy had become a little insatiable. My daughter began asking for candy as a reward for finishing her breakfast. And—please don’t judge me here—as crazy as it seems to me now, for awhile I actually acquiesced. I quickly realized the error of my ways and told my daughter that dessert after breakfast was not actually “a thing,” but it was too late. The damage had been done.

It is now almost as if having candy has become the expected outcome rather than the outcome they hope for, and just like that, the tables have turned. “If you don’t buy us candy,” they taunt from the relative safety of their HEB racing car, “we won’t stop singing ‘What Does the Fox Say?’” At dinnertime, instead of eating and hoping to be rewarded for joining the Clean Plate Club, they proclaim that they won’t eat unless they can have a dessert when they’re finished. Instead of thanking me for packing them a piece of their coveted Candy Season booty in their lunches at school, they chastise me when I forget to do so. I have clearly lost control of what used to be a fairly controlled situation.

I’m not writing this post because I have any answers (clearly). I’m writing only to express how frustrated I’ve become by the hold candy has on my kids and how freely it seems to land in their hands. I see moms battling with their kids in the aisles of Target and Walmart, where candy is inexplicably sprinkled up and down every aisle, and I know I’m not alone in this. Maybe we can all band together and make a collective vow to stick to the Valentine’s Day cards that include stickers or tattoos or little bubble wands? Maybe instead of including little packets of candy in our birthday party favors we can include a little bouncing ball or yo-yo or something that encourages play instead of dentist visits? I’m open to any and all suggestions, but for now, I’m signing off as Losing in Candy Land.

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