The day my toddler ate a stick of butter


Well, it wasn’t a whole stick….

We had just come inside from playing in the snow. Everyone was happy and content. I made some warm milk that the kids happily sipped through straws while sitting at the kitchen table. “Can I trust you guys to stay here while I go take a shower? No playing on the stairs… be good…right?” I said.

“Sure” they replied.

Usually in situations like this I bring the kids upstairs with me and close the gate at the top. Sometimes I set them in front of the TV to ensure a peaceful shower, and other times I let them play in their bedroom and the playroom which are also upstairs. Leaving them downstairs to drink their warm milk while I was upstairs in the shower was a new thing for us. I felt a little unsure about whether this was a good idea, but honestly believed that it would be fine. We had a short turn around time before we needed to head out to a play date so it seemed like a good time saver too.

I was in the shower for maybe two minutes when my son ran upstairs saying “Mommy! I gave Lil Sis some butter and then she took the whole thing and ate it!”


“You gave her butter??? Don’t give her butter! Go take it away from her!” I shouted over the sound of running water.

He hesitated.

“Go take it away from her!” I repeated as I rushed to rinse the soap from my hair.

He came back upstairs.  “Did you take it away from her?!” I asked.

“Well…now she’s going to open boxes of noodles…”

I quickly dried off, threw on a robe, and raced downstairs to assess the damage. Turns out she had put the butter back by herself and was calmly making towers out of the mac and cheese boxes on the floor (not trying to open them). I don’t know how much butter she actually ate, if any, or maybe it was just an exaggerated tale by her 4 year old brother.

I can hope…

Here I was giving my kids new freedom and they immediately did something they shouldn’t. I had to laugh, but it made me wonder just how much creative-naughtiness is desirable in a well-adjusted child? How much should parents discourage misbehavior and even prevent it by engineering the setting (ie coming upstairs with me versus staying downstairs alone)? How much should we monitor their actions versus let them run free and learn from their mistakes and yes, get into trouble. If we watch over them too closely we may hinder creativity and confidence. But when we let them be totally free range we may create chaos, disregard, or even potentially dangerous situations.

In the end it was no big deal. They were not destroying the house, hurting themselves or each other, or slyly walking out the front door (I know little kids who have done that). This butter-eating instance aside, I do tend to manage the situation so that my kids don’t have much chance to make trouble. They have space to make choices and I don’t hover, but they also don’t get much opportunity to flex their naughtiness-muscles. Happily for me, they’re not very creative in that department as a result.

Where is the happy medium between helicopter parent and free-range parent? That’s the question.

Personally, after the butter incident, I think I will bring the kids upstairs with me when I need a shower for a while longer.

How do you balance control versus freedom for your kids?

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I am stay at home mom to two wonderful kids. I grew up in Vermont, but it wasn't until I left this great state for a few years that I truly appreciated what a wonderful place it is. My husband is also a Vermonter, so we are happy to be able to raise our kids here surrounded by a large extended family. In fact, we like it so much that we bought the house next door to his parents, and my mom lives in an apartment on our property. We enjoy playing outdoors and poking around our little "gentleman's farm" that we started in 2010. We have chickens, goats, a work-in-progress vegetable garden, fruit trees, and we tap our own maple trees for syrup. I have a BA in environmental studies and an MA in urban planning. I try to keep a toe in the professional world that I left when my oldest was born by serving on our local Planning Commission. You can learn more about me and my passion for this planet we call home on my blog: Mama of Ma'at


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