I grew up hearing the phrase ‘You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it’ – despite which, mum often ended up making meals to cater to three or four different tastes at a time. When I had my daughter, I decided that cooking one meal a day was plenty (some days it was too much!), and there was no way I could cope with making individual dinners for multiple family members. I chose not to make or buy special baby food. Instead, baby ate what her dad and I ate. Due (I like to tell myself) at least in part to this decision, my nearly-six-year-old daughter has never been a fussy eater. As a toddler she happily munched on steamed broccoli. As a pre-schooler she took delight in olives and blue cheese. However, she has been pushing the boundaries recently by tasting a meal and declaring “I don’t like it.” When I respond with “Well, that’s all there is,” she replies, “Then I’ve had enough.” Ten minutes later she will ask for a slice of bread and butter or a piece of fruit, and is generally unimpressed when she is presented with the aforementioned unfinished dinner.**
Lately I have been thinking about these phrases – “I don’t like it” and “I’ve had enough” – and how they relate to each other and my broader experiences. There are some things in life I don’t like but I have to do, for convenience, health, or whatever else. Folding laundry is one. Making salad, oddly enough, is another. Grocery shopping is fairly high on the list. There are other things I haven’t liked, so I’ve stopped doing. Certain half-read novels spring to mind. As does ironing and watching commercial tv.
But there are more serious applications of these phrases.
Late last year, my husband and I had a very difficult series of conversations where we decided we had both had enough. We realised that if we kept forcing our relationship along the path it was taking, that we would end up disliking each other, and setting the wrong kind of example for our daughter. We decided to separate. Over the 7 or so months since then, we have definitely had our ups and downs. But we have remained respectful and caring towards each other (not something that happens in many break-ups, particularly with a child involved). I believe that honestly telling each other when enough was enough laid the groundwork for us to move forward, not as a couple, but together.
Since the beginning of this year, my load and responsibilities at work have steadily increased while my pay grade has stayed the same. I noticed myself on repeat to friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else who would listen: “I don’t like it. I don’t like it. I. Just. Don’t. Like. It.” The pressure I was under began impacting on my studies, my relationships and my health. Finally, very recently, I realised I’d had enough. I went to my boss and told her that the situation wasn’t sustainable, and that if things didn’t change I would have to look for work elsewhere. I had booked leave for the following week, and went on holidays resigned to the fact that when I returned I would start job hunting (another thing I don’t like). While I was away I got an email from my boss saying that our department head had approved not only a pay-rise, but a month of back-pay. Needless to say, I was (and am) over the moon. However, the relief I felt when I read that email was significantly less than what I felt when I admitted to myself that enough was enough, when I acknowledged internally that I needed to make a change. It took quite an effort overcome the little voice in the back of my mind suggesting I didn’t have to like it, I should just eat it. But the effort was definitely worthwhile.
It has taken me a long time to realise this: not liking the circumstances you find yourself in can be enough of a reason to change those circumstances. Still, there is an important distinction to make between things we don’t like but stick with anyway, and things we don’t like and choose to stop doing or change.
The first group we carry on with because they get us somewhere. These things are stepping stones – keeping on doing them puts us in a better position than not doing them. Pushing myself to keep making salads means that I keep eating salad – which I love, and which is good for me.
The second group we are better placed to not do any more. Keeping on doing these things puts us in a worse position than not doing them. They can be pits of quicksand that are very difficult to climb out of, but the difficulty is worth it when we find ourselves in a better situation. A crumbling relationship or overly stressful job do nothing to contribute to our happiness and fulfilment. Deciding to take ownership of changing these things is terrifying, but it is also empowering. There is no reason to carry on stoically enduring something that is detrimental to you.
The decision to change is something we each have to make on our own, but the practicalities of applying change often depends on the support of those around us. I am incredibly lucky to have people in my life who have been open to change alongside me, and who have trusted me to change alongside them.
So when next I present my darling daughter with a meal that a popular tv cooking show host would be proud of (or, you know, a weeknight stir-fry I slapped together and allowed to congeal while I started on yesterday’s washing up), and I am met with “I don’t like it,” I will take a deep breath. I will remind myself that there is immense value in speaking out when faced with something you don’t like. I will tell myself that it is wonderful that at the ripe old age of nearly-six my child is able to articulate when she has an issue with something.
Then I will smile and hug her and tell her to eat it anyway.
Hey, nobody’s perfect 😉
**Let me just qualify this – I don’t force her to eat something she genuinely doesn’t like, but I do expect her to taste things more than once, to have a decent try before she makes up her mind, and to eat a meal even if it isn’t her absolute favourite thing. I realised last year that the lesson may have been too-well learned when I (accidentally) gave her spoiled milk and she bravely drank most of it. A few weeks after that, her father gently asked me if I was trying to poison her when I made her a sandwich with less-than-fresh ham, and told her to stop fussing when she said it tasted funny (She wasn’t ill either time – I’m not a monster!). Since those two occasions, when my girl says she doesn’t like something, I generally believe her.