But, Moommmmy, you promised, she wailed. Once again, I had fallen woefully short of the perfect mother benchmark, and my child was shaming me with my shortcomings.
If there's a parent out there who never disappoints their kid, they must have a way better calendar system than I do.
I had promised my youngest daughter we would go to her favorite fast-food chicken joint for dinner. Well, actually, I didn't really consider it a promise. I thought it was merely a rather vague plan. But the moment the words left my mouth, my 9-year-old interpreted them as a sworn-in-blood pledge, and spent the remainder of the day fantasizing about waffle fries and crispy chicken atop a white puffy bun.
However, when dinnertime arrived, the "Big Chicken Plan" began to disintegrate.
The teenage vegetarian-in-residence flounced out, announcing, "I'd rather eat frozen pizza in my room than have the death of a chicken on my conscience."
Yours truly realized that nuking the leftover spaghetti and meatballs from the fridge would be cheaper and quicker than waiting in line for the Chick-fil-A clown to twist out balloon animals. And when my ever-patient husband sighed and said, "Just tell me when you've made up your minds," I put on my efficient mom hat and made the call to eat in.
I didn't realize that I was crushing the hopes and dreams of my chicken-lovin' youngest. I was just trying to get through the evening with less hassle.
Yet when she tearfully accused me of neglecting her needs it was obvious that, what was to me a simple scheduling issue, was to her a much-anticipated family night out.
Isn't that always the way? You never realize how important something is to someone else until you blow it.
Am I the only one who struggles with this? There you are, totally overwhelmed by your own life, and then someone you care about tells you that you're not doing enough.
My typical reaction in such situations is to trot out numerous examples of the many sacrifices I make for my children or whoever happens to be complaining.
However, that evening, I had left the room after the pasta proclamation. So I had the benefit of not reacting in the moment as I overheard my daughter crying to her dad, "Mom doesn't even care about what I want."
After pulling the knife out of my heart, I realized that she didn't need a laundry list of my daily love offerings. She needed me to actually demonstrate my love by listening to her hurt.
She wanted what we all want whenever we cry, "You don't love me." She wanted to be understood, not told that she was wrong.
You can itemize every good deed you do for a person or make 25 excuses for your failures. But if someone you care about is feeling unloved, the best response is to acknowledge their feelings first.
If you make the mistake of interpreting their request for love as a negative judgment on your parenting or partnering skills, you're only twisting the conversation back around to you. And thereby giving them the message that their feelings are invalid and don't really matter to you at all.
As for the McLeod dinner debate, we ultimately chose the chicken. But only after I sat down with my little girl, listened to what was in her heart and told her, "I'm so sorry I hurt your feelings. I never want you to feel unloved."
I can only assume that God wasn't too busy that night, because she graciously granted me a moment of grace and insight that often eludes me in such emotional situations.
So next time someone you love complains about your lack of attention, try to remember; it's not about the french fries, it's about the feelings.
Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.ForgetPerfect.com.