Yesterday, I left church not dwelling on a specific scripture, but agonizing over whether or not my children had any shred of self-control. As a tie-in to his sermon on the faith of Abraham and the need for those with faith to wait, our pastor showed a video on “The Marshmallow Test.” In this experiment, children were brought into a room without distractions by themselves and given one marshmallow. They were told that if they resisted eating the marshmallow, at the end of fifteen minutes, they would get one more marshmallow.
In the original Stanford study from 1972, follow-up studies were performed on the children who participated, and the results showed that children who resisted eating that first marshmallow grew up to have happier, more successful lives.
Immediately, visions of my children hiding under the dining room table, scarfing down homemade cookies came to mind. I saw the lollipop stains I had to clean off the carpet as they tried to devour their Valentine’s candy under that same table without Mommy noticing. My heart was filled with dread as I came to the realization that my children were doomed to a life of failure. There was no way they would resist the marshmallow. So, naturally, I had to recreate the test to see just how bad a parent I really am.
Since I don’t have hidden cameras, I performed the test in my kitchen where I could watch my children, and I had them take the test together. And since I didn’t want to have to buy a bag of yucky marshmallows for this test, I bought a box of Back to Nature Classic Creme Cookies. I did my best to not converse or actively engage with them once I started the kitchen timer, and I did not encourage them to hold off on eating the cookie. I simply stated the rules at the beginning of the test: “You may eat your cookie now, but if you wait until the timer goes off, I’ll give you another cookie.”
Four seconds into the test, my three-year-old daughter looked at me with a resigned look on her face.
“I’m going to eat my cookie now.”
Clearly, the last four seconds were the longest of her life, and her bright blue eyes dulled a little, conveying the inward struggle she had to endure.
I didn’t dissuade her and was ready to accept the fact that she was doomed to a life of failure, that I had failed as a parent, when she said, “No, no, I’m going to wait.”
I took to cooking a quick dinner while the children waited in their chairs. As I spread the tortilla chips across the baking sheet for the nachos we were to have, I happened to look up as Hannah Grace was putting her cookie to her lips, quickly bringing the cookie back down. I wasn’t near the timer, but I think we were about a minute into the test.
Caleb, my almost five year old, found his Leapster video game to occupy his time, and I’m pretty sure playing video games is against the rules and would’ve invalidated the results. However, I quickly snatched the Leapster from him and instructed him that he had to stare at the cookie from his chair–without any games in hand.
I looked up again at four minutes into the test, and Hannah Grace, once again, had the cookie to her lips. A couple of minutes later, the cookie was gone.
“Hannah Grace, did you eat your cookie?”
“No, Caleb gave it to Chloe.”
“Caleb gave Chloe my cookie!”
I looked at Caleb with disbelief written across my face. Did he really ruin this test by giving Hannah Grace’s cookie to their baby sister?
“I accidentally gave Chloe Hannah’s cookie.”
“You gave Chloe the cookie?”
“Yes, I accidentally gave Chloe Hannah Grace’s cookie.”
Caleb actually had a slight look of remorse and embarrassment.
“How do you accidentally give someone a cookie?!!”
I quickly reached into the box and set another cookie in front of Hannah Grace. Yes, these results were definitely invalidated. However, a couple more minutes into the test, Hannah Grace had the cookie in front of her lips again. The end result would be the same.
I have to admit that I felt surprised and disappointed at the same time–surprised that both children made an effort to not touch the cookie but disappointed that Hannah Grace couldn’t hold out.
Or could she?
Finally, the timer went off, and I immediately walked to the table. Caleb’s cookie was perfectly intact. He exceeded my expectations, more than proved me wrong by not even showing the least bit of temptation from that cookie.
But then I was perplexed. As I looked at Hannah Grace’s cookie, expecting to find chunks missing from the round chocolate disks held together by creme goodness, I noticed a cookie broken in half, but not eaten.
But I saw her put the cookie to her mouth, and she had a chocolate rim around her lips!
“Hannah Grace, did you not eat the cookie?”
“No,” she said with a smile conveying the victory she thought she achieved.
“But you have chocolate on your face. I saw you put the cookie by your mouth….” I trailed off waiting for her explanation.
“I licked the cookie!”
And licked it she had. She must’ve licked the cookie with all the force her little tongue could muster, tasting every bit of that chocolate and creme that she could without technically eating the cookie.
I didn’t have it in me to disqualify her. After all, I didn’t give her any rules except to not eat the cookie, and a full cookie she had in front of her. Never mind the fact that the cookie was moist with saliva.
As I walked over to the counter where I had set the box of cookies, I pulled out the plastic tray and grabbed two more of the promised treat. I set one cookie before each child, giving them the grand total of two, and pondered what kept these children, prone to sneaking every sweet in the house, from eating the first cookie that I laid before them. All I could figure was that they believed the promise of one more cookie to follow, and that promise was enough.
“Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, New International Version, 2010).
I smiled as I looked at my two children, enjoying their cookies, chocolate crumbles around their lips, a trail on the table, and I let out a sigh knowing that they were not doomed to a life of failure and that I had managed to teach them some self-control. And I marveled at the lesson that they had helped bring home for me–that I, too, have a parent who will deliver on what He has promised. Temptation might encourage me to take a bite, but if only I can resist! Because, after all, everyone knows that two cookies are much better than one.
A combination of staying up too late watching a bad 83rd Oscars and having three children wake up a tad too early prevented me from linking up this post yesterday. So here it is! Just a day late…and for any of those following my weekly Journeys, this week I will ponder goodness. I would love for you to join me and link up your own post on Friday!
“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, New International Version, 2010).