All You Need Is Less, Olive


Boo! - Why i'm a mean mom on Halloween

If you’re not a parent you might not be aware that there is a debate being waged lately around -of all topics- Halloween candy.

There seems to be two distinct camps, one favours a candy-less Halloween, using approaches like the Switch Witch, who comes to visit children’s homes after trick or treating and takes their candy in exchange for a gift (or something? I am not up to date on the entire Switch Witch mythology, for me it falls into the same bewildering category of parenting as the Elf on the Shelf) .

The other camp is made up of parents imploring the candy police to just back off and let their kids have some fun. It’s one night! Who cares!

I think I fall somewhere in the middle on this great, and vastly important, debate. OK, maybe a little more toward the first camp.

What this means is that after trick or treating I didn’t take Olive’s candy completely, but I did ask her to choose three pieces to keep (three pieces because she’s three years old. I had to make it something easy like that, otherwise how would I remember this cruel, arbitrary rule for next year’s somber, candy-reduced festivities?). The rest gets donated.

My thinking on this is pretty simple: Like all other holidays, I want Olive to enjoy Halloween for the experience, not what she gets from it. I’d prefer Christmas be about family rather than gifts, I’d prefer Valentine’s Day be about love rather than roses and chocolates, and I’d like Halloween to be about the thrill of dressing up as a dragon and running around way past your bedtime, hollering at neighbours doors, rather than stuffing your face into a sugar coma.

For those calling foul on a non-fun holiday, I wish you could have seen this kid. Olive was in love with trick or treating. There were pumpkins lit up and down the street, ghouls and goblins and princesses passed us by, and at each house her face lit up when the people inside answered the door. It would be silly to say that candy doesn’t factor in at all – after each house she’d look into her little bag and exclaim, “MORE candy? I get MORE candy?!” but that thrill didn’t dissipate one bit when she had to choose her three later on.

And fuck, I mean, I’m not against candy – just like I’m not against gifts or flowers. I don’t ban it or forbid it – who has the energy? It’s not the candy that’s the issue.

It’s the excess that bothers me. And this idea that celebrations need to involve excess isn’t a child’s idea, it’s an adult’s.

Olive had exactly zero problems choosing only three pieces. I was hardly ripping candy from a screaming child’s hands. In fact, it was quite fantastic to see how seriously she treated the exercise. She took her time, and we explained what each candy was and she changed her mind several times. When she had decided, she ran and put the pieces on the dresser, and she has not mentioned them since.

Guys, it’s not about the candy. Not at this age, anyway.Boo! - Why i'm a mean mom on Halloween.


It’s about laughing at your mom as she tries to draw on a cat’s nose, and making the last-minute decision that you want whiskers, too. It’s standing with stage-fright at the first door you knock on, and loudly correcting everyone who calls you a dinosaur. It’s carving the little flat-sided pumpkin you picked out yourself, and having your face light up when you see it in the dark, filled with flickering candles for the first time.

It’s not about the candy.

And yes, yes,  the candy does serve a purpose. I mean, it’s why we’re trick or treating in the first place! So of course she should have some. What, then, is the point of making her choose three?

It’s so that she learns that she can have some of it without needing to have all of it.  It’s so when she’s older she can learn that you can have two or three drinks and be pleasantly tipsy, without feeling like you have to keep drinking until the drinks are gone. It’s moderation, and it’s a terribly unsexy concept and it does involve excess occasionally, but mostly it means knowing when to say enough, and, more than that, that it’s still fun if you say enough.

Fun doesn’t equate to excess. Or it doesn’t have to, anyway. And somehow we get it into our heads that without these things – the overabundance of gifts or the piles of candy – the holiday will be meaningless. I get it, we all want our kids to have fun. So do I. It’s why we do it, right?

But I can tell you, as someone who paints wooden eggs for her to find on Easter instead of buying chocolate ones, and says no gifts at her birthday party, and asks her to choose three pieces of candy from the pile in front of her, the fun doesn’t disappear when the stuff does. I promise.

They know that far, far better than we do, these children who have more fun playing in the box than with the gift that came in it.

They know, that is,  it until we teach them otherwise.


Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Thea van Rooyen November 2, 2015 at 4:28 AM

    Love it! And totally agree! Thank you for your writing and the wit you do it with – I discovered your blog for the first time just after I had my son two years ago and have been reading it ever since. Halloween isn’t big in South Africa yet, but its popularity is growing each year and I am definitely going to remember this post when I start taking my son out trick or treating.

  • Reply Mary November 2, 2015 at 5:48 AM

    Hi Madeleine, I love your philosophy on stuff and excess. We need more moderation in the world. I’m going to be having my first baby in just a few days. I’m looking for ideas on how to handle birthday and christmas gift-giving with family who sees stuff as very important for these occasions. It would be great to read more about your moderate views and practical alternatives to excess consumption 🙂

  • Reply Steve Szymke November 2, 2015 at 7:49 AM

    Donate the candy to a food pantry or to another charity that accepts wrapped candy.

  • Reply Abby November 2, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    I just discovered your blog from a Reddit link, and I love your approach to moderation during holidays. I’m bookmarking this blog post for the future when I have children. I will have the same problem as Mary above; my in-laws express their love through cheap plastic toys in excess. Thank you! Best wishes.

  • Reply Sheena November 2, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    As a mother of a toddler, I just want to say thank you. What a great message. So glad I came across this post. I will definitely remember it.

  • Reply Ashley November 2, 2015 at 12:57 PM

    We did the same thing with our toddler and I’m amazed how easy it was. He was all about trick or treating and candy on Halloween night. The next day, he didn’t even ask for it. Someone asked if he had fun and he said he wanted to do it again but no fits when I said “that was so fun and we get to do it again next year!” The idea that kids inherently want/need more and more and more is maddening. It’s the same with toys. People don’t understand why I get rid of toys we are given or discourage more toys as gifts. It’s not like you’re ripping them out of the kids hand. Have some candy. Have some toys. And then have some space in your life for other things too that is only achieved when you get rid of the excess.

  • Reply Charlotte November 2, 2015 at 1:01 PM

    I think it’s really important that children are taught to respect and appreciate the things they have so as adults they aren’t constantly wanting more and better. Your child will be a very happy adult as she will be content with what she has

  • Reply Sam Pereira November 2, 2015 at 4:36 PM

    I really love this. What I love is the lesson behind it and how you hope it’ll help Olive in the future. Excellent.

  • Reply wendyjfawcett November 3, 2015 at 7:37 PM

    Thank you for your idea for having your child select the pieces of candy to keep. I have a one year old and we did not trick or treat this year, but I will definitely keep your idea in mind for the future. Also, perhaps we can donate the rest of the candy to a local women and children’s shelter. I enjoy your blog. You are a good mommy.

    Wendygirl and co.

  • Reply Nikola November 27, 2015 at 6:58 AM

    We have been doing the switch witch since my kids were about Olive’s age. They are 5 and 7 now and they still love it. They get a candy of their choice on Halloween after trick-or-treating, and then they get to go through and choose a number of candies to match their age. As you mentioned, it’s pouring over and making wise selections (sometimes with trading and last-minute changes) that interests them the most. I still remember when I was a kid, I loved the ‘dump and trade’ with my brother a lot more than I enjoyed what was left of the hoard after my favourites were gone (mostly molasses kisses and cheap lollipops).

    One thing that is important to me is that I always let them choose whether they are going to leave their candy for the switch witch. I will never take it from them without permission. When they get older, they might choose to keep the candy, but for now they are happy to trade it to the switch witch, whom they have created quite the lore around. Her teeth are rotting out of her head due to all the sugar, etc.
    This year they were over the moon about getting to keep their favourites and getting a trade of a comic and colouring book each, and a shared puzzle. Good times!

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.