It’s something of a cliche in our culture, but nevertheless based on the truth; the addict that has been clean and sober falling off the wagon, seduced by the object of their addiction and returning to the junkie lifestyle. The recovering alcoholic that swears he can have just one drink to settle his nerves. The heroin addict that shoots up after being clean for months. The conscientious dieter who has lost dozens of pounds, and justifies having just one thin slice of cake. Pretty soon you’ve fallen back into all your old habits again.

In my daughter’s case, her Achilles heel is candy. Nearly all of her most aggregious behaviors have been related to stealing it, hiding it, or lying about it. She seems almost powerless to resist it.

Since school started, her behavior had improved. We attributed it to a return of structure, and that she was being kept busy during the day. Maybe, we told ourselves, she had crossed some maturity boundary, some step change in development, that made a difference. We didn’t know what was going on, but we were pretty happy about it. Even her Parent-Teacher conference had gone well.

And then we had Halloween. As is our custom, in the days after Halloween we try to meter out the candy so the kids don’t gorge themselves on it. They get several pieces a day from their haul, in the afternoon and evening. Unfortunately, candy is the one thing our daughter can’t seem to resist. Like Sportin’ Life giving Bess some happy dust, she can’t just have a little bit without wanting more.

Her mother went to kiss her goodnight the other evening, and smelled chocolate on her breath. An immediate search of her bed revealed a significant stash of candy and candy wrappers under her pillow. She had smuggled them into her bedroom and was eating them after lights out. This was a behavior that we hadn’t seen in well over a year. And if she was doing that -

A little more interrogation confirmed our darker suspicions. She had indeed taken some of her brother’s candy as well. So, after having such a good start to the school year, she was again sneaking behind our backs, stealing things, and lying about it.

We were just sick. It feels like all the progress we’ve made in the last year has been erased, like a big reset button has been pushed. The worst part is how it makes us feel towards her. We’re so angry and disappointed that it’s almost impossible to be loving and affectionate toward her right now. We jump on every little misbehavior, and are far more likely to chide than praise.

For example, since my wife and I were both the babies of the family, with large gaps between us and the next siblings, we didn’t go through the classic sibling fights. We are both at a loss when trying to determine what is an acceptable level of cruelty when applied to a little brother. One thing we DO agree on, however, is that our 10 year old has no business telling her brother what he can and cannot do, particularly when she can’t manage to stay on the correct side of that line herself. Unfortunately, she’s a bit of a martinet; bossing him around whenever she can get away with it.

This morning she reduced him to tears, again, by telling him he couldn’t do something that he had already come into the house and received our permission to do. I got her and brought her inside, and sat her down in a chair in the kitchen. All my frustrations over the lying, sneaking the candy, and her attitude toward her brother boiled up, and I told her exactly how I felt about it, finishing with the following ultimatum delivered nearly verbatim:

“Listen. Other parents might have given up on you by now, and shipped you off to a boarding school. Fortunately for you, your parents are more stubborn than that. As long as you live in our house, you will be honest, you will behave honorably, and you will be kind to others.”

Brave words, but we still have no idea how to make that happen.