On Saturday, my daughter had the following treats:
- a ‘juice drink,’ chips, crackers, and candy at a birthday party,
- bubble tea (liquid candy–and a long-promised reward) with me,
- and frozen yogurt with my mom.
On Sunday morning, she had a donut for breakfast, and macaroni and cheese from a box for lunch.
My husband and I had kale in our breakfast. We’re vegan. If my daughter had been with me, she would’ve loved our breakfast of potatoes, veggies, and vegan sausage.
My daughter generally eats whole foods. She loves her greens and beans, her tofu and kale, carrots, apples…prunes. This is a kid who cried because she didn’t get hot lunch at school on the day they were sampling brussels sprouts. She cried for brussels sprouts.
She cheers for cauliflower. She lives for lentil soup.
Really, she hasn’t encountered a plant food she doesn’t like. And she doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth. We save up candy from birthday parties and holidays throughout the year, then use it to decorate gingerbread houses at Christmas. On Easter, I finally threw away her chocolate Easter bunny from last year.
We don’t buy soda. We rarely buy chips. When we have cookies, they are homemade from scratch and involve whole wheat flour, peanut butter, and oatmeal (and of course, dark chocolate chips). We don’t go to fast food–my daughter has never stepped into a McDonald’s, to my knowledge.
And when she has treats, I want to be the one to give them to her. I take parental responsibility very seriously. I’m the kind of mom who has my kids to pick up the toys they’re playing with before getting out the next one. I make them put their clothes in the laundry basket, clear the table, and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
It’s tiring. And I could use some help.
Where does community responsibility kick in?
When I complained–mildly–on Facebook about all the sugar my kids had this weekend (it was my two-year old’s first night away from us. He spent the night at my mom’s! And I am SOOOO grateful), I was told to be appreciative. That the rules are different at grandma’s.
Well, yes. I am appreciative. And I know the rules are different. They watch lots of movies, they eat things I wouldn’t feed them (or even consider food). It’s rare, and it’s okay. But where is the line? What if they were watching violent movies? What if they were given meat? What if they were given toy guns to play with? Real guns?
Should I just bite my tongue and be grateful? Where is the line?
And what about the church they go to, the church that serves donuts? Why shouldn’t it serve bagels and fruit?
There is a double-standard in our society. Whenever we try to do something to improve the nutrition of foods in schools, restaurants, public buildings–like Bloomberg’s law in New York limiting the size of soda–people cry ‘nanny state’ and ‘parents need to take responsibility.’ Here’s a case in point: Junk Food Studies Ignore Parent Responsibility.
Parents get blamed for taking their kids to fast food. And you know what? I have empathy for those parents.
I used to work full-time. I used to be a single mom. I used to take the bus everywhere, toddler in tow. So, yeah, we ate out at restaurants. We bought food that was quick-cooking. I bent my rules, and tried to feel okay about letting my standards slide. I spent a lot more money than we would’ve have if we ate at places like McDonald’s. Most parents are just doing what they can to get through the day–they ARE short on time and money, and they feed their kids what’s available and affordable. And often, it’s crap.
But, then there are parents like me… I try. I try HARD. Just last night, we were at a Cinco de Mayo party that had a piñata… for two kids, including my two-year-old son. Unlike my daughter, he does have a sweet tooth, and it is much harder to persuade him to eat veggies or fruit. Another mom there somehow persuaded him to eat some melon–a first! But he was much more excited for the junky candy from the piñata. I convinced him to go home and trade them for dark chocolate. It wasn’t easy.
That’s the kind of mom I am. The stick in the mud. The party pooper. The one who risks damaging relationships with family and friends because I care so much about what my kids eat and want them to have healthy habits for a lifetime. Not just today… but for their whole lives.
I want to be the one who decides what rule to bend, what treat to give. And I still want that treat to have some redeeming qualities (like the homemade muffins and watermelon we sent to my step-son’s baseball practice… which got rejected).
Sure, you might say–but it’s okay every once in a while.
Well, yes, that would be true–if this only happened once in a while. For most families, it happens every day.
Every day, multiple times a day, is not “once in a while.”
So many other people give my daughter treats. In preschool, I discovered they bribed her for good behavior with jelly beans. I discovered her father brought her ‘fun size’ candy bars when he visited her there several times a week (yes, we had good reasons for supervised visits). In kindergarten, I discovered late in the school year that her teacher gave them snacks like animal crackers and goldfish crackers. So did the after school program. My child doesn’t need those extra calories–her meals are designed to cover her needs for the day. She doesn’t need white flour, extra salt, hydrogenated oils, fake flavors and colors… sugar in all its many forms. Those little extra treats add up to lots of extra, empty calories.
I transferred her to a Montessori school, in large part so she would be subject to fewer commercial influences (e.g., all the school fundraisers that feature junk food either for sale or as the prize), and it’s much better. But what about every other kid out there?
We are failing them as a community.
I want my community to step up and take some responsibility. My daughter is at the obese end of her growth chart. She’s big. She’s strong. We try to do everything right, but she has a belly. And I am tired of being undermined by the community that is supposed to care about children. I am a responsible parent.
But parental responsibility only goes so far, especially when there are so many pressures, both subtle and not so subtle, working against you. We all need to take responsibility–as a community. Together.
- What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity (mymoneyblog.com)
- Who Needs Cupcakes?!? Planning a Healthy (& Fun!) School Birthday Party (school-bites.com)