When my daughter was small, I got into a conversation with a co-worker who was complaining about his kids always wanting to eat at McDonald’s. When I told him my daughter did often want to go out for dinner, but her preference was for a nearby Vietnamese restaurant he asked how I had managed that. She didn’t ask to go to McDonald’s, or any other similar places because she never went. I feel pretty fortunate that my daughter has never been a picky eater; I know plenty of parents who offer their children all kinds of wonderful and wholesome choices, only to be met with a flat our refusal to eat anything but ______, you fill in the blank. But I do know, if you don’t take your child to McDonald’s chances are they won’t ask to go there.
Feeding children is a big responsibility. It makes me crazy when I see babies holding baby bottles filled with soda! They watch us, they see what we do, and even if we mistreat them, they still look to us to see how to behave; what it means to be an adult. There is a great song from the musical “Into the Woods” called “Children Will Listen” and the refrain is “Careful the things you say, children will listen. Children may not obey, but children will listen”. I want my daughter to see me for who I truly am, and at the same time I want to model the best behavior I can manage. Sometimes I manage better than others, and it’s OK that she sees that too.
I would love to be the mom who is in great shape, who goes to the gym every day, and looks twenty years younger than she is…but I do not want to be the mom who tells her pudgy five year old that she needs to go on a diet! I try not to dwell too much on how much my daughter eats. She is extremely active, and gets hungry. When she is hungry she eats, as she should. She loves sweets- especially chocolate, and I think the worst thing I could do is to deprive her of them, I think having them available means she knows they are there, and so there is no anxiety for her about wanting a treat.
Feeding children is about more than food though. We feed them ideas, a sense of purpose, a love for art or music or nature, we show them everyday what is important to us, and how we want them to face the world. I do not want to pass all my issues with food down to my daughter. I want to instill in her a fine and discerning palate; an appreciation for diverse food cultures, an understanding of cooking that will enable her to feed herself and her family, I want her to love food, and so far things seem to be working out. I hope as she goes through her teenage years she does not succumb to the pressures of being overly self-critical, and constant dieting.
When I look at pictures of myself in my early twenties, I see a lovely young woman, maybe a bit more curvy than was fashionable, though I had already spent years thinking of myself as fat and ugly. I couldn’t see myself clearly, and I often wonder if I had, perhaps I wouldn’t have spent so many years battling with myself, my body, and punishing myself by either over-eating or denying myself food. I don’t think it’s too late for me, and I know I don’t want this for my daughter, or anyone else’s either!