Years ago, while leading a parenting class, a beautiful and accomplished woman, with so much emotion behind her eyes, perched on the edge of her chair, gritted her teeth, and said, "I do NOT want my child to struggle with food." Some food group or another had become a hot topic - white bread, sugar, carbs, soda, frankly, it doesn't really matter. In that single moment of watching this parent, who fiercely loved her children, WHITE KNUCKLING her child's relationship with food it came to me, in some sort of truly lightening bolt moment, we ultimately cannot CONTROL our child's relationship to food (or homework, or sex, or success, or grooming, or organizing, or friends, or reading, or booze). As much as we lovingly white knuckle and clench and demand that they learn from our mistakes, avoid relationship pitfalls and have a successful and healthy relationship to Doritos, we alone can not do it. Our children's stories and relationships about, and with food, is THEIR story and relationship about, and with food, (or homework, or sex, or success, or grooming, or organizing, or friends, or reading, or booze).
Fear not, I would never leave you with nothing to do. There are ways we can influence and shape our kids relationship with food (or homework, or sex, or success, or grooming, or organizing, or friends, or reading, or booze).
We can organize our pantry and our meals to give our families a fighting chance. Especially if they are under 12, we really are in charge of 92% of their food intake, and if they are older it's about 50 - 65%.
Don't leave out forbidden foods, casual interactions with oreos can teach and inform. A workable boundary is to invite the forbidden foods over for the weekend. This takes a wee bit of planning. You will have to shop close to the weekend to insure the oreos and premium ice cream, in small amounts, show up and are shown the door early Sunday evening.
Are you walking the talk? You don't have to be perfect, but are you asking your kids to be? Do you ask them to think about, interact with, and crave food differently then you do?
Ask questions, what do your kids think about food, their bodies, their friends bodies. The trick is to listen. This is NOT the time to comment, JUST listen. We all behave from what we believe. No better way to find out what our kids believe then to hear what they are saying. (Again, this means you have to be quiet, zip it, say nothing, sit on your hands, no comments, I'm SERIOUS!).
Check in and find if your helpful comments, "Are you sure you're really hungry sweetums?" "How much cheese have you had already?" are actually helpful. In my own experience, children enjoy (or appreciate, or tolerate) one healthy nag or reminder. After the one, they start hearing the message that they aren't good enough, we don't trust them and our approval hinges on the self-control they exhibit over the party hor d'ouevres. Which of course is not our intention, and sometimes our intentions aren't received as we mean them (more about in next weeks blog, "What You Mean to Put In, Is Not Necessarily What You Get Out").
Finally, enjoy meal time with your family, as much as you can. Do not let the anxiety, angst, fear and drama have a seat at the dinner table. Share, laugh and soak up your beautiful and imperfect family, one meal at a time.