My Children and their Food

April 28, 2008 at 5:15 pm 2 comments

I confess, I wanted to be a perfect mother. Now that I have more experience in the matter, I opt for the “good-enough mother” description. As long as I do the best I can with the resources available at the moment, I am doing my job. You see, I ran myself ragged the first few (10?) years, and then realized that it was to nobody’s benefit.

Naturally, there is one especially important issue: Food. I have a burning desire to prevent eating disorders in my children. How? I never make them finish everything on their plates – not even if there’s only one bite left. I encourage them to serve themselves, so they get a sense of how much they need. Now I sometimes regret that I wasn’t more insistent about them at least trying new things, but that’s how it is.

Part of my recovery was about being good to myself, which means the food looks nice, and if it’s meant to be served warm, then that’s how I want to eat it. A cold, chopped-up half-portion on a child’s plate does not interest me. As a rule, I never finish things on their plates. Table scraps are table scraps, and I am not a garbage can! Neither are my children!

My husband grew up without eating disorders but with less abundance, and has a tendency to finish things. (His parents experienced the Second World War and the food scarcity, which left an impression on him.) He suggests that the children finish things on their plates, but it’s more a reflex on his part – a habit I gently ignore. They don’t let it bother them. He has mentioned the starving children in China, and my son at one point asked: “What good will it do them if I eat this?” Lately, I’ve taken to joking: “Ask Papa if he wants to eat it. Otherwise I’m sending it to China.” By no means do I encourage waste, I just don’t want things swallowed at all costs.

Unfortunately, I was overzealous with my first-born. I cooked vegetables and pureed them myself, but overdid it on the carrots. To this day, she cannot eat carrots. (Back then I didn’t quite get it about the need for variety.) In fact, she doesn’t like most vegetables, which is a shame, but I can’t force her to eat them. I keep hoping she’ll end up with a boyfriend who likes vegetables. Never underestimate the power of love! (Meanwhile, a couple of her favorite meals actually have vegetables smuggled into them!)

I definitely made some mistakes, but on the positive side: I breastfed both babies for 9 or 10 months, I give them regular meals, and don’t have much snack food in the house. Now that they are teenagers, they like to take their meals in front of the TV at times – and sometimes their schedule varies, because they are out with friends or hanging out in their rooms on the weekend, and at 10 pm suddenly realize they are starving! But generally we eat together at the table. There is no TV in that room, and the radio is always off during meals. For me, the importance of the meal is not what’s on the table, but that we are all sitting together.

My daughter has a weakness for ice cream, but I blame that on the heat wave during my pregnancy. Cold baths and ice cream were a matter of survival! She definitely does tend towards sweets. I have enough in the house to prevent feelings of deprivation, but not enough that it becomes a problem.

My son is easier. He likes vegetables and has always been a good eater. Maybe that’s because he had more variety from the start. He likes sweets as well, but is quite moderate. (Funny enough, during that pregnancy there was another heat wave, but I didn’t eat quite as much ice cream.) His behavior reassures me that either I didn’t do everything wrong, or that a lot has to do with a person’s character. (I don’t mean just about eating!) He is the athletic type and easy going.

Watching children eat and grow is a unique experience. Sometimes it seems like they get by on nothing. Other times they consume large quantities as if they’re starving and you can literally watch them grow.

My daughter had the tendency to get a bit pudgy, then shoot up a few inches. That was her rhythm. She is not very athletic. (She gets that from me! I think we both grew too quickly and were thus uncoordinated. As an adult, I’m coordinated and enjoy sports more than I did back then.) When she was 11 years old, her tummy was again round for a long time. I made a subtle effort to be more active and cut back on cookies, but I did not make an issue of it. I remember one occasion when we went out to dinner with two other families. One of the fathers and his teenage son are both somewhat overweight and he had mentioned it as a problem on past occasions. My daughter wanted dessert. This man, meaning well, I am sure, said something to the effect of: “Are you sure you want dessert? Look at that stomach! Don’t you want to have a nice figure?”

I was furious, but managed to control myself. I glared at him and indicated that he be quiet. My daughter told him that she always gets a bit round before growing taller, just as I had explained to her at some point. After she enjoyed her dessert and went outside with the other children to play (they have a wonderful yard and play area at this restaurant, which is very popular with families), I told him that I’d had an eating problem for several years, that I would not make an issue out of a little tummy in puberty, that I don’t want him to make any more such comments in her presence, and that guilt is not the way to deal with it – the best way to start an eating disorder is to feel guilty and go on a diet. I won’t go into exact details, but today he is still overweight, and my daughter is now taller than I am, beautiful, and slim. And she still enjoys the occasional dessert!

She still has a slightly round tummy, which sometimes bothers her. I tell her she looks fine, which she does. Actually, since she’s started going out more and walking more (and I stopped driving her everywhere), that tummy has diminished of its own accord.

An experience of my own comes to mind. When I was 13, a male friend of the family patted me on the butt and made a comment about my curves. That shocked me, and I felt dissatisfied with my body and very uncomfortable.

I remember when my daughter was in kindergarten, she came home one day and asked me if I thought my thighs were too fat! I was quite surprised, but said, “No. I’m happy just the way I am.” I’ve worked hard to promote that image, as I know how much we pick up from our mothers. (Mine was tall and skinny and always on a diet! I realized later she used to binge and then fast. Many years later she confessed that she’d even tried to throw up, but had never been able to do it. Gee, am I surprised about my own behavior as a young woman?)

So, it’s not easy. I do the best I can as a mother, and still have to cope with outside/societal influences as well, over which I have no control. Things are generally working out well. I have conveyed an attitude towards food as being a pleasant necessity, but not overly important. It is definitely not an enemy, which is how I once perceived it. In retrospect, there are a few things I would do differently, but isn’t life always like that?

My daughter just got home after a long day at school and said, “Mommy, I’m starving! Please make me something nourishing to eat!” Little things like that make my day.

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Entry filed under: About Recovery, children, eating habits and food. Tags: , , , , .

time for a change Early Morning Coffee

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Robert L. Rice  |  May 30, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Kids are America’s most precious and most at-risk citizens. With drugs and peer pressure facing them on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that mental illness and drug abuse is at an all time high. Problems facing American children.

    Reply
  • 2. diaryofarecoveredbulimic  |  May 30, 2008 at 7:21 am

    They certainly are at risk, and need parents to set good examples! We all do the best we can.

    Reply

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