Friday, August 27, 2010

I didn't hit my child in public, but I did let her eat Cheetos: when feeding "well" seems like "bad parenting"

We were running errands the other day and stopped for an early lunch at Subway.

For some context, here is an excerpt from a post I wrote earlier this year about another Subway trip: "Another family was at Subway and it was painful to watch and listen to. Three boys- and every bite, every choice was argued, and counseled. First the argument for 9 grain bread, then trying to get some veggies on the subs, then the argument over the drink. (OK, chocolate milk) then over the chips, "You know you have to have baked chips, you can have baked Lays or Sun Chips..." Then the kids tried this one, "Mom, can we have cookies, it says they're baked and fresh! That sounds good, right?" Mom shut them down on the cookies, "I know what you're trying to do and it won't work..." Then there was threatening over eating the sub (all three were white bread with turkey,) not just the chips and chocolate milk... Ugh.

Back to this meal:

M had her standard turkey, cheese, tomatoes and extra pickles with mayo, oh , and a bag of cheetos and a juice box. I had my sandwich with Doritos which I enjoy on occasion. I wanted lemonade, but it was diet, so I had half fruit punch and half water. We enjoyed our sandwich. M ate about 2/3rds, and about half her Cheetos. She finished her juice box and asked to try my punch. She had orange stained fingers and a tell-tale fruit-punch moustache. I couldn't hide the crime! (sarcasm, or irony?)

I was a little bemused to note that I felt self-conscious when people looked at our table at our mounds of orange "junk food." I have to admit I would have felt "better" if people had seen M with a milk and apple slices, they would have thought I was a "better mother." I imagine that the current cultural norm about good feeding and parenting would have thought that the mother from the other post, who battled over every bite, who's kids likely would not eat "healthy" foods of their own free will, is the "better" mother- the one who cares about her child's health and weight.

It's crazy. I know I am feeding my child well, I know that she ate practically 2 grilled peppers with chicken and couscous for dinner. I know she gets a great variety of foods and feels good about eating and her body, I know that she stopped when she was full, and yet... I still feel the cultural pressure to be a "good" mom, and being a "good" mom, or parenting well these days means feeding a certain way...

I have had larger moms write in and say how difficult it is to feed children well when you, the parent, are fat. I can only imagine the stares, even comments some people would feel justified to make about a fat mom feeding her child the meal that M ate. There is so much misunderstanding about feeding, so much moralizing and assumptions about body size...

Feeding well today is countercultural, it's what less than one-in-five parents actually practice. It takes guts, especially if you're not a size two. People judge, watch, compare, think they know what good feeding is. When you ask for dessert with your child's meal, what kind of reaction do you get? When you let your child eat "junk" food, do you get comments? (I too have had the "Why are you feeding her that, you're making her obese!" comments...) It's no fun, it's not right.

Hang in there. Do what you know is best for your child, and know that I too struggle with a fear of judgement. (Trying to care less, but it's a pretty crazy world we live in, isn't it?!)


  1. Yes, it is hard when you are fat. Of course I am fat partly because I am built that way and partly because I am THAT out of touch with my body because of misunderstanding how to eat (no ellyn satter books in my day!). Like I don't know how to eat food that I like when I like and in the amount that I like. I overeat because I feel like I have to eat the food I don't like to get to the food I like (and not like eating my salad so I can have ice cream -- I mean eating the radicchio that I don't like FIRST so I can eat the romaine next. I mean like eating the crusts on my sandwich (because I don't like them) before I can eat the middle instead of just cutting my sandwich in half and eating the crusts.

    Since reading you and reading her, I am actively trying NOT to make myself eat things I don't want to. Yesterday I threw away half an apple because I ate half and didn't want anymore. Now I cut my sandwiches in half. These little changes are pretty radical for me and it's got nothing to do with getting thinner (I have no idea if my body can get thinner or not) and a whole lot to do with being tired of feeling that out of touch and wanting to show my kids that it's ok to throw away half an apple if you only wanted a couple of bites.

    In other words, let the people stare. To heck with 'em!

  2. I understand completely! I take my daughter out for ice cream sundaes at Friendly's once a year as our dinner. I let her pick whatever she wants... no matter how big or extravagant it is. Every time I've done this I can feel the stares. Literally feel them. I'm a pretty normal size and my daughter isn't exactly large (she's in the 15th percentile for weight and 35th for height), and yet we still get judged. I can only imagine what a larger mom might feel.

    People don't know this is our annual tradition (I had the same one with my mom), so they don't understand and feel the need to judge. I'm still going to do it as long as she wants, though, and to the people who stare... I am going to continue to ignore you. Food traditions can be so wonderful (I remember the ice cream dinners with my mom as my most fond memories) and everything can be eaten in moderation. People just don't understand that, though.

  3. Hey - as long as M wasn't running around the restaurant yelling and screaming or otherwise causing mayhem, I doubt anybody noticed what she was eating (let alone judged you on your parenting). You know what's happening in the big picture. Hang in there!

  4. I wish mothers weren't so judgmental. Like it isn't hard enough just being a mother. It is too easy to pass judgement, it is hard to give someone the benefit of the doubt and accept. Too many people take the easy road. We women need to stand together in this kingdom of motherhood! :)

  5. Kelly, I LOVE that idea! I'm going to start that tradition immediately with my daughter.


  6. I feel like that at times too. The only time my daughter has fries is when we eat out which is once every couple of weeks. It is the time she gets her fry fix. I ask her if she wants the carrots or the fries...and you can guess her answer. But the last time we went out she only ate a couple of fries and ate more of her sandwich ; )

  7. Dawn,
    What a great start. It is important not to eat foods just because you think you *should!* It really messes with your head and taste buds! Eating this way can feel wasteful at first, but that is less of an issue over time. You may find over time that when you don't feel "compelled" to eat something, you may be more open to it, or enjoy it more. Permission to eat the foods you want, AND to not eat the foods you don't is step one to eating competence!

  8. Kelly, I too love the sundae for dinner idea... Maybe I'll ask M once a year where she want to go for dinner-ice-cream, DQ, indian, whatever. It would be interesting! When we eat out, it often is just the two of us, so maybe to make it extra special we'd have to do something totally different!

  9. mommyarchives-I AGREE! I feel like we are in a totally judgemental mommying era. (Maybe as a people-pleaser I am also more sensitive, perhaps seeing judgment when there is none, but I'm not sure...)
    When you have bumper stickers saying, "Carry your baby, not your carseat!" with a picture of a sling, or a sign that says, "breast feeding makes your baby healthy and smart" (OK, so M will be stupid ans unhealthy...)
    and you have attachment parents making comments about "detachment parenting" and working moms dissing SAHMs, and SAHMS saying, "I could NEVER leave my X for 3 hours twice a week, I would miss her too much, I don't know HOW you can be away from your kids so much!"
    I think all our choices mean we feel we have to defend how we are parenting by judging others (that seems to be the theme anyway.) I wish we could all be more supportive. I loves what my SIL once said, "Whatever makes the mom most happy is what is right for the child and the family..." Interesting. Maybe I'll put a post about that up sometime!

  10. Mare, how fun to be curious and see what kids CAN do with eating when we support them. Some day she might surprise you and ask for carrots! (maybe throw a few more choices in there? rice? pasta? My M could live on rice with sauce and be happy I think, whereas 'fries' was one of my first words! (Thoug in German it was "frites")

  11. This is such a societal problem. Makes me sad. So many misconceptions to dispel!!

    Good for you for getting the conversation going!

  12. The title of your post made me laugh out loud... I bet some parents would be more accepting of an occasional smack across the head than of an occasional bag of Cheetos for lunch!

    Thanks for acknowledging the way in which the situation is exacerbated for larger mums. The other day I was telling my partner about Ellyn Satter, and about how I want to try the division of responsibility when we have kids. He liked the idea and said he was up for it, but he also commented: "Two fat parents letting their children eat as much as they want and not forcing them to eat their vegetables before they have dessert? Get ready for our moms to go all 'social services' on us!" I really hope they don't, because I have my answer ready: "You raised two fussy eaters who grew into obese adults, so your feeding methods mustn't have been so hot either!" Yeah, I know, it's not going to be pretty.

    I would also like to spare a thought for thin moms out there. Can you imagine a thin mom whose child *chooses* multigrain bread with lean meat and lots of veggies, a bottle of water, and prefers to leave the chips for a snack later in the day? I'm sure people would tsk-tsk at the way she is "starving her child" or "making her child anorexic"... Like themommyarchives said upthread, it's so easy to pass judgement on other people's parenting, it feels like a no-win situation: damned if you do, damned if you don't.

  13. Ila,
    Some great points. I know people judge, because folks in my family judge too... It's not easy. And you're right, thin parents will get it too, did you hear the insanity when Angelinas Jolie's kid was snapped with a bag of cheetos? her latest family newsletter is a great piece about trying to keep kids skinny by pushing veggies... I will link to it next post. Her website might be a great resource!

  14. Ila: Trust me... hubby and I get the looks for that with our girl. She's thin. And she regularly shuns traditional kid food... particularly french fries. When we were on vacation and having lunch at a restaurant on one of the islands, she asked for "mixed vegetables" (the only option for a side item for kids besides french fries) to go with her sandwich. The waitress looked at her like she had 2 heads for wanting the veggies over the fries. And then dirty looks at us like we must have forced her into it. Sigh. The girl really has texture problems with potatoes. She'd rather eat worms than fries but we look criminal because of her size and her picking fruits and veggies over the fries.

  15. Yesss, fist bump for you! I hope other moms are as brave in the face of judgement, and good on you for letting your child practise intuitive eating.

    I know mine is not a parent/child situation, but I'm in recovery from AN, am still a way away from being "weight restored", and frequently get comments when I eat in front of people (I often stop to have a snack when I'm out and about and know I won't get home for awhile, or when I can't get away from my desk at work for a whole meal). A small percentage of the comments are of the, "Oh good, you're eating... You need to!" variety (which I still think is pretty rude, especially coming from people you don't know well), but the vast majority are along the, "Oh, that's so full of fat," "I could never eat that," "Oh, you're eating chocolate... that's such junk," lines... When these people have NO IDEA what I've eaten for the rest of the day and seemingly have given no thought to the fact that I'm at a low weight and might be eating chocolate for a reason, OR that maybe I just really like chocolate and wanted some (and that doesn't mean that chocolate is all I eat)! I'm astounded by the sense of entitlement people feel to comment on and judge others' eating choices. Recovery is hard enought without verging-on-eating-disordered behaviour being so entrenched in society and food being used as a tool of shame, and without me seeing supposedly healthy friends and colleagues practising behaviours and making comments that could have come from me at my sickest.

    Sorry for the length, but I just wanted to tell you how important it is that you keep fighting this fight.

  16. Coffee,
    Thanks so much for this. I'd like to repost it as a separate post? I think it's amazing and shows how much we assume/interfere with food. The comments are maddening. I'm sorry you have to deal with comments, the cultural craziness around food during your recovery. We indeed live in a disordered food culture. The lack of a healthy norm (for the most part) is disheartening. Thanks for your kind words. Id like to see a healthy norm someday be commonplace...
    we can dream!
    I'm glad you are finding something here even without the "parent/child" thing going on...

  17. Of course, that's fine :-) I'm just glad my rant made sense and wasn't too OT! And your blog is awesome, even without having kids myself (I'm 24). I'd like to think that one day I can parent like that.