Moms and food go together. We imagine moms making chocolate chip cookies to go with the milk for the after school snack. Jewish mothers, Italian mothers, and many others stereotypically encourage even their grown children to eat more. Cooking food is how they show their love for you, eating more of what they cook is proof that you love them. In some families dads and food go together, too. Food is not just about calories and fuel for our bodies. The messages that go into the bowl along with the soup are many and complex.
We have a particularly full figured cat. He was large when we adopted him from the shelter and despite all efforts on my part he is still 20 pounds of food fixated feline. Sometimes, when he is staring hopefully at me, while sitting attentively by his bowl, I sing him a song, 'Love is better than food, Love is better than food, Love is better than, Love is better than, Love is better than food." But for him, and for many people, food is love.
I have watched people making my children food: special treats, family recipes, or something they are positive my children will not only like but love. When my children do not like this food, specially prepared for them, the preparer takes it personally. They are disappointed, but it is more than that, they feel rejected because their offering of food has been rejected. Even if the person rejecting the food is three years old, even if the person rejecting the food does so politely.
Food is personal. It is entangled with our culture, childhood, and our memories happy and sad. In a world that can feel big and scary food can be a comfort. We eat foods in hopes of preventing terrible diseases and we avoid foods because we believe they will cause us harm. For some people food is the focus of their Fanaticism. Food is also social, it brings people together and is shared at celebrations and holidays of all types. For people who live with life threatening allergies or diseases like Celiac Disease, living a safe and healthy life among the other food eaters can be challenging and even dangerous.
No matter what our own relationship is with food, our children are born with their own particular set of taste buds, metabolism, sensitivities and tolerances. Our children are born with their own preferences and those preferences expand as our children explore the world and try new things. We can try and make our children eat according to our schedule and expectations, our own preferences and sensitivities. We can try to brainwash our children so that they believe exactly the same things we do about food and nutrition and health. We can try to control and manipulate our children's relationship with food. On the other hand, we can accept our children for who they are. We can respect that they are a different people than we are and what they eat, how and when they eat it, may be drastically different. We can aim to be a Family of Connected Individuals in regards to food as well. We can also remember that our children are going to be in the world, playing at friends' houses, going to school, visiting relatives, shopping in stores, and they are going to be exposed to a wide variety of foods, as well as a lot of different information and ideas about diet and nutrition. They are going to have the opportunity to make choices about food, even if we never give them choices at home.
When we focus on our relationship with our children, instead of on their relationship with food; when we explore life, and food, along side of them as partners, we are available as a resource and a support system. When we have a relationship built on trust and connection, our children know that they can come to us and discuss their thoughts and ideas without being judged, criticized or shamed. When we can let go of our expectations our children are free to express what foods they like or do not like without fears of disappointing us or being forced to eat something.
As parents who love their children we want them to be healthy and we often jump right from that thought to food. We are deeply invested in what they eat, how much they eat and when they eat. Perhaps we are missing out on the importance of Why they eat. Why do your kids eat what, how much and when they eat? Do your kids eat because they are hungry? Do your kids eat foods they enjoy? Do your kids eat as much or as little as feels right to them at the time? Or, do your kids eat because you have told them it is time to eat? Do your kids eat foods because you told them that they have to, or because they want to please you? Do your kids eat the amount you put on their plate because they know they have to eat it all? Do your kids eat to please you?
When we focus on our relationship with our children, instead of on their relationship with food, we can share the joy and pleasure that food brings to our lives. We can share our relationship with food with our children and they can share their relationship with food with us, an exchange of ideas and experiences. Together we can learn and grow as a family with healthy relationships with food and with each other.