· By Julia Boase
What Influences How We Feed Our Family? Part 1
This week’s blogpost is coming to you from my sick bed. The forced down time has actually been quite good for me as it’s enabled me to reflect on quite a few things. Something I find myself mulling over quite a bit, are all the factors that contribute to the choices we make about how we feed our family.
What got me thinking about this, is that I let my 5yr old daughter clean her teeth both times today by herself. Now I know ideally that a parent should assist with teeth cleaning at this age and that kids don’t have the manual dexterity to clean their teeth properly until around 7-8yrs of age. Most of the time I try to help her because I want her to have great teeth and be without dental problems. But you know what? Today I just did not have the capacity to go and help her. It was a combination of being sick, feeling tired and just plain flat and I thought you know what - she can just manage by herself.
Then I started to think about how this applies to food as well. There is just so much judgement on everything we do as parents these days (maybe there always was, I don’t know, I can only account for what I’ve seen and experienced myself). I recalled a newspaper article I read a few years ago now that was based around the results of a lunch box audit (that’s icky already right there in my books), where an “expert’ was called in to critique the lunch boxes. There were lots of comments about how could parents just grab a bunch of snacks and call it lunch? But also comments like “why aren’t people repurposing their leftovers from dinner?”. The whole tone of the article was judgy and implying the inherent laziness of the parents. I’ve thought a lot about this article over the years. God knows I try hard to put together a nutritious and appealing lunch box for my kids, but they’re never perfect and that’s me, who is very invested in health and nutrition. I’m sure if you’re the CEO of a bank, then you probably think a lot less about lunch boxes than I do, but you probably do a bloody good job of teaching your kids about savings, mortgages and compound interest - things I don’t do well.
And that brings me to the concept of capacity. Each of us as parents only has the capacity to take on so much each day. Our capacity to manage every aspect of our lives is determined by so many things, for example your mental health, financial status, working hours, social and emotional supports, number of children you’re caring for etc etc. On top of this, each of us will prioritise things that are important to us and each of us bring a “learned experience of food and eating” from our own childhoods.
And these are the things that influence the choices we make when it comes to putting food on the table or in a lunch box, not “laziness” as the above article I mentioned suggested.
Whilst I know that good nutrition is important for kids, I also know that it can come in all shapes and sizes, and means different things to different families. I also know that nutrition is best measured as patterns over time and not determined by a single food or meal.
The concept of the “Good Enough Mother” was coined by paediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott in 1953 to describe the characteristics of parenting that were “good enough” and lead to stable and happy families and children. He relates the term to a process of parenting where the mother starts out as “hyper-responsive” to her infants needs, but relaxes this as the child grows and develops. He champions that the goal is not to be a perfect parent, but rather that the good enough parent (who is not always immediately available, but is mostly reliable) is actually important for developing autonomy and independence in our kids.
I like to apply this concept to feeding our kids. We don’t have to get it perfect all of the time, because gods knows that’s something most of us couldn’t achieve no matter how hard we tried. Perhaps in your family, your family dinners rock, but your lunch boxes will only ever be so so, or maybe you’re the expert egg cooker at breakfast and you make a mean sandwich for the lunches, but dinner is a bit cobbled together because no one has the time or energy come night time.
I think this has to be ok.
I think what I’m trying to recognise is that being responsible for feeding your family is hard work. Most of us want to do the best job that we can for our kids, but there are always going to be limitations. Since you’ve found your way here, I hope that some my interest, enthusiasm and ideas for feeding kids can help you with the daily struggle. And in the mean time, if you’ve got tips on teaching kids about compound interest - I’m all ears!