Mark Oppenheimer writes a piece in the New York Times entitled Let Them Drink Chocolate, in which he argues that parents are not fair and just when it comes to our decisions to limit our children’s diet, television consumption and the like.
As a parent, I think that it’s time to declare a period of benign neglect when it comes to food. Today, too many Americans make a virtue, even a fetish, of monitoring what goes into our children’s mouths. Rather than raising our children to consume in moderation — whether food, drink, drugs or screen time — we forbid them pleasures that adults take for granted.
We serve them juice boxes rather than soda, fruit rather than ice cream. Yet grown-up dinner parties, which begin with glasses of wine or cocktails, end with rich desserts. Children are deprived of television, or limited to a couple of hours a week, but after the kids are in bed parents catch up on “Game of Thrones.”
I often think the exact same thing.
My wife and I do not monitor everything that goes into our children’s mouths. Because my daughter has a peanut allergy, we are cognizant of what she is eating, but we are not a family hell-bent on only serving organic fruits and vegetables and artisanal breads. We have never kept a written recorded our children’s food intake (which is more common than you might think) and do not stress over high fructose corn syrup.
But when it comes to choice, our children are like most. They eat what we serve, even when we are catering to our daughter’s somewhat limited, vegetarian palate. They may have choices in restaurants, and there are times when my daughter can choose between a yogurt and an applesauce or an apple and a pear, but there are many times when the children have no input whatsoever in the food being served.
As a result, there are days when our daughter (and even our not-quite two year old son) express displeasure in our caloric offerings.
In these moments, I often find myself thinking how exceedingly rare it is for an adult to be required to eat a food that he or she has not specifically chosen.
I may like spaghetti, but if I’m not in the mood for spaghetti on a given day, no one requires me to eat it.
I may love prime rib, but if I happen to want ice cream for dinner, that’s what I eat.
Even though adults understand and accept that there are days when we are not interested in eating even our most favorite foods, we discount a child’s same inclination. We believe, for reasons that perhaps harken back to a time when food was more scarce, that children should eat whatever is placed before them, or at least try it, damn it, even if it smells terrible to them or reminds them of the salamander that they saw earlier that day smeared on the driveway.
We’re not always so nice to kids.
As a kid, I remember feeling this way often. I felt like I didn’t have enough control over my life, which is astounding given the fact that I grew up in a time when I could leave the house on a summer day at 8:00 in the morning and return at 6:00 that evening without encountering a single adult for the entire day.
Still, I had little control over what I ate. Even when it came to school lunch, there was no choice.
And food was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of adult control over my life. Perhaps this feeling of constant adult intervention was the reason I was not always the most well behaved boy and sought ways to rebel.
I’ve never liked to be told what to do. I think most people feel this way.
I understand that parents must make many choices on their child’s behalf. We use our wisdom and life experience to guide our children in making good choices. We try to teach them to make what we define as good choices. This often means limiting our children’s choices altogether.
All of this is a necessary part of parenting.
But I think it would be wise to try to remember what it was like to be a kid, with little control over your life.
You may not allow your child to suddenly choose ice cream for dinner, but you may be less frustrated and slightly more understanding when your child says that he’s not in the mood for carrots tonight, even though he was thrilled with carrots last week.
As adults, we do the same thing. Why expect any less from our children?