I grew up in a home where love was shown through food. Baked goods to be exact. Luckily I got off easy. With the exception of my 14th year when I attempted to be bulimic (I could never get past the gagging part and I was scared of Ex-Lax™) and live off Slim Fast™ and Fibre Trim™ pills for the summer because I thought 165 pounds was too heavy for my 6 ft frame (all my friends weighed between 105-125 lbs so I felt like a blimp. It didn’t matter that they were all under 5’5″), I avoided any major self-deprecation issues due to my weight. How I kept from being overweight all the while stuffing my face with a never ending supply of chocolate chip cookies and honey cakes baffles me though. Maybe it was because my mom and Grandma never bought store-made baked goods so I didn’t acquire an addiction to modified corn syrup solids. Maybe it was because I only had a sweet tooth and never acquired the second more crippling salty or deep fried tooth. Maybe it was because I spent a lot of time outdoors instead of in front of the TV. Or maybe it was just due to the love that went into the food. Maybe the love that went into baking my birthday cakes, school snacks and family dinners kept me from needing to find a more fattening kind of love elsewhere. Either way, it helped make me the healthy food-loving person I am today. Albeit with a sweet tooth.
Hm. Perhaps more explanation is needed.
In my house, like the maternal figures who came before me, I mindfully love my children through the language of food.* Special occasions especially provide a wonderful opportunity for me to go all out. New baby on its way while I’m in labour? No problem, just pass me the flour and let’s make a welcoming cake! And what better way to show love to a new arrival but with the milk that flows from our breasts.
I practice on-demand, extended (or full term) breastfeeding, having breastfed my first daughter until the eve of her third birthday. I continue to breastfeed my 34 month old. I left my much loved career so I could be a stay-at-home mom and do this. As a result my daughters have never had to know what it is like to be without me (or my breasts!).
This is my act of love.
I’m raising my children vegetarian and at meal time I serve them healthy “from scratch” dishes made from mostly organic whole foods. I provide the children who come to my house for daycare each day the same foods I feed my family. I love being able to provide tasty wholesome foods, and when they clean their plate and ask for more, it fills me with delight. I also like that my daycare parents are supportive of their children being exposed to breastfeeding and learning that it is a healthy and normal way for a baby or toddler to feed.
Another way I like to share my love for food with my kids is to get them to help me in the kitchen. They help measure, pour, stir and hold the hand mixer with me. They cut the soft vegetables (like mushrooms) with a dull knife. They rip the leafy greens. They set the table. As we work we talk about the foods we are eating and where they come from. And helping really does make a difference to a child’s ability to enjoy their meal. There is a certain expression of pride on their faces that makes me so happy as they share with their daddy how much they helped make dinner.
Giving choices is an important way to further healthy eating habits too. When a child has some control over what goes into their body, this can help pave the way towards preventing future eating disorders. This is something I need to practice as much as I preach too, because being such a health nut I do have control issues over the foods my kids eat. Having a sweet tooth and thus sweet foods in the house doesn’t help.
But so far I’m happy to say my girls enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods, and the sweets they eat are homemade (except for the ice cream). Meal times are generally happy. If they don’t want to eat dinner they don’t have to, but their meal is there when they are ready. I prefer that they at least try the foods they think they won’t like (their dad disagrees), and when they do, we usually wind up with one less food to argue about. Although their dad isn’t always available at meal times us girls always eat together at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I believe the basis for a loving relationship with one’s self and one’s food starts with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding helps bond mother and child, and practicing other forms of attachment parenting alongside helps build confidence and a healthy self-esteem. And when a child feels good about himself and is positively attached to his family, I think body image issues are less likely.
Actually, it would be interesting to see if any research has been done on this. Does anyone know of any?
NP:* I don’t want anyone thinking I only show love for my children with food. They are much loved in a variety of ways. I provided a link to another post I wrote about finding one’s “love language” to help further explain.
This post is part of the 2010 API Principles of Parenting blog carnival, a series of monthly parenting blog carnivals, hosted by API Speaks. Learn more about attachment parenting by visiting the API website.