Sometimes, we can’t help ourselves. We’re feeling a little smug about our parenting skills in the wake of our children acting cooperatively and peacefully at the dinner table with friends, and get temporarily giddy about these practically perfect five minutes of behavior. We say something, and though it’s meant to be light-hearted, it comes out judgmental. Usually that "something" is about another kid's eating habits and, without intention, we’re shaming that child (and his or her caregiver).
I have been the jerk and commented on someone else’s kid. It’s only when another parent did the same about my own child did I get that much-needed reality check. That time my son was still focused on the cake while the rest of the children had moved on to musical chairs at a birthday party stands out, in particular. Another parent remarked on my kid’s cake priority, with no intention, I’m sure, of making anyone feel bad. In that moment, thought, I felt defensive, angry, and embarrassed that I have said similar things.
Every day I learn how to be a parent. I’m almost nine years in and, while I’m definitely better at dealing with certain aspects of motherhood, I am still far from perfect. I’m not proud of them, but it’s important to share my parenting fails and how I (inevitably) learn from them. Don’t you feel a lot better about yourself after learning how somebody else messed up? I know I do.
Here are some things people, including me, have said about other kid’s eating habits that are actually shaming:
“Wow, He’s A Good Eater”
I’ve even said this about my own kids, and then I’ve realized that remarking on the quality of someone’s eating habits could make them super self-conscious. It’s one thing to tell a kid they are good at art or soccer or showing compassion to a teary-eyed friend. Those are skills they make efforts towards cultivating. But eating is a necessity. Having, and sating, an appetite are not causes for commendation.
“He Loves His Carbs, Just Like His Mom”
This is something I’ve said about my son, and it makes me cringe just thinking about it. Yes, we both love our pasta and our bread. However, it’s not something I need to encourage us all to bond over. And using the word “love” in this case is just another way of expressing that we love to binge on these things. Not a healthy practice.
“She Certainly Takes Her Time”
As a parent, time never seems to be on my side. There is not enough of it during the weekday morning rush, and there is too much of it on an unstructured, rainy weekend afternoon. I’m either barking at my kids to hurry up and finish their cereal, or to slow their roll when cramming dessert into their faces. Remarking on the speed at which a kid eats doesn’t take into account how that child is experiencing their food. Maybe they’re distracted. Maybe their jaw muscles aren’t that strong. Who am I to say what’s the ideal speed to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop is?
“She Really Gets Into Her Food, Doesn’t She?”
I still have to remind my almost 9-year-old to use a fork. Kids are hands-on, even with food typically eaten with utensils. Commenting that a kid dives into their spare ribs or corn on the cob or mashed potatoes, face first with gusto, is really a judgment of the parents more than the kids. We all try to teach our children good manners. However, when you put a plate of delicious food in front of them, they might forget.
“You Need To Fatten Her Up”
A concerned family member told me this while my daughter was recovering from a horrific stomach bug that prevented her from keeping any food down for days. I know they were operating from a place of love, and truly cared for her well-being. However, there was nothing about my daughter having dropped a few pounds that jeopardized her health. She managed to stay hydrated, which was the most important thing, and she slowly regained her appetite.
Eventually she arrived back at her natural weight, but it was not through any effort to stuff her. She ate normally and, thankfully, her body did the rest.
“They Eat Nothing But Junk”
Growing up, my mom offered only healthy snacks, and dessert was a rare occurrence. I didn’t have a lot of friends over to play, presumably because the after-school options were apples and granola. I heard a lot about other kids who ate nothing but junk.
My husband grew up in a home that kept some junk food on hand, and it was no big deal. He learned that nothing was off-limits, no matter how processed it was, as long as it was consumed in moderate amounts. I learned that everything that wasn’t natural was off-limits, and developed a binge eating disorder since I became fixated on scoring candy and sugar cereal.
Now, I serve my kids dessert and we practice an "everything in moderation" approach towards eating.
“What A Waste Of Food”
I have this thought a lot when my kids don’t finish what’s on their plate. I was raised in the “Clean Plate Club,” a holdover from my grandparents’ mentality about food as it pertained to rationing. My parents were born a few years after World War II ended, so they were given speeches about “starving children” in war-torn countries, and that my parents (kids at the time) shouldn’t let their dinners go to waste. I’m sure that generation of children developed unhealthy eating habits which focused more on quantity than on quality, and health.
My parents passed down that same way of thinking when I was a kid and I swore I wouldn’t make my children finish their meals if and when they felt satisfied. Eating is not about volume: it’s mostly about nutrition. I serve small amounts to my kids, and I tell them they can always ask for more. This helps us keep waste to a minimum, and it teaches them to really listen to their body and how much food it needs. It took me way too long to develop that skill because I was too focused on cleaning my plate.
“Not A Fan Of Vegetables, Is He?”
Very few adults are fans of vegetables. That children typically reject green stuff is not news. Try re-phrasing that to say, “I can totally relate to how he feels about veggies.” Then, try not to look horrified as I dump a load of ketchup on his string beans to get him to eat them.
“So They Eat The Same Thing For Lunch, Every Single Day?”
Yes, I pack my kids the same things for lunch every day. I would gladly switch it up, if they would eat other stuff. But hummus and pretzels, and apple slices and two cookies is what they want, sort of hits most food groups, and doesn’t come back in their lunchboxes uneaten. It also makes my life infinitely easier, though I sort of feel like a bad mom for not deviating from the routine and exposing them to a wider variety of tastes and textures throughout the week. But there are other meals for that.