I would like to think I take a fairly laid back approach to parenting these days. I’ve thrown out the manuals a long time ago. I know what works for one child doesn’t always apply to another, even a twin. There isn’t any right or wrong in parenting – just what works for you and your family. As long as you shower a child with double the amount of attention you think they need and half the amount of things you think they need then I think you’ll be alright.
However, there is one subject which leaves me completely stressed and anxious and that is food and more importantly weight issues. Perhaps it is because I have girls. Or more likely it is beacuse I struggle with food and weight myself. I so desperately want my girls to have a healthy attitude to food. I know that’s the important thing. They need to see food as fuel and not a tool to make themselves feel better.
I’m lucky because they are all good eaters. I have no worries about their appetities. So far they are not fussy or faddy although this can of course all change when the twins hit two, so fingers crossed. My strategy with food has always been simple, give them what we are having, eat with them and don’t fuss them, if they don’t eat it then don’t give alternatives. Toddlers always eat more than you think, anyway. So far they eat a bit of everything. So far, touch wood.
However I do worry about their weight. From about six months all three girls were high on the percentile range for healthy weights. Although most people say this is a good thing you do get the odd “what a chunky monkey” comment that can’t fail to sting. Of course babies are supposed to be chubby and when they are poorly and you see how quickly they lose weight you are greatful for every extra ounce.
The thing I find difficult is that so often I don’t feel I control their food, or at least their attitude to food. We go to so many places where there are temptations. After toddler singing there are chocolate biscuits left out, the twins may not be two yet but they know the routine and start saying “biscuit” as soon as we get there. We have to walk past drinks dispensers and three sets of sweet machines at swimming and even more at the ice rink where Molly has lessons (what is that all about, by the way? Why provide only unhealthy choices somewhere which is supposed to be for health?). We walk past a chip shop and a sweet shop every day after school where Molly watches her friends come out clutching an array of delicious smelling goodies. Then even in our own home we are beset my temptations as an ice cream van does a round at bed time.
My defense is to get into the habit of never going to these places. If I give in, even once, then I don’t just get a beseaching look and a please as we go passed but a full on tantrum every time.
I think a healthy attitude to food is a balancing act. You have to have some treats growing up or you’ll crave them. You have to know that having one biscuit is fine but it’s not ok to eat the whole packet. You have to be able to leave a half opened packet of choclate in the kitchen and not have it calling to you (something I struggle with). How you do this is hard. If they have too many they grow to think that is normal.
My biggest worry is the offering food as a reward or a consolation. Food can be such an emotional thing. You eat because you’re happy as a reward for hard work, or you eat becasue you’re sad. Either way you associate food with comfort and with emotions. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of doing it. Well done you’ve been good, have a sweet. It sounds a bit like training a dog.
So I’m trying to get back some control. To stick to a routine with food, to be organised and have lots of healthy snacks available. To not go out during meal times when the only options will be unhealthy, to pack picnics, to offer variety. To praise with something other than food.
I just wish it was easier to achieve a balance.