Love can be confusing
I was working with a lovely woman with 3 kids. Like most parents she just wanted to do everything right and was working SO hard at it. She was especially tuned into healthy eating as she believed it was the foundation that leads to all good things. I agree with her; with the right food our kids concentrate better, they have more energy to play and learn, they sleep better and in general behave better. Plus we set them up with a healthy attitude to food for later in life.
As the kids got older though they started to rebel against her healthy food and attitude towards clean and healthy living.
What had changed?
- They begged constantly for different food: pizza, burgers, chicken nuggets, crisps, cakes, sweets
- Started refusing to eat the food she cooked and presented to them.
- Were mean to her, and she felt ‘bullied’ by her 3 kids.
- Even her husband said he missed the occasional pizza and chips or a packet of crisps with a beer.
- When the kids were at a friend’s house or at a party they would binge and get sick, sometimes other adults even had to stop them because otherwise there was not enough snacks for the other kids!
- The school had called to say that her youngest was begging for snacks from the other kids as they had cake, crisps and biscuits while he had veggie sticks and fruit.
- The last straw was when her oldest son was caught stealing sweets from a shop…
She felt she had to do something…
She had to do something and decided to just give up and give in to their demands.
The kids had cake and crisps for school snacks, they ordered pizza and had sweets in the house. They went to McDonald’s, where she made a point of only eating salad and made sure to tell them while they ate how unhealthy it was for them! She felt she was going against her core values, dealing with it the wrong way, letting her kids (and herself) down and she knew this was not right either.
So where do we start?
What is your long-term vision or goal?
We started with the end in mind, her long-term goal: thinking about what kind of men and women she hoped to raise. What did she hope to see and feel when they were 25, 30 or even older? She wanted them to have the knowledge to make healthy food choices. To be able to say no to unhealthy food and drinks. To be able to control themselves and portion sizes so as not to over or under eat. She wanted them to be independent by being able to decide what to eat, to shop for it and also to be able to cook for themselves. But also to feel confident in their bodies and minds.
Know your parenting compass.
Once she had set her goal this would be her parenting guideline – her compass of how to deal with healthy eating and other parenting challenges. Every time she was about to do or say something she would STOP and BREATHE and ask herself, ‘What do I need to do or say right now to support my long-term vision and hopes’. And she realised that shaming her kids when they were eating food she didn’t agree with did not match her long term aim of ‘confidence’. And ‘telling them’ or ‘deciding’ what they would eat didn’t match with them making independent choices and being able to cook for themselves. So there were a few things that she could see needed adjusting in order to be able to look back and think: well done, I did an OK job.
What did she do?
She needed to reset the family’s habits and create a way of working together to restore the connection and trust between them all.
This started at a weekly ‘family meeting’ – CLICK here to read how to do this with your family. It’s a time where the family meets (once a week or as often as suits you) to talk about what matters to them. It started light and went on to setting up meal planning and cooking together.
Mum also had to rethink her attitude to ‘bad’ food. Not ALL pizza, nuggets and burgers are bad. They agreed to make homemade pizza but also to order some once in a while. But even when they ordered pizza it was in a ‘creative way’. They didn’t order 5 pizzas, one for each of them. They ordered 3 (sometimes just 2), shared the slices and then added lots of salad, vegetable sticks, houmous etc. if they were still hungry. Mum found lovely recipes for healthy cakes and biscuits that they made together. She also found healthy snacks that the kids liked that they could bring with them to school. They were on a mission TOGETHER. To find food they liked (respecting the kid’s ‘wants’) and still staying with her values of ‘healthy’. During the week they started making homemade burgers (even veggie burgers sometimes) and used low sugar ketchup instead of always saying NO! At the family meetings it came out that the kids thought it was unfair that they could never have ‘normal’ sweets and crisps. So they agreed that Friday was the day they would go to the shop and buy some, but not have them in the house during the week. Again they found a compromise. I discussed with mum that it was important to honour this agreement and not shame them when they were eating this stuff but just let them enjoy it. Otherwise they might start to develop an unhealthy attitude to food later on.
She also found a way to respond to her kids when they wanted something that they might not have in the house, that was not in the ‘agreement’. She would use the ‘I listen and accept’ and keep it positive i.e. ‘I can HEAR that you are annoyed because you want crisps right now, and I understand that you want them because they taste good, and you CAN have them on Friday after school.’ She would just repeat this without too many words or trying to convince them or negotiate. She realised that the more she got drawn into their conversation the more she opened herself up for battles. Sometimes she would just ignore the behaviour and re-engage once they stopped. She felt in control of herself and in charge of the situation. She liked that there was a way to respond to her kids’ requests in a way that sat well with her, and her values, still respected her children and didn’t damage their relationship.
She started having a better, more relaxed relationship with all family members. And she felt proud because she knew she was doing the right thing. Not going to extremes nor giving up.
It is all about keeping the long term vision in mind and focusing on connection and respect.