Welcome to the November 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Feeding Your Family
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared recipes, stories, and advice about food and eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
I've had a post in my head since shortly after starting this blog called, "Focus on Food" - that's almost 2 years... and I still haven't written it yet. This post seems more difficult to write than last month's post about Technology use in our family. Probably because I have more hang-ups to work through still.
After writing last month's post about No Limits on Screen-time I started thinking about how "no limits" isn't really an accurate description. Because there are times when our screen time is naturally limited - sleeping comes to mind immediately. (No, I'm not being facetious, I really mean that is a naturally occurring limit to screen time.) Another would be wanting to be certain places at certain times (although in our family we do tend to bring little screens with us in the car, so I guess this is a limit on the "Big TV".) Anyway, a better way of looking at our technology use is that we have lots of choices and try to support each other the best we can.
With that in mind I believe that the ideal situation in feeding my family is having lots of choices available and allowing individuals to decide what and when they eat (and usually where in our house.)
The two main challenges I've had to overcome in implementing this "ideal" are:
1) My background with food - I've never been that interested in cooking as a child or young adult. (<-- I guess I can't call myself that anymore?!?) My mom didn't enjoy cooking that much and it wasn't something we did together. We did LOTS of other things together and did eat a healthy diet (she was always great about having a vegetable at every dinner!) but we were also very busy. School (my mom was my math teacher in the 9th and 12th grades!), band, sports, and keeping up with the family business (golf course) were our main focuses. When I went to college I had a meal plan and rarely cooked. So I first started cooking at a very ripe age - in my 20s. I didn't REALLY become interested in food and cooking till AFTER having children. Starting a new interest when you have babies is probably the most challenging time to do so - because you don't have the time, energy, or mental resources to do so.
2) Societal expectations - We are mostly expected to control our children's "intake" in our culture. "Three more bites and then you can have dessert," and "No, you already had X lollipops, you may not have another," are common phrases in our culture. Children are praised for being "good eaters", "cleaning" their plates, or reminded of the "starving children in Africa" as if eating more will somehow help.
Other pressures are our ideas that eating poorly will negatively affect our kids' health - their teeth, their weight, children's diabetes is on the rise etc. I'm not arguing the truth of these trends. However, the fear of these things adds to an already controlling culture. We don't trust our kids to make the best choices for themselves - the same way we don't trust them to choose in regards to technology, sleep, and just about any other issue you can think of. I think this is the biggest challenge we face as a culture. Especially because there is so much food to choose from and we keep learning more about how our food is grown and raised affects us. It is easy to want to control everything that goes into our children's mouths - after all we want the best for them. But for me it is not worth sacrificing the trust in our relationship. So I work hard to push back against these societal expectations and pressures.
I want to add in here that I have an awesome partner in the kitchen. Mike actually took the lead in keeping us fed from the start of our marriage. He loves to grill and often cooks dinner after working all day at the office - this was especially true when the kids were really little. I know - I'm really lucky.
We've really both been on the same page about moving our family in healthier directions while not stressing ourselves or our kids too much, because that is just as important! We don't try to force our kids to eat foods but we do try to offer lots of options.
And now that I've acknowledged my partner in crime, here are the ways I've personally grown:
1) Focus on Myself: Because I believe that the best thing I can do is model healthy eating myself, I focus on MY diet instead of worrying what my kids are eating all the time. I eat healthier than I ever have, since having kids. When I was in college I went through a phase of focusing on "Strive for 5" (trying to get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day). Now I don't bother counting, but because I eat so many fruits and vegetables, I'm confident that I'm getting at least that many every day if not more. Green smoothies are a regular part of my diet since Mike bought a Vitamix for my birthday a couple of years ago. I'm also expanding my cooking repertoire slowly but surely - and enjoying it! Some things Mike and Marisol also eat, and some things only I eat.
2) Offering "Monkey Platters" to my kids: This is a popular term in unschooling circles, started by Sandra Dodd. Marisol calls it a "tray of food." They really eat a lot of healthy food when they are given choices in this appealing way. Last night Marisol ate a whole tray that included green beans, a cheese stick, strawberries, baby dill pickles, and celery with peanut butter. Gerry's go-to foods right now are strawberries and dill pickles too. He will also eat raw carrots sometimes.
3) Releasing (and Re-releasing) Fears: Feeding my kids has been a challenge for me - one that I didn't anticipate. (Although, now looking back I'm not sure what I thought - that somehow it would be easy even though I'd never spent much time thinking about food or cooking?) My daughter is kind of like the "poster child" for Unschooling. She does makes a lot of choices that jive with societal expectations of what is "healthy" so it's easy to give her a lot of freedom. My son on the other hand has a HUGE sweet tooth. So it is more difficult with him to let go, relax, and trust him. I mentioned above some of the healthy foods he eats regularly. The truth is he eats a lot of sweets and "processed" foods too. His main go-to dinners are out of a freezer box - we feed him fish sticks (the best quality ones money can buy!) almost every day. But he is healthy and happy and growing so those are the things that I work to focus on. Because he's really in a narrowing phase of foods I keep offering foods I know he likes and I trust he will start expanding his options when he is ready.
I feel like I could write a book about feeding my family! There will always be more learning and growing to do. One aspect that I didn't touch on here that deserves a whole post (or book?) unto itself is breastfeeding. My children's first food was probably the best I've made and the easiest. And it always has given me comfort knowing how much nourishment and comfort they've received through breastfeeding.
I loved looking at all the pictures we've taken of food we've made or eaten out at restaurants in the past year or so. Some things have become regular additions and others we've only made once or twice. But it all looks so yummy! I think this is a pretty good representation of where we are right now. I'd love to hear about your challenges and strengths when feeding your family!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon November 12 with all the carnival links.)
Have you ever heard the general wisdom to not look at what a toddler eats in one day, but rather what they eat over a longer stretch, like a week? This is to reassure parents who feel like all their children want is one particular food or eat sweets nonstop. Usually you will be reassured when you see that they are getting a variety of foods and nutrients through their diet after tracking what they eat for a few days in a row, rather than focusing on one particular day.
This is how I feel about my life as a parent. It is so easy to fluctuate between the extremes of "Super-mommy!" and "super-TERRIBLE-mommy". For example, last weekend we threw Marisol a pretty awesome party for her 6th Birthday. In preparation we (and by we, I mostly mean *I*) painted two life-sized (well Marisol-sized) mermaids and an Atlantis-castle-under-the-sea mural. This took a few weeks. The party was a hit - we played pin the starfish on the mermaid's hair (everyone got a prize) and had mermaid trivia (that Marisol made up herself). So that was a pretty "Super-mommy" moment.
A neighborhood friend recently commented that I always seem to have a lot of energy. I laughed and said that's because that's when you see me - which is very true - the neighbors don't see me when I'm home curled up on the couch! This week I'm tired. Life has just been pretty hectic lately. Oh yeah, and I got my period again. So yesterday I just felt like a LUMP. It is so easy to let my mind go to thoughts of what a horrible mom I am - all Gerry does is eat candy, and Marisol is bored from sitting home and watching lots of TV. But instead I gave myself permission to rest without feeling guilty. I recognized that I am human too, with physical, spiritual, and emotional needs and remembered all of the amazing opportunities and experiences that I regularly facilitate for my children. Then I lay down on the couch.
Later we made it to the pool and Marisol played with a friend for an hour, splashing around and practicing her new swimming skills. Today was slightly better - we managed to play, clean, have a playdate and get outside this evening.
A week from Tuesday we are flying up to NY to visit with family. I know it is going to be a jam-packed, fun-filled couple of weeks. So I'm trying to remember that life's balance is kind of like looking at a toddler's diet - sometimes we have to step back to see that every moment has its place and feeds our life in different ways - the busy times and the quiet times, the tired times and the super-inspired energetic times. Instead of fighting how you feel in any given moment relax into it. Embrace everything and love yourself. Meet your needs and those around you the best you can. Know that when you do, you and your life will naturally flow on to its next state, whatever that may be.
Every week I have ideas of what I want to write about, but usually at the last minute I end up changing my plan because something going on in Life actually sparks a new direction. Balance has been on my mind a lot lately. A post titled "Balance" has patiently waited for months in my drafts folder. In fact not a day goes by that I don't think about this word. What does it mean? What does it look like and how does it feel?
There is no formula for perfect balance. Balance will look different for every person and it changes with time too. This makes sense to me intrinsically. Individuals need varying amounts of sleep, different types of foods to thrive on, and are stimulated by a unique pursuits. Yet we seem to think that there is a magic number of hours or a specific percentage of our time to spend on various aspects of our life that will lead to this magical state called, "Balance". And then we judge and compare ourselves to others when we perceive what we think is an "imbalance". I am certain that what is a good balance for me would not be a good balance for many people.
What is it exactly that we are trying to balance in our lives? Here are a few simplistic dichotomies that jump to my mind:
Work and Play
Work and Family
Activity and Rest
(and one especially near and dear to my heart...)
Thinking and Being
For all of my fellow homeschooling parents, there is the balance between home-tending (got this from my friend Shan and love it so much more than house work!), supporting our childrens' learning (however we decide to do that) and of course we can't forget, self-care. So I guess that is a "trichotomy".
I'm currently reading Deepak Chopra's book "Perfect Health" which is based largely on the ancient Indian system of healing called Ayurveda. It is fascinating. In Ayurveda there are three doshas inside each person - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha - and the amount of each one in a person makes up their "body-type". (This is a very simplistic explanation of it and I'm still just learning about it). But what is really interesting to me is the idea that for each person there is an ideal level of these 3 doshas, and that it is different for each person. When one or more of them rises or falls from the optimal level it manifests in our bodies - often in illness. I'm sure we've all noticed that during times of stress, lack of sleep, or poor diet, in other words poor balance, we are more prone to getting sick.
Speaking of illness, there is a nasty cold/virus making it's way through my family right now. Currently I have a sore throat and just really low energy. Yet, it is one o'clock in the morning and I am working on this post. Balanced? Most people would probably say, "No way!" (I can hear Mike yelling at me right now - Go to bed!) But I dozed on the couch for about an hour earlier and these ideas are buzzing in my head. I know myself, and I know that sleep wasn't happening right away. So here I am writing.
Speaking of writing - I suddenly seem to have this intense desire (need?) to write every day. (My sister thinks this is weird. I have to agree. But what can I say, it's there and I'm going with it!) Anyway, one of my challenges right now is figuring out my balance point - for myself and my family. I really want to write, but my top priority is to be present with my kids during the day. Difficult to do when you keep having these awesome ideas for blog-posts! So I usually write late at night, or right when I wake up, or sometimes even the middle of the night if I can't sleep. I also write little notes and snippets down when I can (journals and scrap paper are now easily accessible).
Speaking of my kids - how do they learn about balance? Many parents think that they have to control things for their children because they haven't developed the capacity to make decisions about "balance" on their own. Unschooling has led me in a totally different direction. As much as I can, I support them in finding their own balance. This means with food, television, computer games, going outside, social activities, reading, sleeping... really anything you can think of. This can be difficult for many parents who are attached to the idea that children couldn't possibly know what is best for them. I see my children prove this idea wrong every day. Just the other day Marisol said, "I have to listen to my body so I'm going to stop eating this cupcake now. My tummy's starting to hurt." Later she asked for more "healthy food" and chose a ham sandwich. Marisol can watch TV when she wants and every day she is itching to get outside and play with her friends. Was it always this way? Nope. When she was 3 1/2 she didn't want to get outside or see other people hardly at all. (She was also adjusting to big sisterhood). Her balance was different that winter. It was challenging for me when I got serious cabin fever, but I pushed myself and I'm glad I did. We both learned a lot about ourselves and trusting each other through that experience.
Allowing our children to learn about their own balance does not mean that they will always make the "right" choice, or the choice you would make (you know, the one you want them to make). (Side-note: Do you always make the "right" choice?) Sometimes we have to experience extremes to find out what is really right for us. I know sometimes I just need to sit around, because I'm tired or uninspired, or whatever the reason may be, until the urge just builds up in me and I can't to it anymore - I just *have* to get sh*t done! I firmly believe that allowing our children to figure out what is right for them when they are young helps them develop and believe in their own decision making abilities as they grow older. Yes, I give them input and my *opinion*, but really there is very little in life that is black and white, cut and dry. Marisol recently asked me if sugar is bad for her. Lately I have "heard" vague "whisperings" through the internet that there is "scientific evidence" that sugar is a "toxin" to our bodies (By that I mean, I've seen some headlines, but have not read deeply or paid it much attention.) So I proceeded carefully when I answered her question, not wanting to allow fear to color our conversation. I told her that some people think it isn't good for you. But that what I think is most important, is to listen to her body. She concluded that a little bit of sugar probably is ok for her. I'm sure that her relationship and understanding of food will continue to grow and evolve as she does. I feel very strongly about letting her make her own choices and learning through her own experience. I also know that I will be by her side supporting her in the best way I can. It's not always easy but I believe the benefits outweigh any fears I still have. Gerry is already pushing me out of my comfort zone even farther - that kid LOVES his sweets! I feel better by making sure he also gets fruit (strawberries and apples are a favorite now) and a carrot every day. I know that they are learning about their own limits and developing their own internal sense of what's good for them instead of relying on me to tell them what is right.
And besides all that, I just look at human nature. If someone tells *me* what to do or what I *should* be doing I immediately dig in and don't want to do it! Why would I want that dynamic in my relationship with my children? For instance, I can't stand it when Mike "nags" me to do something. I rarely get up and do something cheerfully if I feel like he's asking in a not-so-nice manner. But as I'm making my own choices to get things done, I feel his nagging fading (also I think my response is changing, but that's another topic). And I am feeling good about what I am doing. From his point of view, the "nagging" may have worked. But I know differently. I know that I am *choosing* to do things that make me feel good and to please him too.
Personally, besides writing I'm also learning what is a good balance for me and my family in regards to teaching. I'm so happy that I found something that I really love in Teaching Hypnobabies, but I also am constantly evaluating if it's the best fit, not just for me, but my kids and husband. Right now I don't feel perfectly balanced. I'm so hyped up about a lot of things (teaching, writing, and just life in general), that I'm feeling a little lop-sided. I'm also a little sick and that is my body's way of saying, "slow down!" Also as a mom to young children I can't always take care of my own needs immediately, in the optimal way. Sometimes I have to suck it up and take care of them. But I'm learning small ways to get my own needs met at the same time. Just this week we had an amazing day, followed with two very low key days at home. Instead of looking it as a "high" followed by a "low" I know that they are just different kinds of days. We are all sick and need some down time.
I guess that sums it up for me - listening to our bodies, minds, and spirits the best we can. It's about being mindful and checking in with yourself. All of the important things in life require practice and dedication (ie inspiration and positive thinking). At first it might seem like a lot of work, but it is worth it. I am consistently asking myself now, "what do I want to do with this moment right now?" One time I am especially aware of my choices are when Gerry naps. I can do the dishes (or other home tending), I can get on the computer, I can take that time to connect with Marisol, or I can rest myself (usually while cuddling with Marisol). But I know whichever I choose I have thought about what is best in that moment - for me and my loved ones. I am not just rushing to the first thing that jumps in my line of vision and then wondering later why I didn't choose something else. Will we always make the "right" choice? Probably not - but we can get better at it. And we can always get back on course.
Stop letting others or what you "think others think" dictate what you choose. If you are tired the house can wait. A clean house with an exhausted mama is not balanced (in my opinion!) Don't worry about what others say about how much time you spend with your children - listen to the people that matter - yourself and your children. If you are working so hard that you cannot enjoy any other aspects of your life, examine why you are doing that. Is it serving you? No one except *you* can tell you what is *your* perfect balance. And your balance will change - that's why you need to be in tune to yourself. Your needs for exercise, for nourishing food, for stillness, for connection, for stimulation are your guiding posts. Of course, we have to balance our needs with our loved ones' needs too, which is where things get trickier. But we try. We listen to each other with love and problem solve when our needs seem to clash. I loved this status from a friend on Facebook, "Balance is taking care of what matters MOST at the time it matters most!" This especially rings true to me for mothers of young children. Sometimes when you have a sick child there just isn't anything else that's going to get done except caring for that baby. And that is the perfect balance for that moment.
I lay in bed tonight at 10:30 - Gerry went to bed "early". I thought, "I'm just going to go to bed in my clothes (at least they were linen pants) without brushing my teeth or anything." It felt so good. I thought of this post on "balance", and it seemed fitting. My body is tired. But habit and my bladder weren't listening and the need to release (my thoughts!) won out. My kids - if they are tired you can't convince them to brush their teeth or anything else. It's just time to sleep. Things are simpler for them. I hope that maybe they can stay that way.
Anyways here I am working almost till midnight like a kid in school with a paper due. And I love it! I feel good and I know tomorrow even if I'm tired I will be more present with my kids. Sometimes I am better at being still when I'm tired. Guess that's part of my balance.
Two more things and then I really must retire. During Lent I was randomly opening the Bible some mornings to read. A few days after I wrote in my journal about balance I opened up to Proverbs 11, which state, "A false balance is an abomination to the Lord but an accurate weigh is his delight." (it also went on to say "whoever belittles another lacks sense, but an intelligent person remains silent" guess we better not knock other people's sense of balance!) Powers bigger than me continue to speak to me. I try to listen.
And finally, check out this sticky note that has been posted on my computer's desktop for months now:
I don't think I could say it any better than that. So thank you, whoever I saved that from.
What are your thoughts on balance? What are things you do to help you achieve your optimum balance? Have there been times in your life where you felt either particularly balanced or unbalanced?
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.