Last week, I was dropping not so subtle hints that I wanted breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day, with a fresh bagel and cream cheese… My daughter, 6 1/2 years old, was upset at the unfairness, that though there is a Mother’s and a Father’s day, there is no “Kid’s Day!”
I bit my lip on my reply, which would have been, “Every day is Kid’s Day! What have you done for me lately, can’t I have one day!” Looking at it from her point of view, there are actually a lot of expectations on her, and that’s OK. She has some chores, she has to go to school, conform to our time-table for the most part, has to wait patiently at times when I work, or am on the phone, is learning, primarily at family meals, how to not interrupt and wait her turn to share her many, many, many stories… She is learning to put her needs at least on par with others, and not expect instant gratification. She is kind, and thoughtful, and I thought, she might have a point. (But I better get my bagels…)
So, what did we do? Instant gratification with breakfast in bed the next morning, which happened to be a Sunday. We decided once a year that she too gets breakfast in bed, maybe somewhere around her half birthday. Her face lit up when I brought the tray into her room. She loved the mermaid card (which I had bought a while back, lost, and found again on a recent and rare tidying spree.) She loved the flower, and the bacon and eggs, two things that six months ago she wouldn’t touch, but that was a special request for her first “Kid’s Day.” (Parents of picky eaters, remember, it can take years and years of patient exposures to learn to like something!) We also had some milk, and that is a Bellyfulls smoothie pop (recipe here) in the cup.
I think this is a lovely tradition, and I had fun sipping my coffee and keeping her company while she chatted and ate her breakfast. Part of my motivation to write this post, is because I have been thinking a lot about this trend to demonize “emotional eating,” and a confusion naturally results. (Particularly when you are asking children to try to figure it out, and then stop “emotional” eating!) Eating and emotions are connected. They just are, and that’s OK. Being fed is how trust and love begin. Every culture has food traditions, foods that define celebrations, mark seasons and even death. A warm home-made cookie, from Gramma’s recipe might bring back a flood of feel-good memories. You might even have a crappy day and look forward to the new ice-cream flavor at the local cafe. The smell of my mother’s spaghetti sauce transports me to my childhood, with that scuffed well-loved brown pot. I can still hear the lazy bubbles, like lava… We cannot and should not try to divorce food from emotions. That is just so joyless.
Eating for emotional reasons is problematic if it is the first and only coping mechanism for pain, fear, loneliness, rejection, shame… It is a problem if one eats and is not aware of eating, if one dissociates to eat, feels out of control, shameful and stuck. (I like this discussion of emotional eating for adults…)
Some tips for raising kids for whom eating is part of a joyful life:
- feed with the Division of Responsibility
- teach your children (through the DOR) that they can trust their bodies to know how much to eat
- avoid labeling foods as either good or bad, note, even “healthy” or “unhealthy” is the same thing to a child. Girls as young as four feel shame when eating “bad” foods: the food is “bad,” therefore I am “bad.”
- enjoy and serve a variety of foods, including “forbidden” foods
- model feeling good about your body. Fake it at first if you have to.
- don’t reward or punish with food
- model healthy ways of dealing with life’s challenges: teach coping skills, like talking, recognizing emotions, go for a walk, have a cuddle, problem-solve… If you hand out a cookie or candy to get through tough stuff routinely, that can be a problem…
What is your favorite “emotional” or comfort food, a food that makes you feel good, or brings back happy memories? Another aside, my husband always thought “comfort” food had to be rich and heavy, like Mac-n-cheese. I explained that my mom’s red cabbage recipe, our bolognese, a certain stir-fry recipe are all comfort foods for me—linked to happy memories and makes me feel good…