I’m going to share some personal things about my divorce and raising children with a divorced co-parent who has radically different nutrition opinions than I do. Although it’s not a topic I usually talk about, I write about it today because we get a lot of questions from people whose spouses sabotage their nutrition efforts.
We also get a lot of email from parents who are divorced and concerned about what happens at the other parent’s house.
I am living in that “real world” too.
First, let me ask this: who are the people most open-minded about eating healthy?
Answer: Usually they’re the people whose mamas fed them healthy food when they were little. This should give you comfort if you’re doing pretty well, but you’re raising kids and you can’t control everything they eat.
When I went into mediation with my ex-husband, I lost big on an important issue. I’d begged him to eliminate monosodium glutamate from my son’s diet because my son starting having occasional headaches accompanied by vision problems when we got divorced and he went to his dad’s one night a week and every other weekend.
Generally I don’t ask what they’re fed there, because I don’t want to know. (There’s not a darn thing I can do about it.) Stepmom gives Tennyson Tylenol for the headache, and feeds my older son Ibuprofen for his shoulder after pitching a long game.
But even with my “don’t ask” policy, sometimes I see these things, and it’s painful. At ball games, I see my children fed snack-shack hamburgers and Skittles as a meal. It makes me feel like all my hard work is being undone. It makes me feel like I’ve failed to protect my children.
I’ve educated myself far past the ability to stick my head in the sand about the consequences of that diet, even for the 15% of the time they spend eating it. Some of the consequences of eating that way are plain to the naked eye. My children’s father has gained about 50 lbs. in the few years since our divorce. I cannot help but worry about the effect on my kids of the fast food and junk food.
My daughters will sometimes walk over to my house from their dad and his wife’s house (they live five minutes away on foot) and ask for a green smoothie, or Hot Pink, some fruit, or veggies and hummus, or whatever I have on hand. A few of the kids have reported that there often aren’t healthy options to eat at their dad’s. That sometimes there isn’t a single piece of produce anywhere in the house.
At first he did green smoothies, homemade kefir, and a salad with dinner. But six months post-divorce, especially after he remarried, those habits were gone for good.
Even though I am doing the very best I can for my kids’ health, even though I run a health-oriented web site and write books and speak all over the U.S., full time–even though there is no junk food in my house–I cannot control everything my children eat.
I certainly will not compete for “Most Favored Parent Status” (ask any divorced parent about that game, which I refuse to play) by turning into Pop-Tart Mom.
These are ways I remain happy despite the fact that I sometimes have to watch my children being fed a meal of Skittles and hamburgers. Despite that fact that I can’t influence their father and his wife to stop feeding them harmful chemicals.
I remind myself that I have done the best I could, and I have educated my kids about what I know. This dramatically increases the likelihood that they’ll have a healthy lifestyle for life despite living in a polarized “food schizophrenia” now. My one child who does not live with me comes home while she’s at athletic camps or tryouts, so I can feed her well, for energy and peak performance. This is initiated by her, not me.
I take some satisfaction in knowing that, while they tell me they often don’t have healthy options when they’re not with me, and I know not all their choices are good ones, on the other hand, they know what’s good and bad and they make better choices than the rest of America. All four of my kids love salad. They all love fruit. They are not afraid of green food.
Recently I was on a speaking tour, and I got this email from my 16-year old daughter:
“I NEED A GREEN SMOOTHIE!!!”
That said? Last night a friend brought us his “raw soup.” It was pea pods, red peppers, cucumbers, and avocado blended smooth. I thought it was fine. The kids didn’t like it but the oldest two just ate it. The third gave me some grief. The fourth? He wailed and sobbed, he gagged, choked, begged, pretended to puke, rolled his eyes back in his head, claimed he was going to die, begged for salt, then cycled through all those tactics again. Ridiculous. I told him to get up and walk away, several times, but he wanted the whole-wheat zucchini bread his sister was making, so he stuck it out.
And he curled up in my lap, after, and cried as if he was made to eat a bowl of wiggling termites on Fear Factor. I tell you this so you’re reminded that I’m a Mom In the Trenches, too. Makes for some good laughs later, though! The drama could win an Oscar. This boy of mine is officially the most emotional human I’ve ever known.
The point is, the rewards aren’t all being achieved right now. It pays off over a lifetime, to teach our kids while they’re in our home, what good nutrition is. And then practice it right in front of them, making good choices ourselves.
These are ways, mostly self-talk, that I find helps me not hyperventilate about things I cannot do anything about related to my kids’ nutrition. Gone are the days that I can take alternative treats to the pre-school teacher and ask the children’s organization at church not to feed my kids candy. My kids will make their own way and make their own choices. Moving more gracefully, rather than less so, into that space of parenting teens and young adults, helps me let go and allows them to learn from experience.
I have my hat off in great respect for all the divorced parents who try very hard to show respect to the other parent. After all, the child knows he is HALF his father. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of saying or doing something for the cheap grab at “favorite parent” status. It’s just a bad thing to do on every level.
Trust that the message is getting through, even if a period of beer-and-pizza might take place. Me, too: my entire sophomore year of college was spent eating almost nothing but Top Ramen and bananas. The year I was pregnant with my first son, right before I bottomed out and turned it around, I ate mostly burgers and fries, Ben ‘N Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream, 7-11 Nachos, and I drank all the liquid out of pickle jars. But eventually my mom’s good teachings and example kicked in, with a vengeance!