A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers over at Spoonfed posted a story (and this follow-up) about how she decided to speak up about the neon pink drink being served at a birthday party attended by her 9-year-old daughter. In it she describes how she is often an advocate for real food, though NEVER at someone else’s party. That is, until this specific event where the situation leant itself to some intervention in the form of asking a worker at the party place to pour water in addition to the pink drink, and a brief comment to the host about considering skipping that pink drink altogether.
I had a mixed reaction to her post. On the one hand, GOOD FOR HER, speaking up to make it easier for kids to drink water either instead of or at least in addition to the chemical and sugar based drink.
On the other hand, WOW, was it really her place to say something? I mean, don’t we have an obligation to be gracious guests at other people’s parties?
And yet, when I trust my child to the care of other parents, shouldn’t I have a say in how they are treated? If my kids were going to a pool party, it would clearly be my right to speak up and at least ask about supervision, or intervene if I felt there was some unsafe behavior going on. Does the same right apply to speaking up about the food served by other parents?
I think the problem is that as a culture, we have completely lost our way when it comes to food. Rather than norms passed down from generation to generation, our beliefs about food are influenced primarily by the companies trying to sell us food, the government who is paid by these same companies, and some well-meaning nutrition “experts” making ever-changing recommendations based on incomplete science. No wonder we’re confused!
And so, in the absence of a generally accepted “right” answer to the best way to feed children (and ourselves for that matter!), there is a lot of room for disagreement.
Now add that to the fact that parenting is an incredibly sensitive topic already. It is impossible to know what is going on in someone else’s home, and therefore it is generally unfair to judge what you see. Most parents have a story of a time, pre-parenthood, when we judged other parents (“They must be such terrible parents. My kids would NEVER have a tantrum like that in the grocery store!”) only to be majorly humbled when faced with a similar situation. Parenting is hard. Really, really hard.
I think it’s great that we try to be supportive of one another, even if we disagree with decisions other parents make. I know I can use all of the support and encouragement I can get, especially on the days when I am too impatient, distracted, or irritable with my kids. The last thing I need is someone second guessing everything (or anything!) I do.
On the other hand, we sometimes forget in individualist America that we still live in interdependent communities. The old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” is not as outdated as it seems – we entrust our kids to teachers, babysitters, extended family, and fellow parents all of the time. As much as I’d like to think I’m the primary influence in my kids’ lives, in reality my kids are very heavily influenced by the community we live in.
This is why despite norms saying it’s not ok to tell people how to raise their own kids, the line gets more blurry when you think about how the way they raise their own kids directly impacts how our kids are raised too. Just think about how many “but all the other kids are doing it” moments there are in a child’s life!
Without a doubt, we need to teach our kids that it’s ok to be different. Being able to stand up against peer pressure is a critical life skill even well beyond childhood. But by the same token, it is much less complicated to teach our kids important values when these values are reinforced everywhere they go. And how much emotional energy is it really fair to ask kids to expend if they need to be different in too many ways? It would be really helpful to not have to make everything a battle, to just be able to say no and have that “no” backed up by the community instead of being contradicted.
Now add to the complexity that it’s entirely possible that some people do, in fact, know more than others about certain parenting related issues. Like those who have read up on the studies proving that hitting children does not improve behavior, or that properly installed carseats save lives. These issues might seem like a given now, but that was not always the case, and it took conversations about the risks to begin to change the culture (and the laws, too). If children’s safety and well-being is at stake, don’t we have an obligation to speak up not just on behalf of our own children, but on behalf of all children?
Getting back to food in particular, I’d like to think that there is a growing movement of people who are realizing that the additives and chemicals used in our food production are bad news. Whether it’s food dyes, pesticides, trans fats, hormones, antibiotics…the list goes on and on!…more and more research is coming out indicating that there are very real concerns in our food supply. But not everyone is aware of this research.
I happen to be passionate about this issue and read everything I can get my hands on, but many other loving and intelligent parents out there just haven’t prioritized staying up to date on these topics (just like I am painfully behind the times on current events…and fashion!). Sure, I can (and do!) base my decisions on how to feed my own kids on the information I’ve learned about food, but 1) I care about the other kids out there, too, and 2) other adults feed my kids on a regular basis, so I cannot hope to keep their diets as clean as I would like without help from the many caretakers in our lives.
So where is the line? Does the etiquette of not questioning other parents’ decisions trump another community member’s right to speak up on behalf of all children? How can we share pertinent information with each other without stepping on each other’s toes, and how can we protect our own right to parent in the way we feel best without being undermined by differing values and decisions in the community we’re a part of?
I don’t have the answer, although I tend to believe that given the health crisis facing our country, particularly among the youngest generation, there is a need to increase our comfort with speaking out on issues related to kids and food. And in fact one of my goals for this blog is to share some of the information I’m learning, as well as any experiences I have trying to influence food choices in my community.
I’d love to hear your thoughts – when is the time to keep our thoughts to ourselves, and when is it more important to speak up for something we believe in?