What is it about mothers and food ? We were having a conversation today about how mothers often feel that they have to feed everyone all the time, whether they want to eat or not. Offering food is frequently an automatic response when people arrive at their homes.
When a woman becomes a mother she usually becomes the primary carer for her new-born baby. Many women feed their baby on demand, often as frequently as every two hours. Child and food often become completely connected in their minds.
Then as the child gets older, food treats can become the bribe for good behaviour, for eating their vegetables, for doing well. When their friends call to play the sign of being a good mother is to lavish them with lots of treats, cakes, biscuits, ice cream. It can become important to be recognised as the best mum, and that often includes food.
Many women these days offer choices to their children at meal times, or they ask in advance what they want to eat. Several of my friends regularly cook completely different meals for each member of their family. Fads, bizarre diets, likes and dislikes are all accommodated. They seem to regard it as a necessary part of being a good mum.
Many women enjoy cooking large meals and then spend a lot of time trying to encourage their family to eat it all. Even when they have been told by their children that they are not hungry I know of women who will still cook a large casserole and then try to entice and coerce their children to eat it up.
It is as if food, love, hospitality, caring and nurturing are all part of the same mindset. For many people and cultures, being a good host and providing extensive food and welcome to all comers is a spiritual as well as a moral and ethical family concept. This mindset seems to be replicated as mothers welcome their children home from school or work. They are returning home after a days adventures and therefore need to be fed.
Balance has got to be the key. Allowing children to dictate their diet and decide what to eat is a recipe for fussy, difficult children. It is important for children to learn about balanced meals, about a good and healthy diet, what food provides for them in the way of nutrition, development and growth. They also need to learn about good manners, and being able to eat a varied diet, to be able to eat what they are given in a polite and respectful way.
In these days of abundance and plenty many children are becoming obese, they are developing an unhealthy relationship with food and often eat far too much, often of the wrong foods. Learning to stay aware of their full and hungry signals is an important guide to eating the correct amounts of food, and then stopping eating. Leaving food when they have eaten sufficient should be okay. Becoming aware of what each child needs to eat can enable portion control to become incorporated when serving their food.
Waste is an interesting topic. For many people waste is a serious matter and is to be avoided at all costs. Some people may freeze uneaten food. Others decide to eat it themselves. Some people even admit to eating the uneaten food off their children’s plates to avoid wasting it. Learning to appreciate how much a child eats and not over-facing them, allowing them to discover for themselves when and how much they need to eat to feel satisfied and full is an important skill to teach children as they learn to manage their own food intake and have a comfortable relationship with eating most food. This enables them to ultimately take better care of their own nutrition and health.
Susan Leigh, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist