A Parent’s Responsibility… Childhood Obesity and Georgia’s Campaign

A parent’s challenge:
To raise, but not to repeat
Our own tragedies.
———————————– 
I am veering sharply away from my usual humor into a current serious hot topic. This is a difficult post to write, but I can’t stop composing it in my head, so I decided to put it in writing.

There is a lot of controversy about a new advertising campaign in Georgia addressing childhood obesity which aims the heart breaking messages (and the blame) at the parents. Here is the ABC news story about it, which includes video of several parts of the campaign. I am sure there will be many experts chiming in on the pros and cons of this approach. Here is my perspective.

I am a fat parent (and by fat, I hate to admit it, I mean obese) trying to raise trim kids (my husband is also fat). Watching this campaign was a kick in the gut. My children (ages 9 and 5) are just the right size, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I worry multiple times a week about their weight. I don’t want them to be fat like me. But I didn’t need an advertising campaign to tell me this.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was close to my highest ever weight and determined that my child would not be overweight.  I read everything I could about how to have a healthy child-parent relationship with food. Well, that isn’t exactly right… I did some research, quickly found a great book that resonated with me, and that’s the approach I took.  Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense stated something that made clicked for me: My job is to put nutritious food on the table on a regular basis. The kid’s job is to eat it. Parents should stop doing the kid’s job.  If you approach it this way, everyone has a positive food relationship.

I also evolved some practices that were different from how I grew up:

  • Eat dinner early – 6/6:30.
  • Fruit at every meal. (A fruit is as good as a veggie in my book.)
  • No forbidden foods. (I wanted to demystify sweets, which were a forbidden temptress in my youth.)
  • Get the kids into an activity of some sort.

This seems to be working. My kids love fruit and don’t fuss about eating it (don’t worry, they eat veggies too).  They eat candy – we keep a dish of treats – but they don’t obsess about it. In fact, Halloween candy is usually ignored by day 2 or 3. They each have regular sporting activities which they enjoy and take satisfaction from.  So far, so good.

So why do I still worry? Did you watch the campaign? Do you think that took a lot of acting skills? I don’t recall feeling that same pain in my school days – I wasn’t as overweight as these kids – but when I read my old diaries I ache inside: losing weight is mentioned over and over again.  It is the number 1 topic, with boys as the second most prevalent topic.  Without those written records, I would have denied it was such a focus for me, but there it is, in black and white… Disappointment in myself. Admission of failure. Yearning to be like everyone else. Desire to be thin.  Why in God’s name would I want to subject my children to this? I don’t need anyone to convince me my kids need, wait, deserve, a different fate.

I also worry what to do should one of my kids start to pudge up.  How will I react? Will my reaction screw them up?  More importantly, I carry sadness that I am a crappy role model for my kids in terms of my weight. I know they notice. My daughter mentioned my weight to me years ago (the classic “mommy, why are you fat?”), although not recently, but I know she recognizes that most everyone else’s mom is normal size.  That makes me sad.

So why don’t I get off my ass and lose weight? Raise your hand if you asked that question. I’m guessing those with their hands up are all thin. Well, I wish it was that easy. I’m not here to claim that food is a drug and food addiction is akin to drug or alcohol addiction, but man it sure feels like it sometimes. I’ve lost and gained more weight than you can imagine, and believe me, my adult diaries still have my struggles with weight as their #1 topic (although I’ve solved the boy thing now…). I wish I had an answer.  It’s January, so time to try once again to do something about it. Wish me luck. No, wait, don’t do that. Just promise not to stare at the gym.

In the meantime, our society will continue to judge the obese. Continue to point to the parents of fat kids.  I’ve been typing and deleting this next part for 15 minutes… Am I ok with this? Do I believe that parents of fat kids should be held accountable for their children’s weight?  I think I do – we are the parents for Christ sake. If it isn’t our jobs, whose then?  In a world devoid of personal responsibility, I believe in parental responsibility – from not letting the kids get drunk in the basement to not tolerating your child as a bully to not letting your kid feast on ding dongs 24/7.  This is what you signed up for.  I can tell you that for me, I see it as my responsibility to these amazing little human beings to set them up as much as I can to be healthy and happy, inside and out.  You have no idea how hard I try.   The obvious next question is “how to hold us accountable? how do you punish the parents of obese kids?” but I’m not prepared to answer this one; I have no idea and this has been difficult enough.

(A final note: It’s hard to write this and not imply that my own parents were horrible role models and “made” me fat.  I refuse to do this. For one, I don’t think that (my) weight issues are that simple. I won’t justify this statement or explain it any more, it’s my opinion.  And second, I got a lot fatter after I left home, so they were doing something right. So thanks mom and dad. Don’t worry about me, and please don’t worry about your parenting. My own kids would be way more wacky if you hadn’t done a great job.)

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