After I posted, signs your child may be overweight, I got an email from an individual who apparently saw a picture of my son on the Growing a Green Family Facebook page, then decided to email me about it. The email wasn’t snotty or mean, but it did say that I should be quiet, since I’m not the parent of an overweight child, thus I have no clue what it’s like.
It’s a valid comment. I’ve felt the same way myself in the past. My son is shy (slow to warm) and I don’t love it when parents with outgoing kids offer me advice about how to “fix” my kid and make him less shy. I tend to think, “Be quiet you – with your totally outgoing child!”
Also, it’s true, my son is not overweight. Obviously I can’t totally understand what it’s like to be the parent of an overweight child. That said, I don’t agree that I should keep quiet, because overweight kids is a topic that has not only become extremely relevant to many parents but it does affect everyone.
Childhood weight is not purely about numbers on a scale. It’s about healthy food options, parenting choices, exercise, advertising in America, the economy, the fact that weight issues are so misconstrued by families and the media and much more, not to mention, the health of your own child. All of these issues do affect me. For example…
Weight issues do affect me
When Cedar was one and a half, his pediatrician told me that Cedar was too thin, although he was eating well, very active and otherwise healthy. Cedar’s dad is very tall and was always slender growing up, so I always assumed genetics may have played a role in my son’s body type – tall and slender. But it didn’t stop that pediatrician from bugging me about Cedar’s thin stature. Was I actually feeding this kid, was I making him do laps? I have no clue what the doctor thought, but until I changed to a much cooler pediatrician who got that my son was just really active, thus likely burning calories quickly, I felt like a crummy parent for a while, and it was due to weight issues.
As a kid and teen my own mom was 100% weight obsessed (she was diagnosed with anorexia). Although I was actually very slender, I wasn’t thin enough for my mom’s liking. I was told over and over that if I lost 10 pounds I’d be just perfect. My mom’s belief was that thin equals pretty and good while fat equals ugly and bad. I’d see my mom make fun of overweight people and panic, thinking, that could be me. Add to that all the super skinny girl images I saw in magazines, and well, it did seem like I could never be too thin.
I feel insanely lucky that I managed to grow up free from any major eating disorders or insane passed on beliefs, but I didn’t feel really comfortable with my body until my 20s, and even now these issues nag at me sometimes. Often I think, “Hey, if I just lost those ten pounds…. life would be perfect.” Of course I’m wrong.
Honestly, with how America is so weight obsessed, I’d be surprised to meet someone who hasn’t been affected by this issue.
Food issues do affect me
I have to make the same hard food choices that all parents do. I’m not immune because my son is thin. Food is about portions and calories, sure, but it’s also about balance, cooking time, variety, costs and for me, a green parent, packaging and organics too. I struggle, change things up and make food mistakes just like every parent.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m also stuck with the ultimate picky eater. I’m lucky in that Cedar eats healthy, but he’s also a complainer when it comes to food. He likes the same stuff over and over. Rarely anything new and god forbid nothing mixed. Getting my kid to eat right, as I also deal with his food finickiness is a major challenge, just like it is for other parents.
Food advertising affects me
We don’t have cable television, but of course my son sees commercials at his dad’s house or learns about products from friends. Does Cedar ever ask for plastic toys, non-organic junk food, happy meals and other commercial nonsense? Of course he does.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, marketing affect my son just like it affect every other kid. He’s not magically immune from commercialism because I’ve got some eco-values. I’ve had the hard discussions with him about why we aren’t going to buy the GMO-loaded cereal or the gross food colored candy, and while he’s pretty understanding, sometimes we still don’t see eye-to-eye.
Parenting choices and guilt affects me
I’ve met parents who feel upset or guilty that their child is overweight. I haven’t been there, but I have been in the same sort of position. Cedar has had health issues that I’ve felt guilty over and had to make decisions about, such as, “Do we see the doctor or let the issue slide for a while?” I’d guess that whenever our kids are less than perfectly healthy, parents start to feel the brunt of the guilt involved, no matter if the issue is weight, crying jags, cavities, depression, shyness or so on.
As a parent there will be times when your kid isn’t 100% healthy and he needs your support to deal with the issue. Making hard choices about your child’s health is part of this parenting gig, whether or not you’re ready or if you really feel like it’d be easier to climb into a cave and hide.
No one wants to go to a doctor and say, “Help, my kid has such and such problem” while at the same time thinking, “Maybe I could have done something to prevent it” or “This doctor probably thinks I’m an idiot parent.” As the parent we do need to buck up and deal with said problem, but I’ll admit, stuff like this is not easy.
Activity affects me
I’ve always hated formal exercise, but still, for years we’ve been pretty active as a family – taking walks, hiking, running around at the park and so on. This year though, we’ve been slackers. It’s been extra cold here in Oregon, plus this year I’m on the council at my son’s school which is keeping me busier than I already was. But these are just lame excuses.
Mainly we’ve just plain slacked. We could make time for hiking, but instead we’ve played more video games than usual, gotten out into nature less and failed to exercise enough and none of that makes me terribly proud.
One of my goals with this series is to get back to some healthier lifestyle choices in my own house. It’s not like I think we’ve made so many mistakes that we can’t go back, but seriously, our motivation is at an all-time low around here. I know this affects other families too.
Overweight kids affect me
With one in three kids in this country being overweight it would be impossible to be immune to them. I’ve met parents who are in denial about their overweight kids. I’ve known overweight kids who are fed fast food most days of the week. I’ve listened to parents complain about their kids eating habits as I notice huge bags of chips and jugs of soda in that same parent’s kitchen. It affects me a lot when I see an overweight kid I know huff and puff their way across a park or eat 15 cookies at a time as their parent stands by watching them do so. It’s very hard when I imagine nice kids; kids my son and I like, sick and needing diabetes treatments in a few years.
During nursing clinicals and in social work jobs I’ve held, I’ve met many overweight children with already present weight-related health issues. Overweight kids aren’t just numbers on a scale. These are kids you like or care about. These are kids you’d like to see free from weight-related diseases.
I don’t understand what it feels like when your own child is overweight. I’ve always discussed food choices, weight, exercise and portions with my son since he was little, so I honestly can’t imagine having that first, “We need to get healthy and eat better” conversation with a possibly embarrassed and / or reluctant older child or teen. That said, my son, as noted above, is not immune to health or behavior issues. I’ve had to deal with some extremely hard parenting choices. If I didn’t deal with them I’m sure some other parent would say, “How come you haven’t dealt with such and such issue your son is having?” – and they’d be in the right.
This is a health issue that effects enough kids to have me very worried. I believe, without question, that when there’s a health issue that affects your child now and in the long-term, it’s something you need to deal with, hard or not. I believe this about any health issue, not just weight issues, but the fact that excess weight in childhood is now more prevalent than asthma, HIV, autism and many other diseases that affect kids, makes this particular issue seem very pressing.
To sum up: I want kids in this country to be as healthy as possible. I also strongly believe that all kids deserve the chance to learn about how to make healthy lifestyle choices. I don’t believe that having a slender child relieves me from discussing this important issue. It’s an issue all parents should be thinking about and discussing with their kids.