Old Dog New Tricks

Just stop arguing with your kids about food

Guilt. Indecision. Self doubt.

Welcome to parenthood.

A recent article in Maclean’s magazine assures us we are doing it all wrong.

The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up, espouses the views of American psychologist Leonard Sax.

Sax maintains an understandable desire for parents to empower their children has led in many cases to moms and dads losing authority in the home, and abdicating their responsibilities to provide the structure and rules necessary for development.

In other words, the kids are the bosses and the lunatics are running the asylum.

He’s got a point.

Who hasn’t stood in the grocery store and watched a harassed woman beg, plead and in the same breath attempt to both bribe and threaten a toddler who refuses to get up off the floor.

Our hearts break for her, but we know deep down that little monster needs to be scooped up, thrown over the shoulder like a sack of flour, and marched out to the mini van.

It’s easy for some to say. After four kids the DeMeers have achieved PhD honors in temper tantrums.

Early in our family life the motto was this: We are the Israel of parenting. We do not negotiate with terrorists.

That was written on the inside of a cereal box and attached to the fridge door for years.

It was a meme, before memes were a thing.

So Sax and Maclean’s raise some valid points, but they veer off the path of wisdom when they talk about food.

According to Sax, the dining room is the first and most important place of battle for parents and kids. Kind of makes one wonder how many kids Sax has actually met.

He recounts, with regret, observing a family in a restaurant and a father’s attempt to cajole a young girl to eat well. “Honey,” said the father. “Could you please do me a favor? Could you please try just one bite of your green peas?”

Food, the theory goes, equates to both love and power in a relationship. Parents, we are now being told, must take back authority at mealtime.

In other words: eat your damn peas.

When the kids were small, food always seemed like the silliest thing to argue about.

There are always two choices: take it or leave it.

If the child doesn’t want to eat the green peas, it means there are more green peas for me. Some of us love green peas.

Children are not stupid. They will not starve themselves to death just to prove supremacy.

Parents when their kids are young have ultimate control about healthy eating, because they are the ones that go to the grocery store and prepare the meals.

If you don’t want your kids to eat junk food, don’t bring it into the house unless you are willing to store it in a high cupboard behind the granola and consume it only after the children go to bed.

It is especially easy to work this magic when a child is very young and an “only.” Smarty-diapers, the DeMeers’ first attempt at reproduction, did not know what cookies were until she started pre-school. She ate crackers, and we told her they were cookies.

Sure. Have a cookie. Have as many as you want. They are good for you.

The first time she tasted an actual cookie, it was something of a mind-blowing experience for her.

This is the same child who in infancy ate so many mashed sweet potatoes in one sitting her nose turned orange.

There was a time, when there were so many little DeMeers around the dinner table, that dessert was an issue.

Surely you have heard this or said it yourself: If you don’t clean your plate, there is no dessert.

Mr. DeMeer said it a lot, and it made me quite crazy in that it a) suggested dinner was so gross no one would eat it without being incented and b) set the stage for that useless power struggle about food.

As a result, I simply stopped serving dessert no matter how many plates were clean.


If you can’t beat them, you might be able to outsmart them.


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