My son is almost 4. Whenever we meet with my husband's family (mainly his mother, my son's grandma whom he is very close to and loves dearly), there is sugar involved. Often this means cake in the afternoon, but also sometimes ice cream, or giving our son chocolate or cookies as a gift, and most certainly for all holidays there is a full spread of sugar-laden cakes and such. I am concerned that DS is going to start associating family togetherness and that warm loving feeling with eating sugar (we never eat it at home and only rarely when we go out). That is how unhealthy eating habits, cravings, and food addictions form. My husband has it ~he craves cake nearly every weekend afternoon and has problems with controlling his diet and sugar intake. Yet he refuses to see this and insists these family gathering sugar feasts are "special treats" (we see grandma usually a couple times a month, sometimes several weekends in a row). I feel powerless. I am tempted to just not attend these family gatherings but it won't stop anything, and just make them mad at me. They already think I'm a "food nazi" for this attitude and desire to control DS's diet.
Has anyone experienced something similar? Do you have any advice for me? It seems I can't stop this from happening and it breaks my heart to watch what could become problematic food behavior patterns for DS in the future, and what is certainly not healthy for him now Any advice, tips, or even just sympathy is greatly appreciated, thanks
Mama since 2010
Multicultural living in Europe
I have found that I live in a society where insisting on eating a no grains no gluten no sugar diet without a mainstream medical reason to show for it = family strife and social exclusion.
So i compromise and have decided we are a low everything not a no everything family as soon as we leave the house. After a year or so i am confident that i can fill up my kids with sufficient quantities of veggies, healthy fats and proteins at home for them to deal with what I cannot avoid they are fed abroad and not have their health, their healthy habits or their blood sugar levels shot to heck, and they understand the concept of exceptions and why we make them.
That said I have had to be a lot stricter during the transition, and stricter with the grandparents who live close and who they eat with a lot and usually without us than with those we see mostly for birthdays and holidays (it helped that dd did struggle badly with constipation and was on laxatives for months so the problem was clear even though the solution wasn't). I have to say most people just don't get it even if willing and interested. We mostly gave up on DDs preschool teachers for instance. With DS2 we have a good medical reason to be very strict about his diet and will have to mostly retain control until he is old enough to look out for himself. I am very frustrated with how hard it is to retain thst control not just with family but also with school snd restaurants and the ubiquitous sugar that is being thrown at kids.
However I also read that research shows that putting a big fat slab of meat on the table at a social gathering calms prople down and reduces conflict and I imagine buttery sugary cakes and desserts play a similar role. So I am trying to not fly too far into the face if social traditions of gathering aroud a table with delicious nnourishingfood but try to introduce my own ideas about whats delicious and nourishing.
So how about hosting yourself from time to time and create positive associations with lovely homemade low sugar high nutrition cakes, desserts and ice cream, or offer to bring them? Hanging out weekend after weekend with the inlaws sounds rather overwhelming anyway and I have noticed that whatever people think about your dietary choices in general, they come around real quickly to the lovely stuff one can make with eggs, cream, butter, real vanilla, almond meal, fruit, nuts and raisins and a bit of honey, maple syrup or dark chocolate...
My advice and experience with this sort of thing is to AVOID ALL food-oriented socializing. It will take time for new routines to establish. This may mean that your immediate family does not socialize in the typical way that the family culture now does. One of the best techniques that I have used is to take day trips or outings together rather than visiting at home or in restaurants.
For now I wouldn't be concerned about your husband. If he wants to hit up Mom for some sugar like he did as a kid, that's up to him (and Mom). My approach would be to (without any judgement) excuse yourself and your kids from such socializing and let your husband realize that he has to reconcile the conflict: please himself or be a responsible parent. If he wants to gorge several times a month, he is an adult and welcome to do so. You and your kids can be exempt. I'd be very casual about it. "I don't think so, honey, not this weekend, we were just there last weekend and Jimmy ate three desserts, so that should be enough for a week or two. I think I'd rather take Jimmy and Samantha to the zoo this weekend and would you and your mom want to come along?" As soon as you judge their family culture as bad they will close ranks against you (my experience and that of others I've read). It will take time to introduce something else or to establish a separation from the sugar-family-time.
I agree entirely with your perception and concern and I felt that I was willing to challenge the situation by making this sort of behavior very difficult or impossible. At the worst, if you are only able to minimize this situation, your children will be able contrast their family life at home with the family life in the other household and see that "family time" is NOT a sugar-event everywhere.
Another important thing to work on is to define "treat." To me, a treat is something that boosts a person, not degrades them. An art event, a good steak, a walk to a vista or among flowers - these are treats. I would begin calling healthy things in your family life "treats" and redefining your husband's choice of the word for sugar. You could have a treat every day if it's greek yogurt, a sunset, an excellent piece of cheese, a special movie, etc. This is for your children's sake. To my thinking, your husband is teaching your children what a "treat" is. Teach them something different, with panache.
I also feel that this sort of perception is changing, that people are being more realistic about sweets these days, and I do think that your MIL's behavior is typical of some older generations in the US and UK who basically lived on sweets and white starch.
One thing that struck me after reading Puma's ideas that I myself have only hinted at was wondering about how much this is really about your DH and your MIL rather than your kids absolute sugar intake, and about your feeling that DH is undermining your choices for your family by dragging you to these MIL visits so often? If you were to see your own parents as often you'd never have any weekend for yourselves as a family. Food should not be a proxy for love but as a proxy for control or independence it isn't healthy either. Breastmilk, our first comfort food in life is fatty and sweet but our relationship with our children has to evolve beyond it at some point. If you are bored to tears by these family gatherings and feel your DH has some cutting of apron strings to do, say so. Take control over your weekends as a couple. It should not be all about food, just as you feel your DH's and your kid's relationship with MIL should not be either.
I don't think we conflict, Tigerle! "Taking control" is obviously a motivation behind my advice. Also knowing what can be controlled (self & children yes, husband & MIL no). As you point out, the relationships with the husband and in-laws seems to need a revision. Kudos to the OP for acknowledging the situation :)
An alternate point of view: we don't live in a vacuum. Far better for your children to associate treats with happy family gatherings than an everyday snack, a routine part of school, or situations of fear or crisis or rewards. We eat lower sugar items in our home and occasionally indulge in a few fun, regular sugar options, often with family. In my mind, it is the best possible association.
What I do struggle with is when my kids spend time at school or with others (particularly my MIL) and receive extra sweets. This isn't allowed and she knows it and the school has a policy against it. In this case, I take the issue seriously and address it. But that, really, isn't about sugar. It is about breaking of rules and disrespect.
I refuse to allow others to treat my DD as a family pet - throwing tidbits her way to acknowledge 'good' behaviour or worse still to create (unconsciously) positive emotional attachment towards that family member. Its all about respecting the child which I think is a new concept for some generations. The adage about old dogs/new trick certainly applies. Ive found humour & diplomacy and good combo to avoid my dd becoming a sugar-laden toxic waste-dump due to well-meaning (= ignorant) fam members.
Thank you to all who have taken the time and care to reply. Many useful and interesting ideas here.
Maybe I didn't communicate it very clearly but we don't spend every single weekend with my MIL. She lives about an hour away and, quite frankly, is here about once every two weeks for childcare purposes and I am very grateful for that! Then we have the family gatherings which are different. There are times when we see her a couple times a week, or a couple weekends in a row. But she travels a lot and then there are 1-3 month periods where we don't see her at all. So it is not a regular pattern. And it's not really that apron strings need cutting because I rely on her for childcare....not to mention my son adores her and they have a beautiful relationship that I enjoy watching. She is really a wonderful grandma to our child. But indeed my DH doesn't fully see his own eating habits and where the strings need cutting are more about him breaking from the unhealthy eating traditions he grew up in. But I can't change him, and luckily we never eat sugar at home ~I run the food program and besides these frustrating family gatherings being overloaded with sugar and DH's tendency to want sugar when we go out as a family~ it's not a regular everyday thing.
And indeed this is very much about tradition and generational differences. Grandma is 80 years old and grew up in a VERY different era. I will never convince her there's any harm in regular sugar intake. But I can certainly use some of the ideas here to try my best to protect my son from inheriting these unhealthy eating habits and food associations. Thanks again and I appreciate any more replies, all points are valid.
Mama since 2010
Multicultural living in Europe
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