When I posted the video, I asked for dialogue and said that I needed to hear what others thought in order to process my own feelings about it. Most of the great feedback I got was positive and the post was shared widely.
I expressed some reservations, one of the primary ones being that they’ve effectively laid the “weight” of the problem on the patient’s mother.
What the video depicts is a man in an emergency room having a cardiac event at the age of 32. The caregivers ask how this could happen to someone so young. The video then takes us back through the man’s life to the point that his mother is feeding him french fries in his high chair. Her friend stands nearby and exclaims, “I can’t believe you give this child french fries.”
Now, when I first watched the video, I fully expected the mom’s response to be, “But it’s the only thing he’ll eat.”
Instead, Strong4Life chose to depict a mom using food to assuage emotions. She grits her teeth and says, of her screaming, tantruming child, “It’s the only thing that will make him stop.”
I chose that verb I used above – “assuage” – very intentionally. (I wasn’t trying to impress you with my SAT vocabulary.) It means:
to make an unpleasant feeling less intense
And that’s what she’s doing, right? She’s making his unpleasant feelings less unpleasant through food.
That’s pretty powerful stuff, when you think about it. Strong4Life isn’t just reminding us kids need to eat well. They’re not telling us to lay off the junk food. They’re getting to the roots of the emotions we have tied up with food.
And we see it all the time, don’t we? The mother is using food to mollify a fussy, challenging child. Those of us in the mommy trenches, we see that every single day. Sometimes, we may even do it.
And do you know why we do it?
Let’s get back to that verb again – assuage, “to make an unpleasant feeling less intense.”
See, the problem that this video roots out isn’t the problem of food per se, it’s the problem of accepting and dealing with difficult or intense emotions.
As a mom, I felt a little defensive that the video posits the mother as the core of the problem. I’d like to take the level of abstraction a bit higher and argue that our society expects mothers to manage their children’s emotions. We cannot tolerate the “bigness” of the things that children feel and the manner in which they express their emotions, so the expectation is that moms need to do whatever it takes to “shut that kid up.”
How many times have you plopped a granola bar on your kid’s stroller tray before going into a store because you knew he was getting cranky and if you didn’t give him something to distract and assuage his emotions, he would lose it in the middle of the store, you wouldn’t get your errand done and everyone would look at you like you were an annoyance, at best, and a “bad mom,” at worst?
As mothers, we get the message loud and clear from society that it’s our job to keep the kids “under control.” They may well be a tempest in a teapot, but nonetheless, it’s our responsibility to keep them from showing it when we’re out and about.
And so, we shove food in their mouths.
So, as I watch the video, I get a little indignant. I am not making excuses for people who feed their kids what my friend Julie Mayfield of Paleo Comfort Foods
wisely referred to as “ingestibles” in the Facebook comments. (I am totally stealing that, Jules.) And, when my son was born, I made a conscious decision not to give him food as a distraction – not in the stroller, not in the car. Did it make mothering more challenging? You bet, but it was worth it now that he’s seven and food is a source of nourishment and joy for him and not a way to ease boredom or distress.
But, and I just have to say this because if I don’t I’m going to explode …
I’m taking my kids to the pediatrician’s office this week. It will be an unpleasant checkup for two of them, and as they leave the office, they will be offered a lollipop. A sugar-laden, artificially-dyed lollipop. And they will be surrounded by children wailing from the pain of shots, who are assuaged with sugar and Red Dye #40.
We will leave a pediatrician’s office where a majority of the medical doctors are, in some way, affiliated with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the institution sponsoring the Strong4life campaign.
So, as this video makes the rounds on social media as I am sure it will, I just want to remind everyone that we, as a society, need to take a tough look at how we use food to lessen our intense emotions. We need to ask why we’re so afraid of intense emotion, and what we are trying to accomplish by shoving it all down deep. Why do we need kids to “shut up” when they’re tired, cranky or bored? Why can’t we just let them be tired, cranky or bored?
And we need to recognize that all of this – undeniably – a problem.
But it’s not a “mom” problem.
It’s not a “parents” problem.
It’s an “everybody” problem.