There’s not much training available for being a parent. In fact, although I never attended any such training, if there is some available, I’d have to assume that it does little in the way of truly preparing one for all of the things that parenting really entails. If it did…well, it would have to be a fairly extensive class in order to be comprehensive enough to cover all of the possible things you’re going to have to learn about quickly when on the job as a mom or dad.
One of the first things I learned as a ‘daddy’ was that kids will emulate every single thing you do. If you sing while sitting on the toilet, they’re going to sing while sitting on the toilet, if you talk openly about your bodily functions, they’re going to talk openly about their bodily functions, if you scream loudly at the sight of poo in a diaper…well, yeah, you get the idea.
Of course, this form of imitation extends well outside of just poo related activities (has anyone noticed how often I end up talking about poo in this space…). One of the even more immediately obvious places for this imitation to come up is at the dinner table.
I’ve been a traditionally atrocious eater. As a kid, I was always battled to eat my vegetables, never really allowing myself to even try to enjoy them. When I got to high school, the majority of my meals were eaten without any form of oversight, meaning that I ate absolutely zero vegetables, outside of the basic root vegetable that comprises the majority of the American diet today (potatoes). Meat and potatoes was my diet, and continued to be so for a long time, even though I did train myself to eat salads so that I could appear to be eating healthily from time to time (although those salads composed of very little iceberg lettuce covered with every topping the salad bar could provide me).
My eating habits came into question quite quickly after my daughter began eating. Even at the non-talking ages, I could see her eyeing up my plate as she chose what she was going to eat off of her own, noting that my plate seemed devoid of anything green, her mouth was devoid of such things as well. This really bothered me because of the fact that when she was first eating, she loved the non meat and potato items, frequently eating the rejects off my plate when we would go out to eat.
I realized that my daughter was making unhealthy eating choices purely because I continued to make them. This, combined with the fact that I knew I was getting older and, well, the physicals my health insurance made me take told me I was much less healthy than I envisioned, and I new I had to make a choice.
So I sucked it up, so to speak, became and man, and started eating my damned vegetables. Together, me and my daughter would force these healthy food options into our mouths and chew and chew and chew until we finally had no choice but to swallow. Together we learned to just eat the stuff and then we could enjoy the rest of our meal happily. Not so much together, she learned that she actually loves vegetables…I’ve learned to appreciate them.
My children have caused me time and again to make severe changes in my personal choices, knowing that the decisions I make on a daily basis reflect back on them as a sort of unconscious training regimen. Our house no longer has cases of soda lying around, soda now becoming a special treat, even for the adults…although, we’re still dealing with the personal aftermath of cutting this severely addictive substance out of our lives. My kids are both aware of the phrase High Fructose Corn Syrup, and we all try to avoid the stuff like the plague.
Because of my kids, and wanting to teach them to be healthy in ways that I never previously allowed myself to learn, all of us became a lot more knowledgeable about food. However, that doesn’t mean we’ve ever allowed ourselves to rest on the idea of taste. Just because we cut out all those additives that make things taste so magically delicious doesn’t mean that we didn’t want our food to be awesome.
But here’s the thing…as time’s gone on and this diet has become commonplace in our house, I find myself in a position where it’s very difficult to go very long without vegetables. Where I used to be a man who would eat no green, I now find myself actually feeling ill if I go too long without introducing healthy food into my system. A couple years ago me and my wife went to Las Vegas on a little weekend trip…we ate pretty poorly, as can be expected when on vacation in general. At one point we were at a breakfast buffet where there was absolutely nothing but meat out for us to choose from…because we got there during the changeout from breakfast to lunch…and I just couldn’t eat. I felt completely sick. I needed green. Later in the day we went to a much nicer restaurant, had some asparagus, and I was right back to normal.
Forcing myself to become the good role model actually made me into one. My body now knows how it feels to make those healthy choices and I have a very hard time going back to feeling how I used to when I only ate meat and potatoes. I may not enjoy the taste of broccoli as much as steak, but I really enjoy the way I feel.
And this is what I think about when I read these articles that keep cropping up lately from parents who comment on how exhausting it is to be a parent today (versus, of course, when they were the kids). These parents talk about all of the things they are responsible for with their kids. I mean, come on, we have to make sure they’re in car seats, ensure that they are learning things early, preparing for them to get into the right school…etc. These parents are tired of doing things to ensure that their kids get the best start in their lives, assuming, of course, that their parents never had to do such things.
In my attempts, thus far, to do the same for my kids, I’ve found that there’s a great amount of immediate personal reward that comes into play, not just from the fact that I now eat healthier and am actually getting good marks on my physicals now (an important thing for a person with the family heart health history I have), but from things on so many different levels. I also try to teach my kids to be more active, getting them outside and running around, instead of sitting in front of the tv like I want to do most days immediately following work. This one’s actually still a very hard one for me, but I know that my mood lifts much faster when I’m out getting away from a dark room, than it does because the show I’m watching is funny.
Heck, even my book writing is due, in large part, to trying to become a better role model for my children, in that I want to show them that it’s good to have a dream that you stick with and put your heart into.
But here’s the really interesting part about this whole thing…in attempting to be a good role model for my children, I’ve found that I’ve actually become something of a good role model for myself. Doing these things that I do in order to help my kids be better prepared for life has caused me to start doing them for myself…and I feel a lot better for it. I may still wish that I were just having meat and potatoes for dinner, without the green beans, but I now find myself taking seconds of the veggies and trying to find new ones to introduce to our daily diet.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to make my kids (and as a result, myself) into the persons I want us to be, but I’m amazed at how much can be done easily just with the smallest amount of will power…now if I could just find the energy, because holy crap can it really be exhausting. 🙂
Have fun out there!