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Food and kids.

was bemoaning the restrictions of cooking for a picky family, which got me musing about my own upbringing and parenting styles in general.

My parents took the philosophy that children shouldn’t be running the household. This shows up in many things they did – for example, they required good table manners for the length of an adult meal, from a very young age. (e.g. from before my conscious memory, which extends back to age 3 or so). Even though I know this was unusual,  I’m always a little startled when kids finish eating and leave the table before the meal is over, or eat at a different time than the rest of the family.

When it came to the food itself, the situation was simple. Mom (or Mom’s designee, which was usually me) prepared a meal, and your choices were to eat it or to go hungry. Sure, you could usually get away with eating a token portion of the yucky thing and fill up on whatever else was on the table (e.g. choke down the required few bites of liver, and then fill up on the veggies and rice).  But you couldn’t ask for something else, or prepare something else for yourself, or skip the meal and then have a snack later – in fact, if you didn’t eat much, Mom would go ahead and put saran over the plate and later requests for a snack would be met with “your plate is in the fridge”.  It turns out that cold liver is even gross-er than warm liver…

The end result is that my brother and I will eat most anything. Sure, we have a few dislikes, and we’ll express preferences if asked.  But being extremely picky was simply never an option – didn’t Ben Franklin say hunger is the best spice?  Actually I think the quote was actually “hunger is the best pickle”, but I digress…

I do think Mom tended to prep the things that everyone liked, most of the time.  But then again, we weren’t picky so she wasn’t really limited in her selections.

So I am musing is the pros and cons of parent-centered (versus child-centered) households. I can see a lot of pros. Because the behavior we learned from the start is the behavior expected by society at large, there were no painful transitions later on. We were probably healthier as a result of the good diet. Our parents had a better quality of life because we were remarkably well-behaved (and never realized there were other ways to be). And dinner table conversation (usually very child-focussed since we’d finish eating before Mom and Dad, so we’d be the ones talking) is a key part of a lot of my most precious childhood memories. I have an excellent adult relationship with my parents and a lot of that has to do with those open lines of communication at mealtime.

So, what are the advantages of the more child-centered approach? None of my friends take this approach to child-rearing, though to be fair many of their kids are really too young at this point.  My brother hasn’t taken that approach with his kids, and mealtimes with his family are really pretty unpleasant, what with the noisy kids grabbing the stuff they like, whining about stuff they don’t like, coming and going from their seats, playing noisily in the next room… But my friends (and family) are all pretty smart people so I assume there are benefits to this approach that I’m just not seeing from my non-parental viewpoint?


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