Growing up I frequently spent the night at my best friend's house. Andy and I were friends at the elementary school, were both besotted with the Gemini missions, liked tossing the football. Although neither of us had any notable athletic prowess, the lazy South Florida afternoons melted away pleasantly enough. Probably the worst thing we ever did was exaggerating the amount of time Andy spent practicing the trumpet. Andy's dad wanted a musical education for his son, but 45 minutes of scales was frequently reported as a full hour when there was a neighbor's pool waiting for us to jump in. Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that we frequently stayed up way past bedtime, reading and giggling. Now that I am a parent with grown kids of my own, I understand just how little we actually got away with. Your kids are huddled under the covers with flashlights reading books about the space program after nine o'clock at night? Good for them.
The only aspect of our lives that wasn't idyllic was the morning meal. Scrambled eggs were not a selection. Sugary cereal was certainly not an option. No choices at all actually. Andy's mom made eggs sunny side up. We weren't allowed to leave the table until we had eaten every runny, cold, disgusting yellow piece of glop. "Breakfast" could stretch out for over an hour under the unrelenting eye of Andy's mom. John Glenn and football would both have to wait while we "cleaned our plates."
It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned of a possible reason behind those torturous, endless meals. Andy's mom had grown up in Europe--possibly Czechoslovakia--during the war. We never knew exactly what horrors she had seen or endured. She never spoke of her experience before she emigrated. Hunger certainly must have been her companion in the early 1940s and maybe worse. She could have been in a displaced persons camp for all we knew. Clearly Andy didn't have grandparents on his mom's side. To this day, I don't know just how horrible Andy's mom's adolescent life was. You don't have to be a student of history to know that there were few "childhoods" in occupied countries. Savvy moms peeled wallpaper from bombed, abandoned homes. The paste contained potatoes. Moms made "soup"--such as it was--from the glue left behind the walls. Any calories, no matter how tasteless and sickening, could help keep children alive.
Half a century later, I still remember those intractable, inedible eggs. Obviously a step up from soup made with boiled wallpaper, those eggs nonetheless pointed us in the direction of chicanery and deceit. If Andy's mom left the room for an instant, we would sneak some of the eggs into the backyard. We were more than willing to lie.
Why did Andy's mom feel so strongly that Andy and I finish our eggs? Again, my guess is that the deprivation she suffered in war ravaged Europe was transferred to the next generation. And that's exactly the point I want to make: it is imperative that we endeavor to keep our anxiety away from our children. Our "stuff" does not need to become their "stuff." And as best we can, we need to acknowledge, articulate, and embrace our stuff. Misnaming, ignoring, or disguising does us a disservice and harms our kids.
"I want my kids to appreciate how lucky there are to have food to eat." Is that the whole story? Maybe you just want them to know how much you suffered at their age. "I force my kids to take a 'no thank you bite' so they will develop a taste for foods they might like." I don't buy it. Might there be a "power and control" issue at work instead? Could you just be displaying your authority over your defenseless kids? "My parents made me clean my plate and I turned out okay so I'm going to do the same thing with my kids." Nah. A foolish consistency is indeed the hobgoblin of small minds."
Of course we want our kids to have a healthy relationship with food. Of course we want them to consider new sources of calories. Of course we are eager that they not develop eating disorders--anorexia and bulimia are killers. As always, the middle road is the best: keep the crap out of the house. There's no way to have a chicken with rice versus chips and ice cream dispute if the vacuous calories are elsewhere. Let the kids eat as much as they like. NOBODY tells an adult how much to eat. The sooner the kids take responsibility for their own tummies the better.
This simple paradigm of thinking about "to whom does the anxiety belong?" will be your good friend in allowing your kids to grow up healthy and whole. If your anxiety was rational, your child's SAT score wouldn't matter. If your anxiety was rational, your bank balance wouldn't matter. Which brings us back to Andy's mom. Such a good woman, wife, and mother in so many other respects. Doubtless she had much to share, information to impart, love to provide. If Andy's mom's anxiety was rational, my most cogent memory of her entire span of years on this planet would be something other than endless plates of unpalatable, gummy eggs.