Admitting My Toddler Is Overweight Doesn't Mean I Don't Love HimHeather Neal
I’m absolutely floored that because I wrote the honest words that my son is overweight, the logical conclusion to jump to is that I’m a bad mom, and I’m giving my son an eating disorder, a complex, or a stigma. (Exact words said to me.)
Despite what the emails and Facebook comments I received implied, not once have I ever, or will I ever, insinuate that because he weighs more than the average toddler I love him any less. In fact, I love my son with more heart than I can contain within the physical constraints of my body. He is always thought No. 1, and every single decision and action I take only has his best interests at heart.
I didn’t share the fact that he’s pushing the borders of the growth chart because I wanted to make him feel bad or because I thought it was some awful, terrible thing. I shared it because it was a good reminder for me and my family that the quality of our food matters — even at this young age. I shared it because I know, without a doubt, I’m not the only mom with a child pushing the confines of the growth chart. Isn’t it nice not to be alone in our journeys, with struggles, triumphs, or something in between?
Trust me: there are plenty of other ways I’m going to screw my child up, but having a conversation about whether he is appropriately healthy or not with his doctor is not going to be one of them. I’ll save the permanent damage for something more important, like kissing him on the cheek in front of his friends at school or showing his prom date the picture I took of him last night playing peek-a-boo with the shower curtain in the bathtub completely buck naked.
I’m not giving my son a food complex. I don’t forbid “bad” foods, or lock the fridge, or tell him to stop eating because he’s fat. I don’t turn down his requests for more. I don’t deny him cake and pizza at his friends’ birthday parties because I’m a mean mom (that, I deny because he’s allergic to it).
I pack healthy snacks in his lunchbox and put new foods on his dinner plate. I don’t force him to eat what he doesn’t like, but I do ask him to taste it. Repeatedly. I get frustrated that all he wants to eat is oatmeal and fruit, the same way any toddler mama does when her child will only eat one thing over and over again, but it’s OATMEAL AND FRUIT. I cannot understand where the jump to “I don’t love my child enough” comes from. Don’t you understand that those are a mama’s fighting words? I express concerns over the quality of food that goes in my child’s mouth because I love him. The same way you might choose shampoo that doesn’t cause tears from chemicals for your newborn baby.
Would I be an equally uncaring mom if I asked why my baby cried when he accidentally got soap in his eyes? (Have you bathed a baby? He will get soap in his eyes at least once.) Am a terrible wife because I made my husband shrimp and zucchini for dinner instead of the Philly cheesesteak he requested? If you read carefully, or even skimmed to be honest, you’ll notice I never said I was worried about his weight. I know we do our best at home to nourish him appropriately and give him adequate space to run, climb, jump, and explore. You may also notice our pediatrician didn’t even express more than mild concern. I promise, it takes less than a five-minute doctor’s appointment to see how vibrant and bursting full of energy my son is, and she’s cognizant enough to acknowledge that in her assessment. He’s short; he’ll grow. But you know what? If if I was worried about his weight, that doesn’t make me a bad mom, it doesn’t mean I don’t love my son, and it certainly doesn’t imply I’m going to bestow an eating disorder upon him by emphasizing a healthy lifestyle in our home.
I was a chubby baby, too. I get it. But there’s simply no arguing the fact that our kids, as a nation, are becoming heavier and heavier. Overweight and obese toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary schoolers didn’t used to be the norm. Unfortunately, it is now. And because we have to adapt to the world we live in today, right now, sometimes it’s not a bad idea to not brush over a child that’s out of place on the growth chart or suddenly shoots up in weight but not in height. If everybody says, “oh don’t worry about it, she’ll grow out of it” about their child but never gets to the point where it’s time to take responsibility or action, we’re going to have a bunch of kids and young adults with diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Oh, wait. We already do.
Teaching my son about how food nourishes our body and how exercise makes us feel good as he grows up is going to be much more effective (and leave much less of a scar) than if I waited until he was a 50-pound overweight preteen. It hurts deeply that someone would imply I do anything less than fully, completely love my child for anything other than exactly what he is and what he will grow to be. I know I shouldn’t care, but as a mom and as a dietitian who understands the problem of childhood obesity that’s sweeping our nation, I need other people to understand that you can do both: love your child and help him be the healthiest kid he can be. Health starts at home; at a loving home.
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