parenting is hard

Being a parent is hard (duh!). This week it got even harder.
I am co-instructor for a class called Obesity: Cell to Society. It’s a survey course, meant for non-nutrition majors (who get a heavy dose of obesity-related learning in our department) and covers everything from gut mircoflora to weight bias in the media. It’s meant to be a broad overview of the determinants, consequences, and treatment of obesity. It’s a lot to cover.

On Thursday we had the pleasure of hearing from Dr. Eric Hodges, a professor in The School of Nursing. Dr. Hodges studies caregiver (this usually means mother, sorry dads) infant/toddler feeding interactions and the associations with the deveklopment of child self-regulation during feeding and weight status. It’s fascinating research. And a little terrifying as a parent.

The gist of his findings say this: parents who are unresponsive to their childrens’ cues of fullness (that is parents who override these expressions of “I’m done, mom [dad]. ENOUGH!” by continuing to feed their kids- sometimes by any means necessary) set their children up to learn to ignore their hard wired {truly, they seem to be hard wired} sensory mechanisms that regulate food intake thus setting their kids up for long term over eating which leads to long-term weight gain. In a recent (2010) retrospective study of 2 to 20 year old overweight children and adolescents, chart reviews revealed that the average age at which overweight was first diagnosed by a medical professional was 22 months of age. 22 MONTHS. A quarter of them were overweight by 5 months of age. When the researchers took into account those children who were overweight at their first visit, the average age dropped to 15 months with 25% presenting as overweight infants at 3 months old. That is not a typo.

I’ve been reading a wonderful (in the sense that I really feel like I’m improving myself) book called Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. I won’t go into the details here, suffice it to say that this book provides a working strategy for helping your children identify, label, and handle emotions- and by doing so, the author (a PhD, so he must know what he’s talking about…wink, wink) argues we set ourselves (and our children) up to successfully deal with complex emotional situations, reduce tantrums and misbehavior, establish a loving and trusting relationship of open communication where our children view us as allies not enemies, and ultimately reduce the likelihood that they will engage in risky behavior as adolescents. Who wouldn’t be down with that?

Here’s the kicker: parenting this way requires a hell of a lot of time and patience. I mean A LOT of time and patience. You have to be willing to sit with your child on the couch (for as long as it takes) when they are crying about having to go to daycare and examine the feelings they have and what they think they can do about them; you have to be willing to take the time to empathize with an embarrassed child; to avoid jumping in to solve their problems in favor of letting them work through solutions on their own terms; you have to be willing to be honest about your own experiences as a young person, and to put aside any agenda you might have for your kids. Hell, you have to know that you might have an agenda for your kids that needs to be put aside. And when you feel the pressure of a lousy economy, high unemployment, rising health care costs, rising food costs, a job that you don’t love working for a boss that you hate, a spouse who you might rarely (or never see)…finding the time and patience necessary to parent this way might seem downright impossible.

And yet, it seems to me that so many of the problems we face, as individuals and as a society, might actually be made just a little bit better, if parenting (and parenting well) were valued just a little bit more. I don’t think it would take much- it’s not like people, on balance, are trying to be bad parents. We all want, and are trying, to do our best as parents; there are just so many obstacles and so many lack the resources, support, and education necessary to be their best selves. I know that there are many, many organizations out there working to increase peoples’ capacity for parenting, to educate and engage them about the importance of playing an active role in their childrens’ lives. To them, I tip my hat.



4 thoughts on “parenting is hard

  1. Hi Kiyah!
    Your FB post brought me to your blog recently and I just wanted to say hi, welcome home, and I enjoy your posts very much. E is gorgeous, and I love hearing Peter gush about her at work.
    Take care and keep writing.


  2. Great reflections, observations, and sentiments, Kiyah. I still haven’t figured out how parenting can simultaneously be the most daunting, demanding, AND rewarding thing you ever do . . . all at once. Gotta love a mystery!


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