The Trials Of Feeding a Teen
Everyone said it would happen…that I would blink, say, three times and my kids would be practically grown. And here I am, with my oldest now a teenager. She’s taller than me, with broader shoulders, and a better vocabulary. She beats me at Scrabble and soccer. Everyone warned me that this was how it would play out, but like childbirth, you just don’t get it until it happens.
I’m suddenly dealing with all sorts of teenagery things, most especially an adolescent’s biological drive to make her own choices, decisions about food notwithstanding.
When kids are young, parents are fully at the helm, whether it’s deciding when to introduce solids or whether soda is okay at birthday parties. As they grow, so does the need to loosen the reins. And as someone who has thought enormously about nourishing my kids, it’s not that easy to let go.
Case in point, lately, is breakfast. Morning grooming for my teen has blossomed into quite an affair (the fact that she wakes up looking positively fresh and lovely appears to have no bearing on the matter). Little time remains, therefore, for something so trivial as eating. My response has been to go into overdrive trying to get a few spoonfuls of oatmeal or a nut butter-smeared bagel into her before she’s off to school. She’s rushed and disinterested, hair and outfit take priority over omelets.
Is it such a big deal in the scheme of things? No. But I tend to catastrophize. When I caught one of my kids in a fib at age four, I fast forwarded 20 years and imagined her friendless and jobless, a lifetime pathological liar. So you can imagine what’s possible when someone doesn’t eat breakfast.
I had a lightbulb moment, though, just a few days ago. In yet another attempt to send my teen off with a full belly, I pulled out one of the precious eggs from the farmer’s market that go for six bucks a dozen, fried it in a little olive oil, and arranged it on a plate with whole grain toast. My teenager raced past, paused to eye the food, snatched a slice of toast, and sped out the door for the bus. I was left behind to watch my 50 cent farm egg grow cold on the table.
It occurred to me, then, that I needed to stop making her breakfast. One of the hallmarks of teenagerdom is independence. The more I push my food on her, the more likely she is to pull away. At 14, it’s practically her job to reject what matters to me most.
So I’m experimenting. The day after “the egg incident” I said nothing about breakfast, prepared nothing, and watched as she cut a grapefruit and made some toast. Yes, I wanted to chase her down the block with a hard boiled egg yelling, “but you need some protein!” But there are worse things. I’m giving her room to make her own good choices. I’m guessing she will.