Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Mom’s Code – Judging Moms: Food Glorious Food (Part Three of Five)

Written by Eileen Wacker
(with contributed stories from mom friends)

I don’t want to be judged on my baking skills. I’m too busy to imitate Betty Crocker and the only time I liked Martha Stewart was when she was in jail. Nonetheless, I don’t want my store-bought treats sent to the back ‘table of shame’ with the other grocery bags. Plastic bag + purchased sugary treat = bad mom! I don’t want to suggest an ‘equal opportunity handling of treats’ policy either. Truthfully, I’d prefer to not care.

The Moms Code Tenet #1: Stop the Mama Drama

Moms need a community to share, laugh and cry together :) Learn more about 
The Moms Code and the tenets of being a Mom.

Growing up, no one told me that one day, I would care deeply about kids eating my cupcakes. If I send something in, I always ask my child, “Did the kids like the brownies? Did the teacher eat one?” I’m not sure why I care. If I am at the event, I always watch just a little to see if kids are taking items from my plate.

As I was musing potential reasons, two moms, known on campus to be part of the power mom faction, complained to the teacher about the fast food chicken and sugar-filled cupcakes. One of the complainers brought rambutan skewers that no child selected. The teacher looked uncomfortable and KFC mom deflated. Then her little boy ran over, hugged her and said, “You’re the best mom ever. Everyone loved the chicken. Thanks, mom!”

I eyed the empty KFC bucket, wondering if I had the guts to bring fast food to a school event. The kids love it. Then the mystery was unlocked. I care about other moms thinking I’m lazy or don’t care about nutrition. It took me a while to feel comfortable enough to send what worked for me (schedule wise and other constraints) and not worry about other mom’s making judgments about what people send in.

For me, it comes down to my reaction to the commercial, “choosy mothers choose Jif”. I don’t choose Jif. I choose Skippy peanut butter. But I consider myself a choosy mother. Children’s nutrition comes up a lot when I talk to moms. Every mom feels pressure to do the ‘right thing.’ I admit it. I hide my face if I enter Taco Bell and see someone I know. Last week, I walked back out like I wandered in by mistake.

The Moms Code Tenet #5: Stand Up To 'Mom Tormentors'

Growing up, I can’t remember this hyper focus on food. We ate dinner every night with either milk or water, and had dessert most nights. We liked some foods better than others but, more or less, we ate what was put in front of us, hiding dreaded veggies in napkins or stuffing our mouths and spitting it out in the bathroom. I’m assuming my mom knew about some of these dinner antics, but largely let them go. I guess she opted not to pick this battle.

Every Monday, we have breakfast for dinner. It’s the best meal of the week from my kids’ perspective. It’s their kind of food and easy for me. The short order cook in me comes out and they can have eggs, French toast, pancakes, ham, bacon, all in one meal. They say, “Hooray, it’s breakfast for dinner night!” They never rave about my beef bourguignon but they claim I make the best French toast ever. And it’s nothing special. It’s special because I make them ‘plain’, no extra butter or powdered sugar or topped with a raspberry. Just bread dipped in eggs, cream and a drop of vanilla extract on a buttered skillet. And my ‘particular’ eater gets hers cut in triangles. How does the shape of the food impact the taste?  Some of my mom friends weighed in with their stories.

Joanna, picky eater paranoia
My kids’ favorite food is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I didn't eat it for ten years until the kids came along. Now that powered cheese calls to me. I secretly make two boxes so I can eat one by myself and stuff the boxes to the bottom of the trash. I put out carrot and apple slices and no one eats them, until my husband gets home. And McDonalds is not evidence of my nutritional values as a mom. It’s not a destination I decided to go to earlier in the day. It is not a punishment or a reward. For my children or myself. It is an indication, a direct reflection, of how my day is going. The other indication is my pot brownies but I don’t share those.

The Moms Code Tenet #6: Check Your 'Judgeyness' at the door

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Beth, food intolerance takes on a new meaning
My friend, Amy, is really into healthy food, which I understand and respect. But she’s gone overboard. She sends food and snacks with her children when they go on play dates. They do not have any food allergies and it’s not ‘special sweets for all’. It makes me feel bad when she does this, as if she is superior. Plus I don’t want to be her enforcer on the play dates. The kids don’t want to eat the food she sends so her kids beg me to have chicken nuggets, graham crackers, goldfish or whatever I have. And when my kids go to her place, she tells them they should eat healthier. They have a typical kids’ diet – not really that unhealthy!

Nikki, good luck root beer
A few years ago, my daughter went through a phase—she swore she won every soccer match when she had a cheeseburger and root beer from McDonalds. My husband said we were being manipulated. She became very agitated before a big game, insisting she needed her special food. I didn’t really care if she ate McDonalds but my parents were visiting and I didn’t want to cave. My dad said, ‘it’s so silly, the power of fast food and advertising on these kids.’ We went to the match with a mini-cooler containing water, graham crackers and orange slices. When we arrived, Mackenzie ran in to warm up with her team. She lacked her usual spark. The coach called her on it and said this was a tough team and she needed to bring her ‘A’ game. She said something to the coach and he hurriedly approached us on the sidelines. ‘She needs a root beer and cheeseburger. Hurry, we have fifteen minutes of warm-ups left!’ I jumped up and my dad said, ‘no I’ll take a ride and get it.’ She only had a few sips and bites but she felt better and played really well. For almost two years, we left an extra fifteen minutes before matches so we could swing by the drive through for a root beer and cheeseburger.

Elena, food choice shame
In Hawaii, kids grow up eating spam and a snack called a spam musabi is very common. The snack has spam, rice and seaweed. Spam has many negative associations with it, especially nutrition. My husband is from the mainland and his family is connected to my kids on Instagram. I had a battle with my daughter over a photo she posted of her and her brother eating spam. I don’t know why I made such a big deal about it, but I did. Then I started making rules about what food they could and couldn’t post—no junk food or soda, no fast food. I could tell they thought I was acting crazy, but they don’t want me to take them off Instagram so they cooperated.

Misty, score is McDonalds 500, veggies 2
My seven-year old son is a very picky eater. I was nagging him to eat his vegetables, saying he always has an appetite for junk food but suddenly he’s not hungry for good food. I reminded him that there are some kids who go to bed hungry and don’t have enough to eat. He said, “We talked about those kids at school and we’re having a canned food drive to bring them food. My teacher said they eat from the McDonalds dollar menu because it’s cheaper than buying food at the grocery store. So these kids get something called obased (he meant obese) but they are still hungry. I told my teacher that I want to donate all our vegetables to them and I’ll eat all their McDonalds until they’re not obased. She said I better ask you first.

The Moms Code Tenet #8: Save your children -- when you have to

Lydia, secrets and lies
As a busy mom, my biggest chore was preparing meals. While I’m a wonderful mother, I’m a horrible cook and there were many times I couldn’t bring myself to force my children to eat my gray meat. I was so afraid of salmonella that I overcooked everything until it tasted like a shoe. My friends would be somewhat snobby about their cooking skills. So I secretly let my kids eat anything they wanted. And when markets started to offer prepared meals, I kept it a secret and served the food to my delighted family. I took the meals out of the store containers, put them in my pans, added a few spices, served them on my dishes and hid the containers. I did this for meals when we had company and never confessed it wasn’t my cooking. Quite a few of the town gossips were intensely curious about my wonderful cooking, but no one could catch me. The butcher who prepared many of the meals became my trusted confidant and even created a Lydia burger that only I could buy. My husband noticed the grocery bills going up and up, and asked what was going on. When I told him it wasn’t actually my cooking, he laughed and said he’d keep my secret. He was also relieved I wasn’t having an affair with anyone at the grocery store.

Beth, losing the baggage
I am forever telling my kids to eat everything on their plates because of guilt I have about wasting food. I also want them to get enough nutrition (they’re little and too skinny). Many times, I’m like a drill sergeant yelling at them to drink more milk or water. I am a meal micro manager, to the extent that often I cut up the meat on my ten-year-old’s plate so he has no excuse not to finish his food. But I’m trying to stop. I recently read that the best gift you can give your children from a nutritional perspective is to tell them to stop eating when they are full and use dinner as a time to connect as a family (rather than yell at the kids). From now on in my house, if you’re not hungry, you don’t have to finish. My pediatrician supported my decision, reminding me that most people have to watch their weight their entire adult life. I’ve adjusted the portion sizes down and I’m starting early to teach ‘stop eating’ rather than what I was taught which is, “It’s polite to finish everything on your plate”’ or “You can’t be excused from the table without a clean plate,” or “People in the world are starving, don't waste your food.” The next thing I’m working on is disguising leftovers so the kids will eat them…

Back to my stories! 

I have a great eater, a carb addicted eater, a PICKY eater and a good eater who likes things in a particular way. The carb addict is very tricky. His veggies disappear when I’m distracted trying to get picky eater to put something healthy in his mouth. And my little girl will eat her food if no one has messed up like put the ranch on the carrots instead of next to, so she can dip them. Good eater is the bomb but she eats so slowly I swear she wants in on the nightly mom torment. I tried everything the well-intentioned advisors told me would work with picky eater such as no chocolate milk until he’s eaten his food (or better yet only soy milk), let him go hungry, refrigerate the plate and give it to him for breakfast. After all these failed strategies, and viewing his skinny frame, I asked the pediatrician what to do. He said, “If you can stand to be a short order cook for a little while, feed him what he likes as long as it’s not junk.” He assured me plain pasta with butter, grilled cheese and chicken nuggets are fine. And he can drink all the milk he wants.

I want to weigh in on Whole Foods. I know it's the bomb digs! Organic, wholesome, natural—groceries I can feel good about. But there are so many smaller decisions involved. For example, am I ready to run into all the Type A townie moms? Am I dressed for it? I never leave the house intending to stay in work out clothes all day. Do I need to get a meal out of it? If I’m hungry, I might go to Costco and fight the senior citizens for the delicious food samples. So whether to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or not is a more complex matter.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Mom’s Code – Judging Moms: Who is setting the standards? (Part Two of Five)

I don’t believe there is a best way to raise kids. I have four kids who are all different. Two are adopted, two are biological. Two are girls and two are boys. My oldest is Chinese and lived her first years in Connecticut, followed by time in Seoul and now we call Honolulu our home. My youngest has lived her whole life in Seoul and Honolulu. Essentially, she’s lived off the grid and always been a minority in an unusual way. If you look at her blond hair and blue eyes, you’d never guess she eats rice and seaweed every day, puts soy sauce on everything and eats with chopsticks more often than a fork. She sends me love notes and texts with hearts and smiles every day.

The Moms's Code Tenet 6: "Check Your Judgeyness at the door"

Moms need a community to share, laugh and cry together :) Learn more about The Moms Code and the tenets of being a Mom. 

I can’t only read a parenting book to develop my mom game plan. Scarily, I use instinct. Sometimes I get things right and sometimes I get things wrong. One time I berated my little girl for refusing to eat pizza, ever. She burst into tears and I told her to toughen up. I don’t want to be judged on that moment. Who doesn’t like pizza? Tomatoes, cheese and bread. What’s not to like in America’s favorite food? In that moment, I worried she’d be unpopular at birthday parties and all teen events if she doesn’t lose her hatred of pizza. Plus I don’t want her to cry easily. She has a gentle spirit and I want her to learn to guard it. But that was not my finest moment as a mom and I don’t want to be judged on it.

Too often moms are judging other moms on moments. A moment usually has many other moments that led up to it.

Women have a reputation for being judgmental and petty. I took a survey. I asked more than one hundred people to describe a petty person they know. Every time except once, the person described was female. Everyone thinks petty thoughts once in a while, but this is one image we should work on. A shift in perception will lead to a shift in reality, for the better.

I have a ‘pick your battles’ approach. I have long since realized I have no hope of controlling every action/reaction/thought/behavior and tendency of my four children.

The Moms's Code Tenet 8: "Save Your Children -- when you have to"

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Two of my children were pacifier addicts. I listened to multiple people tell me how bad this habit is— that it’s a crutch, that it could affect their teeth, yadda yadda. I hid the pacifiers when others were around, knowing I couldn’t take them away. I was not ready to deal with trying to get a child to sleep who was crying for his ‘binky’. Even my husband said, “Take them away. They don’t need them.” Truth be told, they were my crutch and I needed them, too. For some reason, sucking on these little plastic items soothed my child. And they were, at least relatively, hygienic. I washed them regularly in the dishwasher using, yes, Palmolive. I was told the only thing ‘green’ about Palmolive is the color and I should switch to something organic. This was yet another piece of advice I chose to ignore. When I lived in Seoul, I wasn’t always sure what the bottles contained. Palmolive was a familiar friend.

I picked other battles—for example, I make my kids help pick up the toys, and, I won’t buy my child a toy every time we walk in a store just because he falls to the floor and pitches a fit. When my kids act up in public spaces and deliver what I consider full-on stare-worthy moments (in a bad way), they don't get what they want! All they get is my mom voice, which I consider a weapon, and my best eye squint. This of course, is if I am well rested and able to hold to the high standards I have set. Since the fourth child, I must admit, my thoughts remain very strict, but I’ve become lax in my implementation. Sometimes, I’m just too tired.

My friends offered some stories about situations where judging others came into play.

Nikki, I’m not judging you
Mackenzie has a friend whose mom is a lawyer and now a stay-at-home mom. I consider her one of the best moms I know. She researches everything, uses all green products, apparently cooks a healthy dinner every night I’ve seen, works out and has seemingly well behaved children. Her marriage appears to be in good shape. When Mackenzie was younger, I used to dread being measured against her. She threw perfect birthday parties with cakes and favors that were works of art. She played with the kids during play dates and set up fun activities! Her house was the ‘hide and seek’ headquarters. To me, the mom always seemed a little stand-offish and every time I saw her she described her previous work experience. One time I asked her what her daughter was doing for the summer. She said defensively, “that’s what I’m good for, researching all the summer camps, sports teams and music teachers for everyone else who has more important things to do. Thanks a lot. I thought as a working mom you’d get it.” She said she wanted to have a real discussion where her opinions are valued, not as a mom authority, but as an educated person. She was looking for my respect and some adult conversation about life in general, issues. I had always assumed she thought I was not the greatest mom since I worked so much, but in fact she wanted to get to know me as a person. I gave her a hug and we sat down and talked for two hours. She is a great friend of mine still now, years later. We each have something very concrete to give the other. I give her validation as a person with awesome opinions. She lessens my working mom guilt by treating me like an equal mom. And neither of us judges the other.

The Moms's Code Tenet 1: "Stop the Mama Drama"

Moms need a community to share, laugh and cry together :) Find all 10 tenets of being a Mom here. 

Misty, in this case, it’s okay to judge!
I was taking my very sweet son to his kindergarten transition ceremony. As we walked up the stairs, a little girl was headed in with her mom. She pointed at my son and said, “I don’t want to sit next to him. I don’t like him.” The mom looked at her daughter and said, “okay sweetheart because it’s your day!” My little boy looked at me, almost in tears. I was so shocked, I didn’t say anything. The teacher, of course, wouldn’t change places for such an unfounded request, and the little girl pitched a fit with her mom placating her. It ruined the moment for my son. I studied the little girl’s face and her mother’s as well. I can’t wait until my son is the star football player and the little girl will be dying for him to notice her. Because moms can hold a grudge when you are evil to her child. How can a mom allow her daughter to be so rude?

I don’t rely strictly on instinct. If I’m unsure about something, I’ll usually read up on the subject or ask someone I consider a contemporary for advice. There are so many micro decisions I make every day. Should my child be exposed to the news or is it too graphic? Should a ten-year old be allowed to see a PG13 movie? What time should children go to sleep? When my children fight, should I referee every time or make them work it out? For all these scenarios, there are multiple, valid opinions but the media, and other establishments such as school, parenting books or other moms can act as if there is only one right way. This leaves moms feeling like they aren’t measuring up.

In another straw poll interview, I asked lots of my friends who the judgy-est moms are. My friends Audrey, Alyssa, Nikki and Lanie didn’t hesitate. They claimed the worst judgers are first time moms with little kids. Lanie reminded me that I was one with my first child. I, like many first time moms, had recently left the workforce and was determined to attain the whole work-child balance. I read everything there was to read about child development, went to every appointment, and hit every child milestone like a pro.

Lanie said, “First time moms, like you were, don’t have to wear an ID to the first day of school. We can smell you a mile away.” I cringed a little.

Alyssa added, “You used to dress your little kids in uncomfortable first day of school clothes, greet all the teachers by name, and photograph everything.”

Audrey teased, “You lingered in the classroom feeling like no other mother could possibly love her child as much as you did.”

Wow, ouch thank goodness I’ve changed. I said, “I’ve mellowed out. What a nightmare I was.”

I think back to my daughter’s first day at pre-school. With her successful open-heart surgery a few months before, I had an extra excuse for not leaving quickly. I was the queen of lingering, wanting a few extra minutes with the teachers, inspecting the other kids. My little girl looked adorable but she was dressed for a fancy Sunday brunch. At pick up, my daughter’s dress was off and she wore her spare change of clothes. She had dirty knees, no shoes and a huge smile. Her hair was wild, as she had ripped out her beautiful pink ponytail holder. She was, in short, a happy mess. I remembered Steph saying, “First one, huh?” I nodded. Lanie said, “Felt like your heart was breaking leaving her. It’s surprising to see how well she did without you. We’ve all been there.”

I was so thankful they did not judge me for the uptight newcomer I was, but rather pulled me into their gray zone with humor and friendship. With four kids, I’m too tired to be that uptight. Now I give the uptight mom with little children a second and third chance, pull her in so she can mellow out.