Letting Parents off the Hook

Published 6.8.2012; reformatted 4.7.2013 and again on 8.11.2015
Sometimes I can't quite put my finger on why a particular commentator irritates me so much. I found Yoni Freedhoff's blog via Evelyn Kocur's Carbsansity blog. Freedhoff is a family physician in Canada who treats overweight patients at his bariatric clinic.

I've found the reading at Carbsanity to be useful, so I went to Freehoff's blog, but have not agreed with much. That's fine, I don't only read sources with whom I agree. But recently he linked to an old post of his (highlighted in this post) encapsulates perfectly why I seldom agree with his views.

Freedhoff apparently doesn't think obesity is a matter of personal responsibility. He thinks it's all due to forces beyond the control of mere humans (parents in the case of childhood obesity).

While I can support his points that schools and other public places ought to provide only whole food healthy alternatives if that's what the public wants (Canada is a parliamentary democracy, so the people do get a voice in what their public institutions do), I categorically REJECT the notion that parents are helpless against societal forces.

Parents DO have choices

As a parent, I choose what to put in my grocery cart, and I chose whether or not to send my kids to school with a homemade lunch (which I did for both while they were in public schools). Both kids actually preferred having a homemade lunch because it meant that they didn't have to wait in the long lunch lines and they had longer to eat. But that's beside the point. I sent them with a lunch and I didn't send them with money to buy anything at school because that was the parental choice I made.

As parents, my husband and I choose whether or not to go out to eat, and then whether or not to head to a fast food restaurant. Do we eat out? Yes, usually once a week. Do we eat fast food? Almost never, but guess what? Nobody died or got sick the rare times that we eat fast food. But note the word rare in the previous sentence. That's the choice that we made.

Also, I reject the notion that parents can't teach their kids how to eat healthy in this world, even if on occasion they wind up eating crap— either with friends or on vacation or wherever. Parenting is not a zero sum game.

So what if they occasionally eat processed food if on balance most other meals are healthy? If the child was getting a balanced and "healthy" (per Freedhoff) breakfast and dinner, would the school lunch be such a big deal?

I know his attitude stems from the patients and families he tries to help, but I'm not convinced that essentially letting them off the hook is the answer. It is not asinine to expect parents to have responsibility for what they feed their kids.

Even if a huge percentage of parents don't care about the issue or think about the issue. How does letting them off the hook help?

Of course kids are influenced by more than their parents. I'm not saying it's easy to offset the influences of popular food culture, but it is possible.

Control what you can

Making it al the fault of forces beyond our control does something else though, and it's even more insidious. If it's all under someone else's control, and I'm not to blame; why try to make any changes then? After all, the deck is stacked against me and I (and my family) can't win. You've set yourself up for failure before you start.

Long term (>2 year) weight loss is always a struggle because it means changing habits. Freedhoff provides his patients with the perfect cover to excuse any failures. It's not their fault, it's society's. Until society changes, they're doomed.

News flash, society isn't going to change any time soon! It would be better to work to change that which you DO control. Of course everyone should advocate for the societal changes he believes are best. But in the meantime, parents can (and many DO) make the choices at home that set the stage for healthy living.

People who manage to overcome obstacles don't do so by looking to assign blame or responsibility elsewhere. I'm no apologist for processed food producers or fast food restaurants. But I'm not going to wait until society decides that these should be eradicated before making the choices that are best for me and mine.

I think it's far more empowering to feel that there are real changes that CAN be made (even if they are not easy) than to feel that the world is against you and success is not likely.


One Mom in the Middle…
of parenting… of her career… of life…

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