Monday, August 6, 2012

Habits of Generations: Food and Relationships

When I was a little girl, my mom took me out to eat a lot. Actually, both my parents did; at least once a week we went out for dinner at a nice restaurant, and sometimes my Dad would take me out one-on-one or for a special ice cream sundae. But I have to say most of my eating-out was with my mom.

I was thinking about this the other day, because I have sometimes felt a distinct *lost* feeling... a sense of uneasiness, even... when I would take eating-out off the table for myself as an adult. I'd think about how much I love taking my daughter to a certain little deli for a soup-and-sandwich lunch, or how special it is to take her to the cupcake shop and sit outside in the sunshine in our fancy clothes eating our fancy cupcakes under a parasol. I'd wonder how I could ever give up the dinners out, the lunch stops at the mall, the buffets, the surprise stops for frozen yogurt. It seemed like when I would stop doing those things, part of me was dying. And I never understood why.

Sure, it is fun to see my child's face light up when I take her for ice cream. It is relaxing and enjoyable to go out to dinner and pick food off a menu together. I like the experience. But not long ago I began to understand why it seemed so intertwined with my actual *relationship* with my daughter. It is because my relationship with my own mother was based on eating out together.

If you've read my blog for long, you know that my mom was very religious. From the age of four or five I was taken from house to house talking to strangers about the Bible for hours every weekend. My summer vacations, too, were filled with preaching. Five hours a week, minimum, were spent in our worship hall; sometimes as many as 8 hours a week, not counting full days of conventions every 6 months. My father was not religious and I had no siblings, so most of the time I spent with my mother was in religious training or preaching. It was really not the most bonding thing, but it is what we had. Aside from that, we pretty much did nothing together. She watched TV. I played outside. We did not ride bikes together, go skating together, or do any other mommy-daughter type things. I was not allowed to do sports or go to dance. She didn't play board games. We did occasionally go swimming, but she talked to her Weight Watcher friend while I swam around alone. And when I pick my brain for memories of times I felt were *special* with my mother, what comes to mind is food. Going out to eat.

She would take me to McDonald's, Hardees, or a buffet often. She's take me to a special shop for candy, or a place that made their own ice cream, or out for pizza. She and I ate a lot of Big Macs together. I remember her driving all the way out to the other end of town to get an orange slushie with me. And I felt special. I felt like she was doing something special with me... for me. Like she must love me because she was buying me a milkshake. A milkshake! She must love me, right? Sadly, as a [food obsessed] adult [like her], I understood that she was really going out to fill her own cravings and I was just along for the ride.

And that is how I related to my mother. Religion, and food. When I had my own children, I, too was very religious, although in a different religion. I related to my sons very much through religion. We did not have the money to go running about eating fast food or going out to dinner on a whim; milkshakes for four kids was way out of my budget. So religion it was, but I added to that by allowing and encouraging them in many sports, activities, Boy Scouts, and interests. I went to every game and every practice. I took them camping on the beach every summer... just the five of us. And so when organized religion stopped being a huge part of our lives, we had those other things to fall back on. Our relationships were not built on just that one thing.

Fast forward several years to a time when most of my children are grown and I have a little girl who I am building a relationship with. I never realized this until recently, but because she and I do not *do* church, I have naturally made part of my relationship with her about food... just like my relationship with *my* mother. It is not as extreme; she does other activities and we go to plays, musicals, art shows, and other fun things together, but eating out is a pillar. I never meant it to be that way. But it was the one very familiar way I knew how to relate to my child. Take her for a milkshake! She is special. It shows love.

Once I understood this, I could truly see why every time I tried to cut out those "special" times I would start to feel a sense of loss. I *wanted* to be able to continue taking her out for lunch, for a smoothie, for an ice cream. It seemed to me that it was an essential part of a mother-daughter relationship. It was what I knew. So I'd struggle with this, telling myself to get over it, that we didn't *need* to go out to eat to have fun times together. But I missed it... and it wasn't just the food I missed. It was that part of the relationship.

And then I had a revelation on a whole new level. I realized that my daughter was growing up with the concept that we *needed* to go out for treats as part of our relationship. I suddenly knew that I was teaching my own child what my mother had taught me about time together and food. Special time with mom = special food. Wow. That was totally not my intent.

I now get why taking away *eating out* felt like such a loss. I was not substituting it with something else... something substantial and relationship-building. We *do* need special time together. but it does not need to involve food.

I have begun making more of an effort to do things with my daughter that do not involve restaurants. Every time I feel the pull to go out to lunch with her, I stop and think of something else we can do that is just as special. I don't just say "no, I can't do that anymore, it isn't healthy." I substitute something else. Every time.

Instead of going for ice cream, we go swimming.
Instead of stopping for donuts, we go skating.
Instead of going to the buffet, we go for a walk and play at the park.
Instead of having lunch at the deli, we go to a museum.
Instead of ordering pizza, we make sandwiches and have a picnic on the lawn.
Instead of stopping for cupcakes, we practice sewing together.

There are *so many* other things we can do together: play board games, go to a movie, go fishing, play ball, walk the dogs, have a playdate, do some art, volunteer at the animal shelter, cook together, plant flowers, visit a friend, go to the library. And those are really the kind of memories I want my daughter to have with her mother. How fondly will she remember that brownie from the bakery when she is grown? Wouldn't it be a more rich and loving memory to think of the time we caught a trout together at the pond?

I have almost no memories of doing anything other than preaching or eating with my mother. It is all I have. I want more for my children. I want living memories, vivid ones, rich with emotion. So that is what I am creating, today and every day.

We write on the pages of our lives every day. You don't get to skip a page or leave it blank when you take a 'day off'. The pages all get filled, whether you like what is written or not. Write your own story, the way you choose it to be. Take hold of the pen and write.


Mir aka Princess Dieter said...

You can still have special times with food, just make it a good food. I know that when I eat a ripe mango or a pomegranate or make a pineapple smoothie, I think of my mom, who loved fruit.

You can simply make the go out and sit in the park eating, say, fresh apples the food routine. Or trail mix. I think of my sister when I eat pumpkin seeds, cause she and I would go to the big local park and sit on a hill and eat pumpkin seeds. :D

It doesn't have to be buffets and cupcakes. Food can still be a bond, if it's sound food.

Since my weight loss and hubby's, we have snacks we share--Larabars are kinda our bars now. :) And Kind bars. And fresh fruit. That's what we carry around and snack on when away from home. :D My sisters and I share coconut water. We've replaced the crap with other things..and then that becomes the new ritual/habit/food we bond over.

Doesn't need to be, but CAN be.


Holly A. said...

Great post, Lyn. I certainly can relate to food-centered activities. I don't have children of my own yet but when I do, I think a lot about how much more active I would like to be with them than my parents were with me. I am a little afraid that parenthood will be far more difficult to execute than it looks but I love that you're doing it in your own way. I bet you are an amazing mother.

beerab said...

Crochet is fun too :) I try doing that when I want to eat.

Deniz said...

Beautiful post. You are a lovely Mum and have a very lucky little girl. She'll have some fabulous memories to look back at later in her life.

mensa said...

Wow, is my head spinning now. My mom was 50 when I was born so thinking about it, with the big age difference, our special times were going out for lunch on the weekends because dad didn't do meals outside of the home but on rare occasions and back in the 50's I don't remember seeing moms skating, hiking, etc. I never thought those lunches downtown were just all about food. they were just spending time with my mom, which I so wish I could do now. Yes, she had a weight problem, yes I have a weight problem but I don't think there was a double standard with our time together. I guess it's just the way you perceive the situation. You ARE doing what you need for you and making the right choices and being more well rounded is always good but I can't let demons into my head that my good times with my mom weren't just that ... good times. I know, I know ... I think I missed your point.

Anonymous said...

I love the process you went through, and getting to your revelation that you were repeating your history. Im so glad you realised it and wow, your effort to change it and do other things with your daughter is amazing.
To me, the most important thing is that you want to have that time and bond with your daughter :)
I had a similar relationship with my mother excluding the religion. We spent a lot of time together, but didnt actually DO anything together. It was all her stuff and I just went along with it. None of it was ever for me to enjoy.
I do feel though, that taking your daughter for a frozen yogurt or ice cream once in a while, shouldnt do any harm? Kids love that stuff and you can enjoy it together, in moderation! Give it a thought. :)
Your daughter is a very lucky girl to have you as a mom.

Claire said...

Welcome back, Lyn. You are so inspirational, and such a terrific and moving writer. I so enjoy your posts mostly because they reflect back on my own life while learning about yours and your rich experiences and realizations. It's beyond food and weight and all the baggage attached to it - your writing reminds me how hard - yet wonderful - it is to be a human. Thank you so much!

Lyn said...


It sounds like your mother loved you very much! I am sure your times together WERE about bonding. My mom didn't really speak to me or care about what I thought, though; in fact she disowned me in a very hurtful way when I was 18, and never knew her grandchildren... all in the name of religion. Looking back I feel like she was detached from relationships and obsessive about food... which stemmed from her abusive childhood where food was a comfort from isolation and beatings. I feel sorry for her. I can do better.

And you bet we will still have fun times WITH food, like making homemade ice cream or going out to a special meal for birthdays! I want those things to be about 10% or less of our time together, rather than the majority and the default.

Jack Sh*t, Gettin' Fit said...

I don't know if you really understand just how good a blogger you are, Lyn. Very powerful stuff.

Glad you're back.

Lindsey said...

I had the same revelation not too long ago, when I started Medifast. I realized all my family really did together was eat out. And eating together is powerful, but usually it's because you are sitting down giving them full attention.

mensa said...

Lynn, I'm sorry about the relationship with your mom. I need to remember that one size doesn't fit all and not all situations are the same. Sometimes we need to understand the past to get on with the future and do what we can to make it a bright one. Sounds like you're doing that.

Anonymous said...

"I understood that she was really going out to fill her own cravings and I was just along for the ride"

I thought this was the most insightful statement you made today, so glad you are back.

Elaine said...

Lynn, you sound like such a wonderful mother.

Lori said...

What a great revelation for you. You are so insightful.

Vickie said...

You have hit on a key point that I think many people miss. We were "programmed" and we program our kids. I think way too many think "kid food" also use food for most every event. People do not realize they are setting their kids up to repeat their history. Very good post.

Dinahsoar said...

You wrote: "Sadly, as a [food obsessed] adult [like her], I understood that she was really going out to fill her own cravings and I was just along for the ride."

Perhaps it's not all one thing and none of the other. Maybe she was fulfilling her own food craving. But maybe she was also taking you out for that milkshake.