Thursday, 26 January 2017

Parenting 101 - What happened to common sense? A ReadItTorial.

Common Sense. What does it even mean any more in a world where once again on the way into work I listened intently to another spokesperson for a nationwide campaign aiming to 'better inform' parents about good diets, wellbeing and physical exercise for their kids to avoid them sliding down the slippery path into childhood obesity, behavioural disorders and generally being horrid little swines.

This week's ReadItTorial is in fact partially inspired by a number of topics equally. One is a recent 'dietary project' that Charlotte was working on in school. I should say from the outset that I don't want this to turn into another one of those horrid "smug parent" blog posts where we can comfortably claim we're amazing and do everything right - far from it. But when it comes to food, we've always taken an approach that goes beyond the usual '5-a-day' litany and further towards considering how we structure our weekly shop to achieve the best balance of proteins, carbs and of course fruit and veg in our meal plans.

Both my wife and I are vegetarians - and this is something that REALLY bakes my noodle. We've always been the sort of vegetarians who quietly get on with it, not shouting from the rooftops about how much healthier we are than you carnivores. We make no bones about the fact that I'm vegetarian because I have to be (I'm actually allergic to most meat, violently so in the case of chicken which can really mess me up if I even touch the stuff let alone eat it).

My wife just plain doesn't like the taste of meat but technically could eat it if she really had to. She doesn't choose to 'go veggie' through any conscientious love of animals or even from the perspective of trying to save the planet. Purely because she doesn't like eating meat.

So poor Charlotte has a diet that is largely vegetarian until we go out to dinner, or she visits with grandparents or relatives where she can eat what they're eating. Always with an eye on fat content, amounts (plate size, the current buzzword, how many times have you over-stuffed your child's plate because you mistakenly believe they need 'building up') and other factors.

The way we plan out our meals and food intake just 'happened' - there was no consulting a health guru, no visiting YouTube for whatever brightly pretty so-called life expert is advising you to do this week. Very little attention to campaigns where you read their advice and it feels like your maiden aunt talking down to you (and the diet plans look like something from a 1970s healthy eating book). We just considered it to be part of parenting, a huge amount of trial and error - and of course a constantly shifting set of tastes and preferences with our daughter - surely we can't be the only ones who never went anywhere near the processed and frozen food aisles when considering feeding our child? Even for convenience or economical reasons (and let's face it, processed food is not as cheap as a bag of carrots and a couple of potatoes and maybe some greens).

The whole 'physical exercise' thing too - that's something I just do not get. It's obviously not easy for everyone to get out there into the big wide world and explore but we never considered any other way of living, in fact we cannot stand being housebound at the weekend even on rainy days (yes we're likely to be the ones you see trudging along in the mud, soaking wet in our rain gear but loving every minute of it). Again we're back to common sense. You move more, your muscles work harder, you feel better in yourself and you don't vegetate and put on weight. We didn't need a famous celebrity to show us the way (and honestly, if you really believe you too can look like a twiglet after just listlessly moving your arms in front of the telly a couple of times a week, you really aren't ever going to get anywhere).

Sometimes I wonder whether the world will evolve into a society where people have to be led by the nose in ALL aspects of their lives. The healthy / sensible eating thing always seems to fall on deaf ears until some new campaign or other hits the press, and kicks off (always temporary) interest for some folk who just can't do without any form of guidance, no matter who's pushing it.

Relate this to the whole literacy thing. Again it's always felt like the natural thing to do, to ensure there are books around to read, for us to read to Charlotte, to guide and encourage (not push and force) her own early steps in reading on her own - and yet we still hear news that 10% of British households do not have a single book at home (I just cannot wrap my head around that figure at all).

Fair enough that, again, there may be economic reasons why parents don't buy books for their kids, and it's becoming increasingly less important for the current government to bother properly funding public or school libraries (which just seems horribly chilling when you see large communities being robbed of their own libraries despite huge protests). Projects such as Bookstart / Booktrust aim to put more books in children's hands from an early age and though this tails off as soon as they start junior school, there are still opportunities to ensure that reading isn't a chore for your child but becomes a lifelong passion.

There is only one agent for change - you, as parents or guardians. You have to start the ball rolling yourself. By all means find out more on the internet, take a look at the government and nationwide campaigns that can help you at least get a start in making a few important lifestyle changes but most of all, tap into your common sense and do what you feel is right for you, not just something that'll let you comfortably tick a few boxes in some throwaway good parenting guide.