Dear Jewish Food Hero:
My son is 13 years old and his body is changing. I worry that he is getting fat. I know better than to fat shame him. I remind myself that he is 13 and his hormones are changing and he is eating an American teen diet.
I grapple with the battle between my middle school-self and my adult nutrition knowing self. Sometimes, it feels difficult to know which part of me is taking the wheel?
I want to trust he’ll grow out of it soon. I want not to care whether he’ll be attractive, but I do.
I’d like to trust his body and him. The challenge is to not get on myself for not cooking/offering him only “good” food.
Do you think this worry is a Jewish Mother thing?
Dear Jewish Mother Who Worries about Her Son Becoming Fat:
You are brave to write about true feelings that most of us just keep to ourselves or whisper to our girlfriends when we know nobody else will hear.
For the record, your feelings are normal and common. I have yet to talk to any parent who wishes suffering upon their children. The truth is that being overweight and viewed as unattractive usually brings with it emotional suffering. You are his mother, if you do not wish for your son’s well being, then who will?
You fear your son becoming fat for good reason; obesity is one of the biggest threats to the health of our children. Fear of our children getting fat is a modern motherhood drama.
You named your experience accurately – your son is going through a change and so are you.
Your son is in at the beginning stage of puberty. Boys usually start puberty when they’re around 10-12 years old and may continue to experience physical changes until they are 20 years old. Your son’s body is growing faster and his physical appearance is changing.
Meanwhile, you are witnessing your son change and the up close and personal view is bringing up emotions for you.
The antidote for this situation is twofold. For the record, it is my opinion that it is best to focus on a positive way forward rather than on finding the perfect solution.
You have at least five more years living in the same house with your son. During those years, you can nourish him by incorporating healthy foods into your family’s eating routine. You can center meals around the healthiest plant-based foods: minimally processed fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, intact whole grains, roots/tubers and beans.
At the same time, you can move the family’s eating habits away from foods that are not supporting his health. You can reduce added sugars, salt, refined grains, fats/oils, overly processed foods, meat and dairy products.
I had a family therapy teacher say that during parenting, the parent re-lives all the stages of their own childhood. Nourish yourself by having the courage to explore the ripe emotion that is emerging. It sounds like watching your son go through this period is giving you a window into the emotions you experienced at the same adolescent moment.
It is my view that many of the difficult emotions (you know the ones we feel ashamed about) that we feel about our children, are most likely emotions that our parents felt about us at the same moment in our childhood. Even if something was not spoken out loud, children live in the emotional ambiance of their parents, coloring the way they think and feel about the world and about themselves.
I would guess that some of what you are feeling vis-a-vis your son, you felt at 13. I invite you to answer the following prompts:
How could your parents have trusted you and your body?
How could your parents have helped you cultivate a sense of being an attractive young woman?
How could they have done a better job providing you with the food and emotional support you needed at that moment in your life?
The above questions are not meant to develop or harden any blame onto your parents but rather allow you to clarify what you needed at that time.
This is the opportunity for you to be the parent you needed when you were 13.
To Your Health,
Jewish Food Hero