By Tiggy Johnson
I find it difficult to talk about some of my parenting decisions, particularly my stance regarding my children’s sugar intake. As a self-confessed sugar-Nazi, this is absurd because I know I’m doing a good thing, even though it isn’t always easy. Even so, it remains the one thing I feel most criticised for. Not that I’m strict on only how much sugar they eat.
The other day my mother asked why I wasn’t buttering the bread for my eighteen month old before spreading it with a thin layer of homemade jam.
It wasn’t an inquisitive or helpful Would you like the butter? but something accusatory as if I was depriving him of something vital, like oxygen.
It went something like this.
‘Don’t you want butter?’
‘Why would I?’ I’ve never offered any of my three children butter.
Mum shrugged, so I continued. ‘How many adults do you know who find it difficult to cut down on unhealthy foods they’ve been eating forever?’
I knew immediately from her expression that she wouldn’t respond so, almost before it began, the conversation was over and I know why. Obviously, I could only have been referring to her, a grandmother who’d developed type 2 diabetes in her early-fifties and still, ten years later, sneaks in the odd naughty snack when no-one’s watching.
In fact, she tries to sneak my kids a smorgasbord of sweet treats whether I’m watching or not, with one of two typical responses: That’s what grandparents are supposed to do or It won’t hurt.
But it isn’t about whether the treat itself hurts. What will the kids think when they’re old enough to understand what diabetes means? Or wonder what Nana was thinking when she pushed McDonalds in front of them as she ate the sandwich she’d made for herself.
I’ve tried to bring it up a few times, either with just Mum or among family and close friends. Nobody’s on my side. Sure, one of my sisters-in-law was horrified she once gave them lollies in the car; after dinner and their baths, teeth brushed, in pyjamas ready to fall asleep on the way. Generally though, they think I’m being uptight for not wanting the kids to have, say, the fifth or sixth treat within an afternoon or for insisting they have regular sugar-free days.
Initially it bugged me that Mum overruled me and fed my kids junk regardless of what I said, but by the time my eldest (now seven) was five, the issue was that my family failed to support me and that they were undermining my authority.
A few years ago, as a children’s party was winding down and most of the guests had gone, I brought it up again, hoping to enlist the understanding of my oldest friend.
Instead, she suggested that if we were guests in her home, her family would offer them lollies.
‘I’d say no,’ I said.
‘It’s our custom,’ she replied. ‘Just one lolly.’
‘One lolly is one lolly. One lolly at your house today; chocolates, lollies, biscuits and sweet drinks at Nana’s tomorrow; a birthday party the next; and when they get to school, it might be the teachers with a reward or a classmate bringing chocolates to share for their birthday; they want to play at a friend’s house after school…’
‘Yeah,’ she said, nodding. ‘I see what you mean, but it’s our custom. A long-held tradition and if they don’t take it, we’re offended.’
‘Oh,’ I said, and later wish I’d added, ‘But it’s okay to offend me?’
Tiggy Johnson is a Melbourne writer and mother of three. Her short story collection Svetlana or Otherwise (Ginninderra Press) was released in 2008 and her poetry collection First taste in 2010. She is the editor of page seventeen and blogs at www.tiggyjohnson.blogspot.com