I do love a bit of reality. Not true life engagement with others (that sounds awful!) No the proper stuff, on the telly. Programmes like ‘Wife Swap’, where different couples live for a bit with each other’s other halves. You know, the vicar’s wife from Sudbury swaps with the pole-dancer from Bognor. Who knew it would end so badly? This is prime-time drama. And for once, all the arguments happen in someone elses’ living-room. I’m not proud of it. But there’s nowt as satisfying as watching another couple wrestle for the TV control, smug in the knowledge that whilst your marriage may be equally gory, it’s not being broadcast live across the nation.
Another favourite is ‘Supernanny’. This is where the modern equivalent of Mary Poppins is flown in to a family where the kids are out of control. (The issue always turns out to be with the parents, but it’s the kids who grab the spotlight). Again, not only do you get to nosy around someone elses’ home, you can also fold your arms and dispense advice from the safety of your sofa. The pace only quickens with the addition of pets and under threes. (I love it when people argue that kids are born sinless and somehow pick it up like measles in the bike sheds at school. Have you ever watched little people interacting? They’re just as selfish as us, but without the manners).
Conflict here tends to focus around two main areas – bedtime and mealtimes. Kids who won’t sleep or kids who won’t eat. Parents driven to distraction by sleep deprivation or forced to watch helplessly as Johnny lobs another yoghurt missile at the dog.
It seems to me that children and food is a modern minefield. In some ways this is hardly surprising – even with the demands of contemporary life, in most families, the kitchen and the table are still the heartbeat of the home. As such, any normal tensions may be reflected in mealtimes – particularly with children, who learn quickly that Not Eating is a powerful weapon. But there’s more to it than that.
Given the sheer scale and choice of food that modern society offers us, it’s little wonder that it can cause anxiety. Scripture reminds us that life is more than food and the body more than clothes, but in our culture, nothing edible is neutral. Food and the body are the altars at which we called to worship. The Daily Mail for example, neatly subdivides all munchies into Foods That Cause or Foods That Cure Cancer. And these concerns fuel a multi-million dollar food industry, built upon selling us ‘health’. It begins pre-womb with the question of what pregnant women can and can’t eat. Then there’s the debate over whether to breast or bottle feed. By the time those babies are starting to toddle, the worry proper can began. If we’re not smuggling pureed sprouts under the chicken nuggets, we’re worrying about whether those fish fingers are sustainable. We’re torn between telling kids to finish what’s on their plate or lecturing them for eating too much.
Of course it’s important that children eat, but diet can become another notch in the ‘parenting failures’ post. For most of us, ‘good enough’ means doing our best with limited time, resources and finances, whatever the experts might suggest. Sometimes, (whisper it), nothing hits the spot like a Turkey Twizzler.