Keto and kids. I’m not sure if there is a more controversial subject in the community. It’s also a topic I’ve written about before.
If you happened to listen to the Ketovangelist Kitchen podcast a few weeks ago, my fabulous friend Maura Vega got to chat with Byron and Connie (aka, Brian and Carrie) about raising a keto family. It’s a really great podcast, and I encourage everyone to listen if you haven’t already. Maura is absolutely dedicated to the health and well-being of her family, and she gave some awesome pointers on how to keto through pregnancy, breastfeeding, weaning, and early childhood. I know Maura and Danny will be the first to tell you their lives aren’t always a breeze, but she made things sound relatively easy.
To be honest, I think that for her family, it probably is largely an easy process. That doesn’t mean they don’t get the same grief from others about their choices. I know they do, and I know first-hand how angering and unwelcome that kind of thing is. At the same time, Maura and Danny have pretty much always been devoted to being fit and healthy, and even though they’ve moved from one cleaner way of eating (paleo) to another (keto) over the course of their kids’ lives, they have always modeled a more discriminating food choice behavior for their children, and so that’s what their kids have grown up knowing and seeing as normal.
So, what about parents who started later? What about the mom who was obese when she had her kids at twenty-seven and twenty-nine, and didn’t find keto- much less give a rat’s patootie about eating healthy- until she was thirty-five? How easy is it to implement with older children whose modeled behaviors and eating habits are already well-established by the time their parent(s) decide to get the family healthy?
Hi, there! My name’s Mandy, and I’m a struggling keto mom.
I struggle because I started late. When I started keto, I was just shy of thirty-five, and my kids were five and eight. At that point, not only was the standard kid fare already pretty firmly established in their eating routine, mom had a serious food addiction. So, mom drove them down to Steak and Shake for lunch, pretty much every day. Mom fed them chicken fingers and fries and mac-and-cheese and pizza all the time. Snacks were crackers and gummies and chips. Breakfast was pop tarts and pancakes and waffles. These were all on the menu, every single day, until my children were well-past toddlerhood. Let’s just say that undoing all that damage has been quite the undertaking, which is putting it very mildly.
I struggle because the people around me are unsupportive. My husband is awesome, and is totally supportive of my lifestyle, and of incorporating those healthy principles with our children. When we are at home being a keto family is easy. We control what’s in our house. We control what is cooked and served on our dinner table. We have veto power when we go out somewhere and the kids are tempted by the carbage on the kid’s menu.
All that would be fine if we could build that moat I’m always on about, and keep the kids locked up in the house until they’re adults. Since that’s not particularly conducive to good mental health and growth of children, we find ourselves relying more on the grace and consideration of others when our children aren’t right underfoot. Unfortunately, most of those surrounding us aren’t so keen on our choices, and are completely uninterested in affirming those choices when our kids aren’t within our immediate jurisdiction.
The kids go out to play with their neighborhood friends, and they come back having been stuffed with chips and cookies. They go to stay with family and spend the whole time eating donuts and pizza and pasta and fast food chicken. Our wishes are completely disrespected by the vast majority of our circle, and when I complain about it, I’m the bad guy because I’m not just going along to get along. I’m not letting my kids be “normal,” or I’m unhealthily “obsessed” with my lifestyle. I’m a weirdo who is “depriving” my children somehow because, according to their childish complaints, I don’t allow them to eat anything they like (omitting, of course, the piles of ham, cheese, full fat yogurt, nuts, bacon, steak, crab, shrimp, taco meat, heavy cream, eggs, and dark chocolate they go through each week by themselves).
Mind you, I can recall my own silly complaints about my parents and their parenting choices being ignored by pretty much all the adults I knew as the typical nonsense that comes from a kid (#truth). Rightfully, I wasn’t considered mature, learned, or wise enough to make all my own choices, much less to make good ones, and my parents were expected to make those choices for me. Funnily enough, when we were kids, neither my husband nor I can recall being allowed to eat stuff like I described on any kind of a regular basis. Trips to the fast food joint were a once-in-a-while thing. Donuts and cake and cookies were occasional treats. At meal times, we were required to eat what was cooked for us, which almost always consisted of a meat, a vegetable, and a salad, or else we could go hungry. Coincidentally, most of my peers (and their parents and grandparents) recall a similiar childhood food experience. Funny, that.
When did this change? When did it become normal to cater to the whims of children? When did it become normal to be more concerned about the “childhood experience” than about good health and well-being and learning self-control? Do people really care about these nonsensical things, or is it just an excuse to justify behavior toward my children of which they know I don’t approve? Or is it an excuse to justify their own poor lifestyle choices? Is it laziness? It’s so much easier to scratch open a box or bag than it is to get off the couch, put down the phone, and cook for your family. Is it all of the above?
These are all questions I regularly find myself pondering, and I am regularly criticized and belittled for doing so and then choosing another path. Which kills me, because I genuinely don’t care what other people choose to eat. You do you, I’ll do me, and that’s cool. When it’s not cool is when “you do you” bleeds into you telling me I’m crazy for trying to help my children live a healthier lifestyle, or flat-out undermining all the hard work I’ve done in laying those foundations.
These are the struggles of a keto mom, and I foresee the struggle only getting harder in the immediate-term. This coming school year we have our troop meeting and activities, many of which tend to involve cookies and cake. Then there is church youth group, which my son will finally be old enough to join. They have a meal or snacks at most of their meetings, and let’s just say I cannot recall ever seeing a picture of their offerings on social media that look like anything I would put on the table. As my oldest is quickly approaching the teen years, there is going to be increasing peer pressure on him to conform, to just go along with what everyone else is doing, to avoid rocking the boat, to fit in. All of that is on top of the struggles we already have with friends and family that refuse to respect or understand our lifestyle.
In the face of all that, it would be easy to despair. At times, it’s so very tempting to throw up my hands, give up, and give in.
Then I remember my own why.
I started keto because I was on my way to eating myself into an early grave. I was completely addicted to carbage. I was fat, unhealthy, and miserable, and I spent a ton of time pouring my feelings into food to paper over my unhappiness with myself. I look around me and see so many people who are in the same boat, but are so afraid of change, or are so set in their ways, that they will stubbornly cling to their lifestyle even though it means increasing pain and unhappiness.
I don’t want that for my children, dang it!
I don’t want them to wake up at thirty-five (or forty-five, or fifty-five, or sixty-five) and realize they’ve got one foot in the grave, and it’s their own fault because they ate themselves into that position. I don’t want them to be stuck trying to undo a lifetime of unhealthy behaviors and habits and emotions, when they should be worrying about cultivating their own families.
Ultimately, regardless of whether or not anyone else likes it, I’m doing my job. I’m a parent, and my job is not to indulge my kids. My job isn’t to be their friend, or to fete their desires; it’s to teach them how to be adults, how to make goodness decisions, how to be healthy, and how to make it out in the world on their own. It’s to lead by example, showing them the way. It’s not to hide my imperfections, but to turn them into a lesson. “These are my mistakes. Learn from them,” should be the frequent exhortation of a good mother to her child.
No one criticizes the mother who teaches her child not to walk out into traffic. Well, considering the food lifestyle of the modern Westerner, most people are walking right out into the highway with a semi-truck full of disease headed right for them. It’s my job to teach my kids better, and to hope that enough of that teaching sticks with them that they make better decisions when they’re out on their own, so they aren’t hit by that truck when it could so easily be avoided.
Here’s the story of another struggling mother, if I may tell it:
Monica was mother to a child that went his own way. Her son led a base life of indulgence and debauchery. Monica, however, loved her child very much, and so she lived a pious, upright life and prayed ceaselessly for his soul. One day, because of the example set by his mother, her son saw the error of his ways and turned his life around. That man became St. Augustine, a man whose illustrious name isn’t just famous in Christendom, but in all Western civilization, as his works and philosophy provided a cornerstone to the foundation of the world that we live in today. None of that would have been possible without the struggles of his mother; the woman who loved him so much that she spent most of her life storming heaven on his very uninterested behalf (which is why she’s also considered a Saint).
Maybe my lot in life is to be like St. Monica, toiling away day after day, battered about by a world that contradicts our life and example at every turn, hoping and praying that one day my children will get it. That they will understand and choose wisely, even if it takes a lifetime to sink in. Maybe, with a lot of hard work, my kids will be more like Maura and Danny’s: more readily accepting of their parents’ example as the norm and the ideal. Maybe we’ll end up somewhere in between.
Until then, I will continue the struggle, no matter how hard it gets. If the rewards of a healthy lifestyle are worth the effort for me, how much moreso are they for my children?