“I want to be a vegetarian.”My daughter surprised me with that declaration a couple days before her 16th birthday.
I paused a minute to let the whole “sixteen years old” thing sink in, because I don’t want to agree with it. But I have to accept it.
Back to the issue of food:
She saw a video showing some horrific examples of mistreatment and animal cruelty as part of the process by which all this mass-produced food appears on supermarket shelves. I don’t know that the video was the only factor in her decision but it clearly played a key role.
But there’s a problem. I’m a big fan of burgers and bacon and salmon steaks. If I can choose only one, meat lover’s is the pizza to order.
So her statement caused some consternation. Would meat in the house lead to fights over inhumane treatment of animals? Would she adapt to a healthy and nutritious diet, and not just junk food and non-meat? She does sometimes call a pack of Twizzlers lunch.
How far did she intend to take this?
Thankfully my wife and I also (mostly) choose our battles wisely. The girl wants to dye her hair blue and red in sections? Great. Have at it. This is not worth a fight. She wants black finger nail polish? Okay, I don’t like how that looks, BUT since she’s not showing any signs of anti-social behaviors or self-loathing and emotional issues that sometimes might accompany the darker color choices, it’s not worth fighting about.
She usually seems pretty straight-laced morally even if her socks are intentionally perpetually mismatched. A good head-on-her-shoulders, even if she makes blonde jokes at herself. Concerned for others, reliably making good decisions, and responsible enough that others are willing to trust her—so it’s not just parent bias talking.
Plus, at her age, we’re slowly becoming more like advisors and facilitators than direct authorities and overseers. Within two years she becomes an adult, able to make her own decisions and responsible to face the consequences. That’s not something we want to take 0 to 60 in one birthday.
And I need her to know that whatever she’s feeling, whatever she’s thinking, whatever she’s worried about, she has a safe place to come and discuss it. Shutting her down just because I don’t share her convictions will teach her to clam up and go elsewhere.
So instead of “What are you thinking?! Bacon!!” we discussed “Where do you want to draw the line in your diet? You need sources of protein, that’s my first concern, so where will you get those?”
And instead of bringing home a bunch of meat and ribbing her (pun intended) about how good it tastes, I bought the snacks I wanted for me and the rest of the family, then sought out some extra items that suit her current dietary plan: mixed nuts, a box of breakfast bars, some dried tropical fruit.
In this case, we got off easy. She intends to eat seafood. Sorry, fishies, you shouldn’t be so tasty. She is also fine with dairy products, even though there are certainly some examples of cruelty in that industry. So this change is fairly minor.
I’ve told her in the past that as our oldest, she’s unfortunately stuck with parents who have never done this before. We’re calling audibles and making this stuff up on the fly.
I feel like this is one I don’t hear often enough, and a good one to fall back on:
“I’m eager to hear what’s on your mind. I may not always agree with you. But I accept you and love you.”