Although we both eat fish and seafood my partner and I have now spent more of our lives not eating meat than eating it. Nowadays it is less ‘freaky’ than way-back-when and we are challenged less and less about our choice.
However, since our two sons moved in the challenging has reared its head once again, with a number of friends and family questioning our choice as to how we feed the boys.
We had of course discussed it ourselves before they arrived and had reached a conclusion quite easily. Becoming a parent didn’t change any of the reasons – and there are plenty – that we gave up meat, but we did recognise that chances were the children would come to us as meat eaters. We understood that needed to be maintained throughout transition and until they had settled into their new lives, as much familiarity as possible to their old lives being an essential part of helping them settle.
However, as feeding them meat would not be something we are comfortable with we turned to the many ‘fake’ meat products out there – which we ate very little of previously – so that we were able to prepare meals that they were familiar with and indeed requested.
We never told the boys that the ‘meat’ was not real and not knowing the difference they were wonderfully oblivious. However, we respected that they were old enough to have an opinion of their own and we had no intention of forcing our beliefs onto them, consequently when eating outside of the house they were free to eat whatever, so at school, in restaurants and at family and friends they eat meat aplenty.
For a whole year they were totally unaware that we were not eating meat, but once we felt they had settled enough and that it would not be any kind of issue we explained the situation and said that they could choose to stop eating meat from now on if they wished.
Immediately the older son made it very clear that he loved meat and would continue to eat it, however his brother was less sure, which we think has a lot to do with his greater need to ‘fit in’ with his new parents. He has – in theory – decided not to eat it, but in practice struggles and with regularity he ‘forgets’ his decision when meat is on offer.
He has quite an unusual relationship with food, which we know stems back to them being left unfed and hungry in the birth family. The foster parents told us of the need to liquidize every meal for a number of weeks to stop him from gorging himself and immediately throwing up. They explained that the older sister had told them that when they were hungry she would try to find food in the cupboards and share it, but being the youngest he missed out to his older siblings and usually ate less or indeed nothing.
Neither of our sons talk much about life in the birth family, but lack of food is one thing that is mentioned occasionally and which has clearly left its mark. On them and indeed now on us, as it generate a huge sadness and anger in us to think of our sons being left without food for days at a time.
It is only recently – after more than two years with us and almost 5 years in Care – we are seeing our youngest turn down food or leave something on a plate. Initially he would eat everything – and wonderfully anything – put in front of him. In fact we were forced to rethink a decision quite early on: we always had a bowl of fruit on the table and told the boys that it was there for them to eat and instead of sweets and dessert they could have as much fruit as they liked.
Watching out youngest finish a large dinner shortly after they moved in and then devour A banana, 3 clementine, a bowl of grapes and 4 kiwis for desert, made us realise that he still didn’t have an awareness of when he was ‘full’ and consequently the ability to stop eating, we had to step in and stop him before he threw up.
He isn’t greedy as such, he just eats very well and needs to be told when enough is enough. In the early days he always asked for more, but we see less and less of that and he has always accepted a ‘no’ when asking for seconds or thirds at meal times or treats throughout the day.
We feel that he has moved on, but the effects of his past are just below the surface and I guess the survival instinct of storing food when it’s available for times when it’s not, still kicks in when allowed.
In fact if anything it is now us the parents who have to learn and to hold back, there is a huge desire to compensate for their past and to give them whatever food they want, whenever they want it. We make sure they eat healthily – fresh, home cooked meals daily – and that they get lots of exercise, so its easy to justify the larger portions and sugary treats between meals, even though we know they are not needed or more importantly not good for them.
Mostly we do manage to control ourselves, but it’s difficult. Saying no to children we love so much and want to give ‘the world’ to is tough at the best of times, saying no to children we know have suffered and missed out so greatly in their early lives I think is even tougher.
However, to be good parents we need to do what we know is right for them and not what makes us feel good about ourselves, which is what giving in to them would really be all about.
As for eating meat, as much as we would love them to give up we would never try to push them in that direction, it has to come from them and who knows, maybe one day it will.
In their lives having enough food at each meal is what is relevant and trust me that will never be an issue in our house.