Saturday, September 30, 2023

Swimming Upstream

As promised in my "Bye Bye Bots" post, the following posts are pieces from my daughter Kerala, who just turned 43 today. I've separated them into six different posts because each one deserves moment of reflection. I wish I could give her the birthday present of publishing her book (I actually could, but Pentatonic Press is not big enough for what she deserves), but instead, encourage you to subscribe to her work and read more by clicking this link:  subscribe to her Substack publication, "Mom, Interrupted." 

Raising Healthy Children in Our Toxic Culture is Like Swimming Upstream

                                                                            - Kerala Taylor

We live in a society that not only fails to protect our children's health, but actively makes them sick


I’m another exhausted parent, and no one wants to hear it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s tiring to raise children, we get it, enough already.

But actually, people don’t really get it. I know this because it only clicked for me very recently, and I’ve parented three children, starting with my stepson 18 years ago. I know this because what’s most exhausting about parenting is something we don’t really acknowledge.

It’s high time we did.

There’s no question that the early years of parenting are tiring, to say the least. It’s an acute, intensive exhaustion, like a leg cramp that hurts like hell but we know will eventually pass. 

Some parents wax nostalgic about these early years, and I am not one of them. Whenever I see young parents schlepping diaper bags and chasing after toddlers, I feel hugely relieved that my family can venture into the world without three dozen carefully packed necessities and without fear that a child may escape our clutches and dart into an oncoming car.

On the other hand, I understand the nostalgia because in those early years, we, the parents, are our child’s entire world. Maybe there’s a daycare provider or a nanny or another family member who spends time with our child, and we meticulously prep these interlopers with a long list of said child’s bowel rhythms, naptime preferences, and dietary requirements. As young parents, it is inconceivable to us that our child will one day consume things that we didn’t select or approve. It’s not just food they will consume without our knowledge. They will also become their own consumers of media, messages, and things.

And most of it will be very bad for them. Toxic, really.

If we care about our children’s physical, mental, and emotional health — which I would venture to guess most of us do — parenting becomes one long protracted fight against our cultural defaults. If we’re not consistently vigilant, it’s all too easy for our kids to stop moving their bodies in any context outside P.E., to develop rampant cravings for things that are decisively bad for them, and to focus obsessively on all the ways they don’t measure up to impossible physical standards.

This fight comes into much sharper focus during the adolescent years when kids lose their natural sense of self-assuredness and start to become obsessed with being “normal.” According to my adolescent daughter, it’s “normal” to subsist on a steady diet of junk food, to drive instead of walk places, to fall asleep watching TikTok videos, to spend weekends at Costco and Target, and to have a flat belly that you can show off with the crop tops that are apparently once again in fashion.

It’s not normal to eat wheat bread, to walk on the weekends, to own a phone with no apps, to shop mostly and only occasionally at thrift stores, and to have a healthy amount of body fat.

I have no desire to be one of “those moms” who forces her children to abstain from the birthday cupcakes because they’re not allowed processed sugar. But on the flip side, if I consistently go the path of least resistance and default to “normal,” my children stand a frighteningly high chance of developing depression, anxiety, diabetes, an eating disorder, an unhealthy body weight, or any combination thereof.

We live in a culture that not only fails to protect our children’s health, but actively works against it. It’s up to us, as parents, to swim upstream, with our often resistant children in tow.

That, my friends, is the crux of my exhaustion. And these, my friends, are the five central forces against which I am continually fighting:

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