We, South Asians, as an ethnicity, are obsessed with weight. It starts as soon as a child is born. I haven’t met a single brown mom who hasn’t received comments about her child’s weight and unwanted suggestions on how to feed them. Not a single one. Why am I specifically saying “moms”? Because I haven’t met a single man who gets questioned about their child’s weight. And of course, dads are treated as if they don’t know anything about food and they are not equipped with the knowledge or some magic dust that are only reserved for moms.
Even when a child is healthy, active, meets all milestones on or before time, the comments don’t stop. Here are some common comments moms get and the facts that are often overlooked:
- “She has become thinner!”
Fact: The child is also 2 inches taller now. Her weight didn’t drop.
- “He is so easy to lift, shouldn’t he weigh heavier?”
Fact: That’s what an average toddler weighs
- “Her portion size is too small”
Fact: She is 1.5 year old. Children have small stomachs. Their portion sizes are often small.
- “Why are you not offering him _____ . You NEED to incorporate this in your child’s diet ASAP”
Fact: There are many ways of providing a healthy diet. Offering or withholding a particular item/dish doesn’t make any diet “good” or “bad”.
If you’re a person who often makes such remark, I get it; you want the best for that particular child. Sure! But here is an easy test for you to decide if it’s okay to comment on a child’s weight or diet:
- Did the parent actively seek your suggestion?
If the answer is “no”, STOP
- Does the child look so malnourished due to parental negligence that you feel compelled to act?
If the answer is “no”, STOP
Stop assuming you know what’s better for someone else’s child. How hard is it to not comment on someone else’s child’s weight?
Are all these people simply rude and insensitive? I don’t think so. I don’t think the issue is only about senseless commenting or unwanted advice. It’s much deeper than that. Motherhood is often overwhelming. Mothers worry all the time. Mom guilt is a real thing and most women suffer from it. All mothers think that they could do a little better. It doesn’t have to be true, but no logic can convince a mom that their effort is enough. Nurturing and caring for another human being 24×7 takes its toll. The emotional journey and the exhaustion are often normalized saying everyone goes through this. The lows and highs are nothing extraordinary. But it is! Every single moment of motherhood is extraordinary. It’s extraordinarily rewarding and excruciatingly painful at times. Any comment on the child’s wellbeing has a direct impact on the mother. The mom life journey is full of self-doubt, nervousness and anxiety. So when a mother hears the same seemingly innocent comments over and over, it makes a detrimental impact on her mental health. Even though they are intended to be well meaning advice, it feels like a personal attack to many moms. The story has been the same for generations after generations. The only way to break this vicious cycle is to educate ourselves, talk about boundaries and support each other instead of putting each other down. There is no other way around it. If you are a family member or friend of a mother who has small children you can assist them in myriad ways. Encourage, discuss recipe ideas, inform about community resources, pat their back and meet for coffee. Offer a safe space to talk, without scrutiny and without judgment. We are all new in this process. We can learn together.
Moms, remember that you can’t entirely control your child’s relationship with food. Offer them a good, distraction free routine and try giving them healthy options. The rest of it, you can’t control. Know that your success as a mother is not directly proportional to your child’s weight. When needed, speak up, demand boundaries. Hurting our mental health is not better than momentarily hurting our friend’s and family’s feelings. Every child is different. Your experience with your own child is different from any other parent’s. Don’t assume other parents got it all figured out. No one has figured it out. We are all just doing our best.