Overlapping rules for following good diet, raising kids

March 07, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

We joke about it, but the reports that low-fat diets don't prevent cancer or heart disease and calcium supplements don't prevent osteoporosis set women back on their heels, I think.

We all laughed that we were now free to reintroduce bacon cheeseburgers to our diets, but the truth is that something we had believed with the fervor of a religion had been discredited.

We believed that we could prevent breast cancer and heart attacks by simply changing what we ate.

We believed that we could prevent a crippling hip fracture in our old age by simply taking a pill every day.

We believed that we had control of our health, and therefore our lives.

And we had tied diet to more than good health. We had tied it to virtue. We felt almost holy every time we turned down dessert. We could hear the angels singing every time we purchased a salad at McDonald's instead of the Big Mac and fries we really wanted.

For American women, food had long ago stopped being mere sustenance. We ate for a million more reasons than hunger.

But it had also stopped being pleasure, except in a perverse way. If we couldn't savor what we were eating, we could at least savor the righteousness we felt when we denied ourselves. Our diet of naked lettuce leaves delivered a bonus: We could feel superior to the woman next to us who had slathered her leaves with ranch dressing.

What a tangle we get ourselves into over something as simple as food. You can imagine the kind of tangle we get ourselves into over something as precious as our children.

It is the same kind of trap: If I follow the rules, everything will turn out all right. My child will be safe and successful as long as I do what I am supposed to do as his parent.

How do I know what I am supposed to do?

Like low-fat diets, instruction is everywhere. Experts have published libraries telling us how to be the right kind of parent to our gifted child, our shy child, our middle child, our red-haired child. It isn't as simple as counting fat grams or milligrams of calcium, but it is close.

And it is all about control. We want to secure our children's futures - not through their effort - but with our own. We can make it happen, especially if they listen to us. If they make the choices we lay out for them.

And in these dangerous times, in these shaky economic times, it is more important than ever that they follow the course we have so carefully plotted for them.

These two things are bound together, I think. Our health and our children's well-being.

We think that we can control our health, and therefore our longevity, by controlling what we eat. That it is as simple as the nutritional label on a can.

And we have to stay healthy until the kids are launched. After that, we don't want our poor health or our broken hip to make us a burden for them.

None of us wants to live forever. Or even to be 100. We just want to live as long as our kids need us.

The problem is, we think we get to decide how long that is.


To hear audio clips of selected Susan Reimer columns, go to baltimoresun.com/reimer.

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