A few years ago, I began a major life transformation.
I realized that I wasn’t as happy or healthy as I could be. I knew I needed to make big changes—so many changes, I didn’t know exactly where to begin.
About the same time, I realized that my children seemed happy. That’s when I began attempting to balance the scales. If there was a set amount of possible happiness for our home, I was going to take my portion back. I began looking for ways to make my children miserable.
First, I announced that we would no longer be eating processed foods. All the junk food in brightly colored packages that they had grown up on vanished from the pantry. All the soda disappeared from the fridge. If they would use a color to describe the flavor of it, I stopped buying it. I stopped buying drinks with sugar and other things that rot their little teeth and give them diabetes, because I am a monster.
But I didn’t stop there. Oh, no.
As soon as their cries began to hush, I made the next announcement: No more fast food. We would no longer sit in lines to pick up bags of greasy food that was completely void of nutrition. We would no longer give our money to chain restaurants with poor farming practices. If we weren’t going to eat processed foods from the grocery store, we were not going to eat processed foods from the drive-through either.
I thought my son’s head was going to explode the first time we were running errands and I refused to stop and pick up his favorite drive-through snack. When I offered him a banana from my purse instead, he lost his appetite. It was like magic. If there were French fries available, he was starving. Bananas—not starving.
As soon as the kids got used to the new, clean-eating practices in the house, I did the unthinkable—I went vegan. Though they threatened to move in with their dad at that point, they never did.
I began thinking of other ways to ruin my children’s lives. I had taken away everything they loved to eat and replaced it with terrible things like fruits, vegetables and homemade protein bars. They still seemed pretty happy. I needed something even bigger than junk food.
Then it hit me—I could take away the television. They turned it on in the morning, and it stayed on all day. They fought over what to watch and when. It seemed the television in our home had a gravitational pull that kept one or all of us on the couch, staring blankly at it. If I took it away, they would be forced to go do something else, like play outside, or worse—hang out with me.
I knew this one was going to hurt a little bit, so I started gradually by getting rid of the cable. The television was still there. They could stream whatever they wanted on it, and they did for a while. Eventually, they got bored with the available options and spent less time in front of the TV.
Then conveniently, one day it stopped working. We had a decision to make: buy a new television, or do something even better. I asked the kids one night which they would prefer, a new TV or a super cool fish tank. All on their own, they chose the fish tank.
It was awful, like they had caught onto my little game. They didn’t complain at all about not having the TV in the living room. In fact, they seemed to enjoy it. They called the fish tank the “hippie-vision.” They named all the fish, then named the different “channels” according to what the fish were doing.
I had to try harder.
Physical exertion was the only thing left. I signed us up for an obstacle course 5K. I made them go out in the heat and run with me. We had to climb over things, and swing on ropes, and run across balance beams, and slide down a huge inflatable water slide. When we crossed the finish line, they were smiling. My son asked if we could do it again. The little jerks were determined to keep using up all the happy…except, it seemed that the happiness in the house had somehow multiplied.
The more I made changes that reflected the life I wanted for myself, the happier I became. And the happier I became, the more peaceful our home was. The more peaceful the home, the happier the kids.
All of this is to say, that I have failed in making my children miserable with my healthier choices.
But I have succeeded in setting a better example for them, getting them to try new things, and teaching them that it’s okay for our family to do things a little differently (or a lot differently) than others around us. Making healthy changes has brought more happiness to all of us, and ultimately, made our little family closer.
The cool thing about parenting, is having a few precious, beautiful years when we get to influence and inspire our kids to be kick-ass humans. We can talk to them—and sometimes that works. But usually, our actions speak for us. No matter how much they might protest when we make changes in the home, they are watching and learning from us. Learning how to take care of themselves, and the world we live in.
Though I regret having raised my kids on junk food and television, I’m grateful that they got to see my transformation. They watched me navigate a painful divorce, battle with morbid obesity, and overcome depression. I never could have given them in conversation what they learned from that time in our lives.
They got to see me at my absolute worst, and then watch as I found my way back to health and happiness. If nothing else, I hope they learned that we can do anything with little steps toward our goals everyday.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Image: Courtesy of Author
Editor: Catherine Monkman