Of fussy-eaters and two way respect

My 60 kg 16-year-old daughter is strictly a carnivore. She eats greens under sufferance, namely to neutralise the acidity of the meat she eats. She often blitzes these greens up into a smoothie, fibre and all, and chugs them down. I have her sports to thank for that. As a footballer playing in high level, demanding international tournaments, she has been taught how to pay close attention to her diet. She herself can see the consequences of not eating well.

Since commencing football training four days a week and following a professional programme, she has filled out nicely from a skinny 14-year-old into a powerfully built 16-year-old:

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Georgina has an informed and healthy attitude towards food (she does not drink, do drugs, smoke or stay out late because of the strict Academy rules) though she eats more meat than I would like.

I, on the other hand, love my greens. I could eat salads all day, fresh greens with just a light, homemade dressing. I would rather my family just eats greens, no meat. Indeed, in my militant vegetarian days in my misguided youth, I used to enforce a no-meat policy in the house. Looking back with hindsight, I realised it was the wrong decision in my household as a family who values kindness and Self very highly. I should not have tried to impose my ‘right beliefs’ on my loved ones, in the mistaken belief that I know what is best for them.

These days, I honour my family’s tastes and choices, but at the same time, I integrate my own wishes and likes into the food I make. I strongly believe that food is a two-way respect thing, not a warring turf. Unfortunately it has been that way in many families for decades – food has been used as an emotional blackmail tool and we often have unhealthy relationships with food stemming from our childhood battles with our parents and from our parents’ unhealthy attitude towards food.

Georgina has several friends who suffer eating disorders in varying degrees of severity, a couple of them requiring hospitalisation. The biggest tragedy is one who lost her life to anorexia. I do not think good eating habits alone can prevent this, but I do believe that good eating habits fostered at a young age goes a long way towards keeping children healthy. Here are my tried-and-tested tips:

(1) Never fight over food. That’s why it is important to exert your authority in this matter when your children are still young.

(2) Introduce children to a wide variety of food at a very young age. I don’t believe in cooking special food for 1-year-olds. They do not need special porridge or special bland food. They can eat what we do and they jolly well should. Just be careful about fish bones and small things like peas and sweetcorn that are choking hazards, and ensure that there is not too much salt in foods.

(3) Terrible Twos is the stage when food battles begin. This is the time to manage it right. Never allow a toddler to win the battle of wills. Be firm (but not unkind or dramatic). When I was in my early twenties, I had three children under 5 years old and was a full time student at University. There was no way I had the time or the patience to pander to food squabbles. My children simply had to eat what was on the plate. No force-feeding and no chasing toddlers with food either. Make the dining table a fun and happy place to be and everybody will eat well.

(4) If they choose not to eat then they can go to bed hungry. They won’t die or suffer malnutrition overnight.

(5) Foster good eating habits in the home.

(6) No snacking in between meals.

(7) Ensure that children understand the consequences of their food choice but no empty threats (for example, if you don’t eat carrots, you will die).

(8) With older children, have a dialogue with them. No drama. I respect your food choices, now you have to respect mine. It is give and take always, as is everything in life.

Here’s my burger, loaded with nuts, seeds and vegetables:

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She conquers the world

My Ma expressed some concern that my youngest daughter Georgina, who is in the midst of her IGCSEs, is helping me with my new parenting book and that she has a full-on football training schedule. And a busy social life to boot. My Ma – who is a strong proponent of the theory that all human beings need to live happily is fresh air, love and sunshine – thinks that her youngest grandchild has too much on her plate.

“Oh, Jac, you weren’t brought up like this at all,” my Ma admonished me. “You were on the beach before your exams!”

But, Ma, I have a child who is wired differently. She has her snout in many pies, by her own free choice, and thrives on the pressure and challenges. What stress?

“With smart organisation, you remove stress,” Sixteen year old Georgina explained patiently. “A Game Plan brings order to the chaos.”

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It is indeed true. I was at University with three young children and no helper. In those days, I had to be very organised. Monday was washing day, Wednesday was catching up with University work day and Saturday was house-cleaning day and preparing freezer bags of food for the following week. It was only by being super-organised that I managed to survive those years and get a degree to show for it.

But often, children and teenagers don’t know how to organise themselves. This is largely due to helicopter-parenting: control-freak parents micromanaging children to the extent that children stop thinking for themselves. What is the point? Mummy/Daddy has planned the day down to the last hour for them. They just have to show up for the free ride, no need to switch the brain on.

In the parenting book that Georgina and I are working on, I explored this issue of disempowered children. How to cultivate motivation and initiative in children?

“Get off our backs for starters!” Georgina exclaimed. “Give us space.”

Yes, we used to allow her to wear her mermaid outfit everywhere, even to bed. It got dirty and tatty, but she still wore it. And we allowed her to. Why not?

Georgina spends a lot of time making detailed notes. Though she has told me to get off her back, I could not help but ask, “Aren’t you wasting your time, spending hours making pretty notes instead of studying?”

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“I’m organising my brain, Mum!”

OK, point taken. But why don’t you just read it from textbooks?

“Because the act of writing down the concepts in my own way and in my own words forces me to understand, Mum. I write down notes in class too which I often don’t look at again, for the same reason: it forces me to understand.”

Maybe not having an iPad throughout the years helped her in developing a good relationship between her brain and pens, pencils and paper. She is actively engaged whenever she is faced with something rather than passively entertained, be it studying or her social life.

Recently, I interrupted her whilst she was studying. She was wearing headphones.

“Can you concentrate whilst listening to music?” I asked curiously.

“It’s white noise, Mum,” she said. “It helps me to concentrate better.”

I listened in. Yikes! I had a blinding headache coming on immediately!

She grinned. “You see now why it focuses the mind?”

Our children are not us. They are wired differently from us. This is also their world. The future is theirs. And I think we have to trust them to find their own way, even if their way seems illogical. Dig deeper and often, you will see beautiful logic emerging from the madness of a teenage brain.

Dare To Be

When I was at school, the prom queens and the UK-cheerleader equivalents made my life a misery. They didn’t like me based on the fact that firstly, I did not care to follow their style dictates, and secondly, I did not beg to join their silly little clubs. And girls can be mean, much meaner than boys. I would have preferred a straightforward punch-up in the playground than years of subversive torture that I was subjected to by the fairer sex. Little things of mine went missing: calculator, homework book, gym clothes. Nobody would partner me for science experiments. I was told the wrong things to do for homework. I was called names, unpleasant ones, just because I dared to be myself rather than follow the herd or fade into the background.

I hated school because of girl politics. To make my life better, I could capitulate and beg to join the herd, or I could keep my head down.  Or I could be strong and stick two fingers up at them and do as I wish. I chose the third way, simply on the basis that I would rather be a social outcast than a fashion victim or a wallflower.

Of course, no boy invited me to the prom. No corsage arrived. No hired limo. No wedding-cake dress. No highly strung anticipation or squealing excitement. But did I care?

No.

Reason: I was already dating an older boy, a scion of one of the most influential families in England and having a great time. On the night of the prom, Jamie and I were in the oh-so-romantic Angel’s Garden, lying on a horse blanket, looking at stars, drinking champagne from the bottle. It was waaaay cooler than hanging out with a gaggle of hysterical girls or worse, being fumbled by a pimply date at the prom.

Over the years, I stuck to my own dress code. When my mother asked me (nicely) to dress up in something decent, I put the family tiara on. With jeans and sneakers. But at my first year at Oxford, I capitulated and shoehorned myself into my aunt’s old ballgown for the May Ball. My feet were too big for her dainty shoes unfortunately, but I wasn’t going to buy shoes that I will never wear again. Thus, I went to the ball in the appropriate dress but in wellington boots that I wore to rake out the stables. I had a great time dancing the night away, because my feet weren’t hurting in ridiculous shoes.

My younger daughter is 14. Her wealthier friends wear branded goods. Her less wealthy friends pore over magazines and made do with cheap Far East imports from value retailers. Do you know, you are polluting the planet and encouraging child labour each time you buy an item of these unethically produced cheap clothes?

She shrugged. Like me, she is not into fashion. Or girl politics. Plus, she has no money. That is a blessing, because she has so much fun with boys. And so, this mother-and-daughter partnership has developed our own style concept. It’s called HOBOism. There is no shop or internet store to wear HOBO. The label is your name. The only rule is “enjoy wearing yourself”. (The name HOBO is a take on the great British fashion brand HOBBS).

I ran a competition for HOBOs. Hajar Nadhirah Onn from Malaysia takes the biscuit (or crown). Hajar wears the head covering of her religion with pride, but it has never stopped her expressing her individuality and joie de vivre. She is seen here wearing supercool headphones and a quirky batman mask. When I first knew about her HOBOism, she had a Goth make-up on (read: overdone, smudged kohl), walking around a small town in Malaysia, giving people heart attacks. Way to go, Girl! It delights this old aunty’s heart no end to see this.

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And with the hindsight of experience, I would like to exhort all girls out there to have fun with fashion, rather than let fashion wear you. Wear a tiara/batman mask if you want, dammit, you are worth it.

 

My Daughter, My Role Model

Georgina has my body shape: the skinny ‘slim’ look so beloved of Asians and women the world over too, I guess.

But she never had any intention of pandering to the majority’s perception of beauty – this girl has worked hard (not only through exercise but through optimum nutrition) to have a strong powerful body that wins her trophies and gold medals.

She has bigger thighs and bigger waist than me, and she laughs about it. Her shoulders are wide, which makes her a strong swimmer though she does not compete in swimming.

She is larger than a lot of girls, but she doesn’t care. Because she knows she is solid muscles, and she is proud of them, even if she is perceived as ‘big’. She revels in the fact that she is very seldom sick – in the last ten years, sore throat is her only ailment – and that she has bags of energy to have fun. I don’t stress about her wearing tight clothes, because she is not a feeble little thing pandering to ideals of beauty, but merely showcasing her muscles. Her role model: Jessica Ennis, the British Olympian, and she is on her way there.

Her physical strength gives her mental strength and a different approach to life …. to my surprise, she listens to Martin Luther King’s speeches on her iPod!

Way to go, Warrior Woman!

No to Anorexia

Anorexia Kills

Seven Steps To Raising Really Strong Girls

Maybe it is just an affliction of the fairer sex, but we all have had at least a Train Wreck Girlfriend in our lives. Mine is Susannah (not her real name, of course). She is a successful musician. She is attractive, articulate and funny, with a wide circle of friends and a busy life. She lives in a nice bachelorette pad in a smart part of London. You would have thought she is happy with her lot in life. Yet for the better part of our friendship, she has spent many tearful hours on my couch, wringing the proverbial sodden tissue in her hands. Susannah lurches from one disastrous relationship to the next, and in the lull in between her emotional train wrecks, she mopes around like a lost puppy, lamenting about her single state and ticking biological clock, always on the lookout for THE man to fall in love with, and therefore end all her woes (HAHAHA).

She yearns to be loved (don’t we all) but in Susannah, that yearning stems from the myth that a man will complete her and make her life infinitely better. She comes across as desperate, and men can smell desperation from a mile away. They then head for the hills without a backward glance.

What makes Susannah a needy, childlike, romantic desperado?

Though she is musically brilliant (and earns well), she is emotionally stunted at the age of eight. She was eight when she was sent to boarding school. She fulfilled her emotional needs and got her emotional guidance from reading romantic love stories, rather than real family interactions. The result: an emotionally stunted woman. Puppy-dog eyes are cute on eight year old little girls and Mills & Boons heroines, but on a 40 year old fully grown woman, it is just not that attractive. It is rather sad, actually.

In the beginning, I tried playing matchmaker but her desperation drove them all away. I introduced her to my gorgeous friend, and she stalked him persistently, always there waiting for him with that puppy dog eyes. Later, when that fell apart, I mentioned to her that my colleague had a spare ticket for the Albert Hall – she was over in my house within the half hour, without asking me anything about my colleague other than “Is he male and single?”

I have two daughters of the ages 23 and 14. I am adamant my girls will never be Train Wreck Susannahs, and so far, they are on course, thanks to my Seven Stage Programme. In fact, they are downright feisty and independent, and both are single by choice, despite the wolves at the door.

  1. Teach little girls that Prince Charming does not exist.

Men are nice, but they are not the solution to everything. More often than not, they have more frailties and issues than you.

  1. Ensure that little girls are self-sufficient

Nobody can rescue you but yourself. Men might have the right equipment to complete women physically, but there is nothing more unattractive than a needy, clinging, emotionally deficit grown-up (of either sex) seeking completion.

  1. Live within their own means

It is unfortunate, but typically, women still earn less than men. Therefore, a man with a good job presents an attractive proposition (financial security and perhaps entrée to a nicer, more secure future). I think that’s the biggest trap that women fall into. Hello, this is 2014. You have to buy your own stuff rather than rely on the man you sleep with to do so.

  1. Enjoy their own company

I know of someone who sits like a faithful and sad Basset Hound waiting for a disinterested man to spend time with her, be it dinner or walk or conversation…..anything, gimme, gimme, gimme! She would kill time waiting for him to grace her with his attention.

Methinks Ms. Saddo is far better off having a good drink, putting funky music on loud and dancing her heart out. That’s what I am teaching my daughters. And to learn to love books, of course.

  1. Give little girls emotional security

We all have needs: shelter, food, sex. But Maslow’s triangle forgot emotional security. Many girls grow up with that piece missing in their lives because they have (i) distant, (ii) absent or (iii) busy parents. They grow into needy women, trying to fill the void by playing out roles to compel the men in their lives to give them that missing piece.

  1. Have strong family ties

It is raining in London as I am writing this. From my window, I see a couple walking past sharing an umbrella. It is an achingly romantic sight. I longed to be out there, walking under the umbrella and under the protective arm of a man.

The father of my children is halfway across the world on a football field. But strangely enough, he is not the man I thought of immediately. I thought immediately of my big brother Huw Patrick, a strong and solid presence in my life from childhood. Nobody can ever take his place in my heart. Nobody can ever take my mother’s, my father’s, my other brother’s, my children’s, my niece’s, my nephew’s, my grandparents’ place in my heart.   There is something true in the old adage: there is nothing stronger than blood (though I was an adopted child). Family are the ones who give you firm grounds to stand on, whatever the nature of your relationship. There is no place more secure than your childhood home, even if that home is just a construct of your mind.

  1. Model it!

Be a strong girl yourself! Live life with laughter lacing your days, genuine happiness lighting your path, learn to find your own solutions, love yourself truly, madly and deeply, and dance like no one is watching, except your daughter, of course.

 

Anorexia Kills

I received the sad news that my friend’s 16 year old daughter died of anorexia-related complications. She was 16, pretty, lots to live for, and certainly not fat at all.

Yet she believed she was. And media tells us that women have to be thin to be successful/beautiful. Giorgio Armani used anorexic-looking models this year, for example, the so-called heroin-chic. There are many websites that promote this dangerous propaganda too.

One of G’s friend in her previous school was hospitalized for eating disorders. A 13 year old should not be worried about being fat. Some of the bitchy girls commented behind G’s back that she is fat.

But does G care? Heck, no.

I post a lot about her because one of the things I want to propagate is “healthy and strong is beautiful”. Like her million dollar legs. They are not thin legs, but do you want a thin pair over G’s powerful pair? Girls should be taught to feel empowered by their femininity, not enslaved.

I get infuriated when people compliment me on my ‘slimness’ (especially in Asia). No, I don’t aim to be slim. In certain stages of my life, I was unfortunately slim because I was bereaved, or I was going through chemo, or I could not eat. There is nothing to celebrate, yet that farking word “slim” is so celebrated in Asia. Please think, and use that word responsibly. Don’t propagate the slim culture, because at best, it will give girls stupid useless targets to aim for; at worse, it kills.

Beauty is an inner thing.