Sure, there are a lot of news items that are hard to forget once you’ve heard them; terrible things happen every day. Children go missing and don’t come home. Widespread natural disasters and tragedies occur all around us. There are many things that should bother me more than this does. But I can’t shake this.
“This” is the bit of pseudo-scientific deliberation that has been making the rounds on the internet at alarming speed; the opinion piece by a very well-respected and widely known doctor, David Ludwig, who reportedly believes that it may be a good idea to take obese children away from their parents and place them in foster care for their own good. At first, I read it with curiosity. Then I read it again, with indignation. Then I started trying to research it. I was sure I’d read wrong. I found the story again, and again, site after site, and soon I realized that I hadn’t read anything wrong. And then I got angry, and scared, and sad.
This is so hard for me to write about. I almost didn’t, but Bettina of The Lunch Tray published her own take on it today, and as I started to write a comment in response, the floodgates opened. I wrote passionately. I wrote things that I didn’t even knew I felt so deeply, until they were out, and then as I examined them I realized that I DID feel them, and I do. And I can’t shake them.
I think I was more eloquent in the heat of that moment, on Bettina’s comments board, than I could be if I tried to re-create the thoughts and feelings now. So I’m doing something I rarely do: I’m cutting and pasting my comments from her site to this post. Please bear with me. This is hard.
1) INTERVENING for the sake of these children could be done in a very different way from REMOVING them. Tearing families apart because of a child’s weight, when there are so many complex factors that may contribute to it, is shocking to me and may cause long-term psychological implications that we can’t even fathom. What about designing a whole new paradigm? I don’t know what it would include — live-in dietary aides? Supervised mealtimes? Daily dietician visits? Family relocation to a facility that works 24-7 with them to retool their lifestyle and their way of being together? I don’t know. But none of those solutions are as drastic as taking kids away.
2) Our foster care system is shaky at best. Case workers are overloaded. We hear all the time about children who are severely abused and neglected, who die because they “slip through the cracks” of an overburdened system. Now let’s complicate things and put more strain on the system by adding to it kids who are too big. That makes no sense to me. Too much drain on resources.
3) Sure, now it’s the small fraction of kids who’d be recommended for this program; but what’s to say the guidelines/parameters don’t change at some point? What’s to say that 10 or 20 years down the road, our country’s still way too heavy, and somebody says “Great…we’ve got to take away MORE kids to fight this?” Who’s deciding? Where are they going to draw the line?
4) It’s size-ist. Yes, there are horrible health implications. Nobody denies that. But at a certain point, it just becomes punishing people for being large or for having children who are large. No matter what your justification is, that’s not okay. It’s no more okay than it was fifty years ago when babies with Down Syndrome were taken from their families and put into institutions.
5) Weight is not the only measure of parenting. What about skinny kids who are fed unhealthy crap and may have lurking disease? What about kids who are normal weight but are failing school, doing drugs, engaging in risky behaviors, spending too much time in front of violent video games, etc., etc.? Nobody takes those kids away from their parents. Nobody says that their problems are such a reflection of their parenting that they can’t live at home anymore. Come on.
Now here’s where we get to the part that hurts. Really hurts.
6) My kid is only a few pounds overweight, despite my desperate attempts to resolve the issue, and I already don’t want to take him to the doctor. I do, because I have to, but I’m so emotionally worn out from being shamed and treated like a bad parent because of his size. When your child is overweight, you don’t get credit for how smart they are. You don’t get credit for how kind they are. You don’t get to talk pleasantly about their developmental milestones, their wonderful gifts, their many successes. You don’t even get to point out that your kid hasn’t been sick all year, is active and happy, and shows no signs of the supposed wretched illness the extra weight is supposed to cause. The only thing doctors want to talk about, when your kid is even a pound above that magic line, is WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM AND WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU. I already get treated like a second-class citizen in the health care system. I can’t imagine how much worse it could be, with every mounting pound, with every doctor’s visit, if the threat of some nebulous future that might include TAKING MY CHILD AWAY no matter what I’m trying to do to help him, were hanging over my head.
Do I really think that L. will ever get so big that someone would take him away from me? No, but then again, I wasn’t sure he’d be overweight at all. How am I to know? And the point, anyway, is that I can imagine this, truly imagine how horrible it must be. I’m the parent of a child who’s just another statistic to the researchers, and that, bluntly put, just sucks.
My sister D. tells me I have to let this anger and fear and doubt about L.’s size roll off my back. “Channel your inner duck,” she tells me — something we’ve been saying to each other for years, in situations where letting something go is the better choice than confronting it or letting it fester. But we’re less than two weeks from his next check-up, and already I’ve got the knot in my stomach. I’m not finding that inner duck.
I have to, though, so I can keep on doing what I think is the right thing for him, and keep being positive even as I privately and obsessively try to figure out what the “right” numbers, the “good” height and weight numbers, should be. So in honor of L., I proclaim the following:
My son is beautiful.
My son is sweet.
My son is intelligent.
My son is kind.
My son is creative.
My son is compassionate.
My son is funny.
My son is HEALTHY.
My son is AMAZING.
And J. and I are damned good parents, no matter what anybody wants to think.