For this week’s question, I asked our Council of Vegan Parents about food issues between their children and the rest of the family:
“Have relatives criticized you (openly or behind you back) for raising your child vegan? Was there concern for your child’s health? Did anyone try to sneak meat into the diet without you knowing? And of course, since this isn’t a big rant session, how did you handle it?”
As it turns out, most of our respondees are doing pretty well, which means we need more feedback! This question actually came up from a few Council members, so it looks like we’ll need some followup. If you’ve had some experiences in this area that might help, please get in touch!
From the feedback we received, it looks like there are a few key things to watch for.
Figure out what the issue is.
Is your family’s veganism the real problem, or is it just that you’re going a different route than, say, your parents went with you? In some cases, there might be some subconscious defence mechanisms at play that have nothing to do with the absence of meat, eggs, and dairy.
Or it could just be a matter of opinion! As Lisa says, “my mother feels I’m cruel in depriving my daughter of crisps but that’s a nutritional rather than a vegan issue.”
Be prepared in advance.
Sarah’s daughter had one set of vegan grandparents out of the gate (how cool is that?) but for the other pair, they opted to get in front of the issue before it even came up: “when Amelia was born, we told them we were going to raise her vegan until she is old enough to decide for herself how she wants to eat.”
No, really, be prepared way in advance.
It helps if you can plan ahead, ideally establishing yourself as a healthy knowedgable person many years before your first child is born. This won’t help you much if you’re a recent vegan, but don’t discount your own experiences and the example you lead. Lisa says “I’d been vegan 17 years before I had my daughter,and my meat eating family had by this time all agreed (after 10 years or so) that they liked my food, that I was stonkingly healthy and that I was more nutritionaly aware than them.”
In other words, if your family knows and trusts your ability to take care of yourself, they’re going to be more likely to trust you with your own children.
Sarah echoes this, saying “everyone in our families knows that we are vegan – and that our arguments for being vegan are so strong that it’s best for them not to challenge us… We’re the healthiest people in our family, so it’d be silly for them to say anything anyway.”
Doh’s family seems to have been wired up to deal with vegan members from an early stage, but she added a bit to the mix: “Part of that is my family’s culture of ‘you do your thing, I’ll do mine,’ and part of it is that I armed myself early on with information and with a don’t-f***-with-me confidence.” As Doh says, “Knowledge and confidence are very useful tools against doubters.”
OK, deal with it as it happens.
Katrina has the unfortunate situation where the family resistance is coming from her son’s father. She deals with this on two fronts: with her son directly and with backup. As she says, “I told my son to just refrain from eating anything that his dad offers him that is not vegan . He does a pretty good job with that… My solution to that is to always have vegan ice cream on hand in case his dad comes over to hand out with him. Another solution I’ve had is to provide food for him when he visits his dad.
Work with, not against.
Lisa has a strategy for group meals that seems to have worked well for her: “when the family meet up I find out what they’re having, ask to share whatever we can and build our meal around that. For example, make a pie to have with veg, or we’ll do a non-dairy and dairy version of a lasagna, sharing the tomato sauce.”
Finally, Elaine had a different perspective as a foster parent: “Bbecause we’re foster parents and this issue could cause some real conflict between us and the birth parents, we’ve chosen to only foster babies. Babies just drink formula, which is easy to find in soy versions.”
When I asked her if she felt she was under even more scrutiny between authorities, birth parents, etc., her answer was actually pretty interesting: “On the one hand there are more people ‘checking up’ on us and looking at our parenting, but on the other hand, they’re not comparing us to some mythical ideal parent, they’re comparing us to a real parent who made a terrible mistake or committed a crime. So… the bar is lower. Ha!”
Elaine also had some information that I thought was really worth repeating, so I’ll close with that:
“For the record, there is a social need for people to be foster parents for babies. They require extra care that many other foster parents are not willing or able to provide. If anyone reading this is interested in becoming a foster parent, please do so! The kids need you.”
Again, a lot of good advice and input from the Council of Vegan Parents, thanks so much! I still think there’s a lot of room for different experiences to be shared, so if you’ve got any tips or advice, please share them in the comments or get in touch to join the Council!