Dealing with non-vegan family members

January 4, 2010

I might be dating myself here, but did anyone else dream of family harmony like in the Keaton household?

I might be dating myself here, but did anyone else dream of family harmony like in the Keaton household?

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!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

misovegan January 4, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Foster parenting as vegans is a great idea!! By feeding babies vegan food from an early age you set them up for better health down the road, even if their subsequent parents don't keep them vegan.

Steph January 4, 2010 at 7:06 pm

I have a certain amount of respect from my family, but the comments still continued. That's because some people like to nag, harass, whatever. So I picked a similar non-issue that irritated my main detractor, started teasing them back, and that worked to keep the peace. When we lapse and forget our cease-fire, I find simply asking them (in private) to stop because I don't want to be undermined in my child's eyes. It really isn't an issue, so we can make it work without a lot of stress.

Elaine January 4, 2010 at 7:55 pm

FYI – if anyone's interested in fostering…
Every state has different foster and adoption processes. Here is a good place to start to find out more:
http://www.adoptuskids.org/resourceCenter/about

We chose to foster because we'd like to adopt but we didn't want to do a costly private adoption. (Truthfully, we'd rather save those thousands of dollars for the child's college education.) But now, even if/when we adopt I think we'll still foster every now and then. There are just too many wonderful, needy kids.

jasondoucette January 5, 2010 at 3:55 am

Thanks for the update Elaine!

jendiggity January 28, 2010 at 4:55 pm

My mother-in-law went practically vegan last year and eats mostly from-scratch, whole foods, so we're really stoked about that. My mom has already tipped me off that an aunt has already commented that she'll get to be the one to spoil the baby and sneak her treats we won't let her have. !!! I think that, because we have not wanted to be preachy to our family members, we haven't been very candid about WHY we make the choices we do and it may be time for that so that they can better understand just how important it is.

bitt February 28, 2010 at 10:47 pm

i'd like to know more about fostering older kids too. if one wants to foster to adopt, you can't just keep feeding them formula forever. and i've also wondered what if they were to have a soy intolerancy?

Elaine March 1, 2010 at 9:01 am

HI bitt,
If you foster-adopt a baby, they you'd raise him or her just like you'd raise a biological child. That is, when they start eating real food, then they start eating vegan food.

Generally, you introduce real food no earlier than 4 months. You introduce foods slowly, one at a time to see if there are allergic reactions. You introduce veggies first, then fruits. Even meat-eater parents introduce meat and dairy last, usually after the baby is a year old. So vegan parents simply never introduce meat, dairy or eggs and instead they introduce more fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes. And if they want, they introduce meat alternatives.

If you foster-adopt an older child, then either you wait until a vegetarian or vegan child becomes available and you offer him or her the best possible temporary or new home.

Or you help ease an older omni child into your vegan lifestyle by letting them eat food they're familiar with and slowly transitioning them to vegan food.

All parents need to be flexible. Foster parents probably have to be a bit more flexible. So in this case it might make sense to take a wider view of vegan parenting. Instead of focusing purely on diet, think about parenting a child in such a way as to foster respect for animals. Even if the child is nonvegan, you can still teach them about respecting animals so that when they are old enough to make their own choices, they're more likely to choose vegan for themselves.

jasondoucette March 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Thanks for the quick update Elaine!

Elaine March 1, 2010 at 5:01 pm

HI bitt,
If you foster-adopt a baby, they you'd raise him or her just like you'd raise a biological child. That is, when they start eating real food, then they start eating vegan food.

Generally, you introduce real food no earlier than 4 months. You introduce foods slowly, one at a time to see if there are allergic reactions. You introduce veggies first, then fruits. Even meat-eater parents introduce meat and dairy last, usually after the baby is a year old. So vegan parents simply never introduce meat, dairy or eggs and instead they introduce more fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes. And if they want, they introduce meat alternatives.

If you foster-adopt an older child, then either you wait until a vegetarian or vegan child becomes available and you offer him or her the best possible temporary or new home.

Or you help ease an older omni child into your vegan lifestyle by letting them eat food they're familiar with and slowly transitioning them to vegan food.

All parents need to be flexible. Foster parents probably have to be a bit more flexible. So in this case it might make sense to take a wider view of vegan parenting. Instead of focusing purely on diet, think about parenting a child in such a way as to foster respect for animals. Even if the child is nonvegan, you can still teach them about respecting animals so that when they are old enough to make their own choices, they're more likely to choose vegan for themselves.

jasondoucette March 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Thanks for the quick update Elaine!

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