Over the past month, I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of sugar in my family’s diet. I don’t think our sugar consumption has been massive compared with what most people regard as “normal” but, compared with World Health Organisation guidelines, it was. I’m not overhauling the way we eat entirely, just trying to increase our vegies and find healthy swaps for some of the foods we eat.
With my family’s health at stake, I have been doing a lot of research on healthy eating (listening to “experts” speak on YouTube video while preparing dinner). Apparently, almost none of the food supplied to us is good to eat, putting some kind of strain on our bodies that they aren’t designed for. There is someone to warn us of the health risks of almost everything we eat, including the polyunsaturated oils we’ve been told to use instead of saturated fats, inorganic plant & animal products, alternative sweeteners and, even, wholegrains. Most of the health concerns around these foods boil down to the fact that almost all of our food is interfered with in some way. I have concluded that just about everything I buy at the supermarket poses a health risk and, without the budget or time to source healthy alternatives, I don’t know what to feed my family anymore. And then there are the ethical and sustainability issues!
I have been feeling exasperated and, even, angry that I can’t trust our food sources. The quality of my family’s food feels largely out of my control unless I move the family to a farm and we grow all our food (organically) ourselves. This is not an option for me as I struggled so much with our small home veggie patch that I pulled it out and turned it into a play garden– I’m better at nurturing children than plants.
To complicate things even further, because our minds, bodies and spirits are so closely connected, the way we eat also feels like a spiritual issue to me.
WHAT MY CHILDREN EAT IS A SPIRITUAL ISSUE BECAUSE…
…it affects their spiritual connection. When our bodies are struggling to cope in some way with what we’ve eaten, our minds aren’t clear enough to be able to tune in to Spirit. To illustrate my point – imagine trying to meditate when your blood-sugars have plummeted and you need something to eat, when you’re feeling jittery from too much coffee or when your stomach feels sore because it’s struggling to digest something your body doesn’t like. At these times, we’re too preoccupied by our bodies’ needs to be able to tune into our spiritual needs. Our children’s natural spiritual connection can be compromised when their diets lack nutrition or their bodies are stressed.
…it impacts our environment and animals. We are closely connected with the environment and all other beings in a spiritual way. I know that the impacts of getting food to my table are far-reaching and often compromise the environment and animals. All these issues came up for me again recently when my son, Jake, and I were discussing how the meat we eat comes from animals. He was asking me a lot about the process of how an animal becomes his favourite macaroni-and-mince dish, concerned about the animal getting hurt. His final question was, “Do you think that’s right (to kill animals to eat)?” I replied that animals in the wild have to hunt and eat other animals in order to survive but that I’m really not sure if it’s ok for us to do the same. We’re sitting on this question… and many others.
…good health helps them to live full lives. I want to see my children have the energy and wellness to enjoy their lives, to contribute to others’ and to live their spiritual purpose. If the way they are eating compromises their health, they can’t do these things. Simple as that.
WHAT MY CHILDREN EAT IS NOT A SPIRITUAL ISSUE BECAUSE…
…there are only so many hours in a day. I don’t have time to grow, raise, harvest and butcher our food as well as cook it from scratch to make sure it is all perfectly healthy, sustainable and ethical. I don’t even have time to trapse from shop to shop to source ingredients which have a clear conscience. My weekly trip to the supermarket is already quite the label-reading mission – if I don’t take my boys with me, it can take 20 minutes just to get down the first aisle.
…healthy food often costs more. Most healthy foods are not mass-produced like the food I get at the supermarket is and are, therefore, more expensive. Economically, I understand the reasons for that and I sincerely want independent farmers etc to thrive – but my wallet does not.
…something is better than nothing, surely. Here, I refer to the general fussiness of children when it comes to their food. Did you know that young children are biologically wired to be sceptical of new foods and have strong sensory responses to food that often put them off, as well as a natural sweet-tooth? Food fussiness is a whole other post but my approach is to serve up a mixture of healthy foods and foods they will actually eat. I don’t want them to go to bed hungry, unable to sleep because they wouldn’t eat anything on their plate. To put some pasta with dinner gives us all a better sleep, despite it being deficient in nutrition and environmentally unsound.
A SOLUTION – 3 STEPS
I fret about my boys’ food for so many reasons. To add the spiritual implications to the mix adds to the load of concerns to wade through. Before I had children, I couldn’t have imagined that feeding them would be so difficult. But, I tout my blog as practical spiritual parenting so let’s be realistic about this. This is what I’m going to do to make it a little easier –
Decide which concerns are the most important. For some, it might be reducing sugar. For others, it might be eating ethically-sourced food. For many, it might be keeping the family afloat financially and stretching the grocery dollar as far as it goes. Trying to tick every box would make feeding our families an enormous stress and a full-time job.
Accept what we decide not to do. With acceptance, we don’t need to feel guilty about the less-than-ideal food choices we make for our children, knowing we have focussed on our priorities. Remembering that it isn’t possible to tick every box helps too.
Eat mindfully. In our family we begin meals by saying grace. Enjoying our food is another way of appreciating it and valuing all the labour and sacrifice involved in getting it to our plates.
IN SUMMARY – MY LAST SUGGESTION
Feeding our children can become a source of stress for many parents. There’s fussiness, meal-time battles and emotional eating behaviours to deal with. Having bigger issues like health, sustainability, ethics and spirituality to also take into consideration can feel like too much at times. My final piece of advice, based on my own efforts to reduce my family’s sugar intake, is this – once you’ve decided on your priorities, make small, incremental changes to keep things manageable and to keep your children on-board. For example, the first changes I made to reduce my family’s sugar intake was to switch afternoon tea to savoury foods – raw veggies, cheese, nuts and crackers instead of fruit and baking – and to reduce the amount of sugar in recipes. All the best!
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – What are your priorities when it comes to feeding your kids? Comment below.
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Recently, my youngest, Thomas, had a tickly cough that had worsened over the week. By nap-time on Friday, he was barely able to sleep because the cough would disturb him every few minutes. The prospect of a whole night ahead spent listening to him cough was one I dreaded – for his sake and mine – so, we made a trip to the pharmacy. I knew they would be unable to give us “the good stuff” because Thomas is only two-years-old and those cough medicines can only be taken by older children. But I came away with every product and tip the assistant suggested, determined that Thomas and I both would get a decent night’s sleep.
The night started off well. Having readily swallowed a liquid fruit salad of remedies (one was even peach-flavoured) and with the head of his bed propped up by my husband’s cricket books, Thomas drifted off to sleep quickly. It wasn’t until 3am that the coughing began. I waited a while to see if it would pass on its own but it was insistent on keeping Thomas awake. So, I forced myself into alertness and went in to see him. I offered a drink and some herbal cough liquid and snuggled into bed with him for a few minutes. His cough seemed to calm down and Thomas was still so I kissed his cheek and went back to my own bed. Easier than I thought.
I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in bed with my boys for more than 10 minutes during the night. They are give-an-inch-take-a-mile characters, likely to insist on middle-of-the night cuddles the following night and the night after that if I give in once. I’ve always been happy to climb in for a bit to give comfort and help them settle down but I never settle in.
However, within five minutes of my leaving Thomas’ room, his cough was in full swing again. I had no more tricks up my sleeve. Then I realised that what had really calmed the cough initially was not the expensive concoctions I had bought from the pharmacy but my snuggling into bed with Thomas. So, I tip-toed down the hall and climbed back in with him. He put his arm around my neck and, within a few minutes, his breathing was even and I knew he was asleep. I drifted off too and, when I woke, I had been there over an hour. I slipped out of Thomas’ bed, tip-toed back down the hall and we both slept well for the rest of the night.
OK, not the most exciting story but I wanted to write about it because it’s such a clear example of the mind-body-spirit connection. I’ve been aware of the connection for many years but have never witnessed it in such a simple, immediate way. I lay in bed with Thomas, fully present and not resistant (I’d usually be thinking, “I just want to get back to my own bed” and “I’m making a rod for my back, he’ll expect me to do this tomorrow night”). The cuddle almost instantly soothed his cough. It reinforced for me the health benefits of spiritual connection (which I also touched on in Spirituality & Depression – What’s the Relationship?) If a loving cuddle can soothe a cough, imagine the impact of all the other things we are doing for our children’s spirituality on their well-being.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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“What’s the relationship between spirituality and depression?” This is a question that I have had swirling around inside for a number of years. When I look back on my own experience of depression, more than anything, I think of it as at time of spiritual crisis. I didn’t have faith in myself. I didn’t have faith in the world. Without faith, I didn’t have the strength to manage the challenges in my life or the hope of better days. Everything felt black.
It was a slow, gradual journey back to health. My circumstances changed and I found myself drawn toward spiritual content (books, tv, magazines…) which altered my way of thinking and being in the world. My faith has grown and my fear has reduced. Now, I am well – thriving, actually.
I am even grateful for the contrast between the period I was depressed and my life now. It reminds me not to take my joy for granted. It highlights what works for me and what doesn’t. As I write this, I realise that I no longer even worry about getting depressed again in the future. I had presumed that would be a concern of mine for the rest of my life, but it’s not there now!
This blog post has been brewing for a while. My hypothesis that active spirituality could be a significant factor in protecting a person against depression made sense to me, based on my own experience, but I had no evidence. When writing about the darkest times of a person’s life, I didn’t want to simply be “playing with ideas”. Then, this past week, through a series of synchronistic events, I got my hands on a copy of “The Spiritual Child”, by Lisa Miller, PhD (Picador, 2015). In it, Lisa shares the research on children’s spirituality in easy-to-read, often poetic, language. On the back cover of the book it says that children who have a “positive, active relationship to spirituality are…60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers”. When I read that, I felt I was being given the go-ahead to write this post.
I love the word “thriving” – that’s exactly what I want for my boys (for everyone). Lisa seems to love the word too. I’m less than a quarter of the way through the book but she has said this many times and in various ways:
The only thing that science has shown to reliably predict fulfillment, success and thriving: a child’s spiritual development. – The Spiritual Child, Lisa Miller, p24.
To give you a piece of the evidence sited in her book: brain scans of those whose lives are led by spirituality show a number of distinct features. One is the thickening of sections of the right brain where, in depressed people, it would be thinner. If spirituality and depression have opposite effects on some areas of the brain, it suggests that it’s much harder for them to co-exist.
I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of the science but I’m wondering if there are specific aspects of spiritual thinking that particularly aid the prevention of depression. I’ve often heard, for example, that the brain can’t be in a state of appreciation and fear at the same time because of the way the brain operates. A person in a depressed state can alternate between grateful and fearful thinking many times in a day but it would presumably be the proportion spent in each that determines their overall experience?
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR CHILDREN
Given the genetic component of depression, I was nervous about having children burdened with a higher likelihood of experiencing it. Fortunately, I made the choice to go ahead and my beautiful boys have played a big part in the deepening of my own spirituality and sense of thriving. I don’t often worry about whether or not they will experience depression in the future. By attending to their spirituality, I am comforted that I am doing what I can to support their mental health.
I am showing them how to connect with Love and how to put it into action. From a scientific perspective, I am strengthening the loving functions of their brains, building the neural pathways of loving thought. What is spirituality if not Loving (ourselves, others, the world)? What is depression if not fear (in a multitude of forms)?
I think that building my boys’ Love begins with offering them a loving world view. After all, it is our beliefs that shape our thoughts and, therefore, our emotions & actions. To show you what I mean, I’ll contrast a fearful world view with a loving world view –
These are a few examples of the fearful beliefs I had when I was depressed:
I don’t trust the world to be kind or for things to work out well for me (so I have to work super-hard to control everything and make life work myself).
I can’t do all that is expected of me. I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy of happiness and other good things
Everyone else is better than me. Things come more easily to other people.
These are some of the loving beliefs I have now and wish to pass onto my boys:
I have faith in myself and in the universe. The universe is working for me, in my best interests. I have everything I need.
I belong here. I have value. I am worthy of happiness and other good things. (See my post – “A Child’s Worth”).
Everyone is equal and has equal access to support from God.
If we compare the fearful and loving beliefs, we can see that they encourage entirely different ways of being. Depression is a complicated condition with so many contributing factors, but I think that, through showing them a spiritually-led life, I can steer my boys’ thought, biological/neural and lifestyle patterns so that they will have a head start in a joy-filled life and an understanding they can draw on if they ever do find themselves on the downward spiral.
IN SUMMARY: SPIRITUALITY, DEPRESSION & THRIVING
Just to be clear – I am not staying that actively spiritual people cannot have depression or that a person is not “spiritual enough” if they do experience it. I know it is a very complex condition with multiple aspects to it. In both of my boys’ early days, I experienced sustained anxiety which I attribute to insufficient sleep, biological (hormonal) factors and the stress I felt from the demands of a newborn. I was worried at times that I was on my way to depression again (fortunately, not).
I’m also not saying we “should” grow our children’s spiritual strength in order to reduce the likelihood of them experiencing depression. I wanted to share my scientific findings because they have confirmed what I felt I already knew – that the spiritual life I’m building for myself and modelling for Jake & Thomas is an advantage when it comes to reducing their chances of experiencing depression and increasing their chances of thriving.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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