Our son is a diet veteran, with over five years of eating strict SCD and mentoring people new to the diet. He knows that this diet granted him freedom from pain and from medications. However, while the diet led to wellness, the diet also created some dependencies that we cannot ignore.
While most teens are free to eat what they want, wherever they go, he has to plan ahead, prepare, pack and carry food with him. While all teens want nothing to do with their parents, teens that must adhere to restricted diets have dependencies on the “food service” that is supplied by mom and dad.
Loving our teens is like loving porcupines. They can be prickly at times. They are extremely busy and stressed. They want their parents “out of their hair”. Yet they also want us to “be there for them” when they need us. Adding a restricted diet to this gentle balancing act makes things even more interesting.
One more snag: as teens grow up, it is important that we teach them planning and kitchen skills, allowing them to continue the diet as independent young adults during and after college. Did I mention that they are extra busy with high school work and college prep and thus have no time for kitchen training? They are also not interested in receiving any advice from their parents. So how is this transition of diet responsibility ever going to work?!
This summer we found ourselves in the midst of a diet independence war. It began when our teen was accepted to a wonderful and demanding internship in a research institution for eight full weeks of long workdays plus a long daily commute. Out of the house at 8am and back at 6.30 pm. It is a great “dry run” for practicing the life of a future young professional that is maintaining a restricted diet.
I envisioned a gradual process of transitioning the planning and packing of foods for the long work days. I envisioned showing him how to pack nutritionally balanced and visually enticing meals and snacks. The teen, on the other hand, is not in the business of making my visions come true. He appreciates the fact that I cook and bake most of his diet foods, and he loves having these foods available for him at home, but packing is completely up to him now. He made himself clear: I am to leave the kitchen late in the evening, when he prepares his breakfast for the next day and packs his food for work. Period!
I have a lot of respect for his need to get me out of his way on his path to independence. I also have worries when he clearly does not pack enough food to account for unexpected traffic delays, or when the food is not as nutritionally balanced as I would wish, or might leak from the containers he has chosen. It is not easy for me to know that some days he will not have sufficient food choices, since food is his medical therapy. Then again, easy was never the name of this game. And so, as the summer unfolds, there is a lot of new learning for our family. The teen is working towards diet independence, I am working on letting go and empowering, my husband grins when the teen refuses my excellent but unsolicited advice, and big brother gets his weekly reports via Skype and makes sure to tease both his brother and me.
This opportunity is a true blessing for us. Beyond the fascinating science that the teen gets to practice at work, he learns so much about practicing SCD in “real life”. He figures out what to do when going out to eat with peers and there is nothing he can eat on the restaurant's menu. He learns what foods work well on days when office refrigeration is unavailable, and how to pack compatible yet interesting food combinations. There were also some “extra” challenging days to learn from. An evening commute when three large events in Seattle created crazy-traffic delays. When he finally got home he was famished, and then fell asleep until the next morning without preparing his food for the next day.
We now have a better understanding about the steps we must take in the process of transitioning diet responsibilities from parents to teens. It is also clear that we still have much more to learn as we continue forward. If you have any words of wisdom on this topic- please share them here, in the comments section below. Raising kids and teens does indeed take a village.