November 2009 - Working Together
to Keep Your Child Healthy
If your child has dietary restrictions, you probably work overtime to make sure
nothing passes your child’s lips that could harm him or her. If you have
a child who needs regular medication or medical monitoring you also spend a lot
of time keeping things running. You might also be a parent who firmly believes
in organic foods for your child. All of these situations required a lot of education
and time on your part to create a healthy life for your child. What do you do
if your ex is not on board with the plan? I’ve heard from lots of parents
who are struggling with an ex who will not support or participate in healthy lifestyle
choices (or requirements) put in place for their children.
The first thing you should do if you’re in a situation where your ex will
not cooperate is really talk with him about it. And I when I say talk, I mean
have a calm, two-way conversation. This not a chance for you to lecture. Find
out what objections or problems your ex really has about this – you can’t
solve anything if you don’t understand the problem. In many cases, the
other parent doesn’t fully understand the repercussions of not sticking
with the plan (such as the parent who sort of understands celiac disease enough
to buy rice cereal, but not enough to read the label to see that the product
also contains wheat). If you’re dealing with a situation where you’ve
made a choice that is not dictated by a doctor (such as a decision to go organic),
your ex might not think it’s important enough to comply or think it’s
just a whacko thing you’ve come up with.
Once you’ve pinpointed what the problem is, you can work on educating
your ex. If you’re dealing with a medical issue, ask your ex to meet with
your child’s doctor so he can hear it from the horse’s mouth. Print
out a few (not a giant stack) articles from the Internet that clearly spell
out the issues and how to deal with them. Then talk to your ex about what you
do in your home to keep your child healthy and ask what you can do to help him
do the same. Would it help for you to suggest a few foods he can safely make
without too much trouble? Could you suggest some restaurants that have foods
on the menu that are safe? Would it help to give him a written medication schedule
with times and doses spelled out?
If you’re dealing with something that is optional, like an organic diet,
you’ll have to be the primary educator. Talk with your ex about why you
think this is best for your child and what the concerns really are. Point out
how easy it really is to use organic foods and explain how accessible they are.
Organic diets are no longer a fringe concept and if you can help your ex understand
how mainstream this really is, it may seem more appealing.
How do you know if your ex is following through? With very small children, you
won’t unless there is a medical indication. Nagging isn’t the answer,
although helpful follow up can really work. Offer to take his sharps container
for disposal when you take yours. Ask if he’s having trouble finding things
to pack in the school lunch that meet the dietary requirements. Ask if he has
any questions or concerns you could help with.
If you have an older child, you’ll probably get feedback directly from
your child, and if you’ve taught your child to be a self-advocate, he
might very well be telling Daddy he doesn’t want to eat the cookies because
he knows they will hurt his tummy. If you’re not getting feedback, ask
a few well-crafted questions of your child. You don’t want to be an interrogator
who pits your child against your ex. You also don’t want to make your
child feel he is at fault for eating what the other parent has served. Instead,
casually find out what he had for dinner or where they went for lunch. Don’t
comment, just listen. Gather information without reaction.
What to Do if the Ex Won’t Play Nice
Let’s be honest about this situation. There are some exes who are going
to see this as just another way for you to try to exert control over him - another
way to tell him how to run his life and another way to criticize his parenting.
His response might be to decide not to participate at all or to actively thwart
the plan. If you’re dealing with a medical diagnosis that necessitates
a specific diet, certain monitoring, or prescribed medication and your ex is
not complying, your recourse is to go to court, because you need to protect
your child’s health. If your child is not receiving the medical care that
is necessary, you need a judge to order your ex to comply or to lose his visitation.
Supervised visitation is an option in these situations. Some parents will not
comply until a court forces them to become educated – for example, by
going to a class about diabetic diets. The idea of losing visitation can be
enough to get unwilling parents to suddenly comply.
If you’re in a situation where you do not have a doctor specifically
prescribing the diet (such an organic diet, or even a diet that simply excludes
sodas and candy) you’ve got a tougher row to hoe. It’s not a bad
idea to see if you can get your child’s doctor to agree to testify about
how the plan you have is healthier for your child and non-compliance by your
spouse is detrimental to your child. It’s possible the judge could order
your spouse to follow the plan or face a loss or reduction in visitation. In
most situations though, this isn’t going to happen, so you need to work
on how you’re going to live with the situation. Try these suggestions:
- Educate your child, so she can make healthy choices when with your ex.
- Feed your child before he goes on visitation, so that you know he at least
got one healthy meal and won’t want to eat much for a few hours.
- Pack some healthy snacks in your child’s bag. If his favorite raisins
are in the bag he might be less likely to eat potato chips.
- Send leftovers. If you made a big pan of lasagna with healthy ingredients,
give some to your ex casually. Don’t say “Feed him this instead
of that junk you have!” Say “I had lots of this leftover and thought
you could use it at your house.”
Creating a healthy life for your child takes two parents who are able to cooperate
and focus on the fact that what is best for your child must come first.