Wouldn’t it be nice if scientific research would help us relax a little and ease our fears when it comes to parenting? You know, like how we (mostly) no longer believe in witchcraft thanks to our knowledge of physics. Instead, we get reports like this one from Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH at Washington University in St. Louis, stating that more than half of all breast cancer cases could have been prevented by healthy lifestyle choices made in adolescence and early childhood. So basically, says that scary voice in our heads, what we feed and teach our daughters could give them cancer.
“Age 2 can seem very young, but it is the time around which healthy habits begin to have an important impact on healthy weight as well as physical activity and food habits,” Colditz explained to the New York Daily News. “So, setting habits early in life is key, especially with breast cancer where we now understand that youth and young adulthood is a key period that determines later disease risk.”
The article goes on to state, “He recommended that mothers of young girls ‘simply keep in line with healthy childhood recommendations,’ such as limiting screen time, keeping them active, and pushing a diet high in fruits, veggies and whole grains.” [Emphasis mine.] At which point, all of my paranoid alarms go off, and I don’t even have a daughter!
First off, I wrote to the News reporter, Meredith Engel, to see if Colditz himself actually said it was up to mothers to do this. To which she very graciously answered that it was she, in fact, who asked the question specifically about mothers.
Then I went and searched my own soul (don’t try this at home), because, yeah, I’m just as guilty as Engel and (maybe) Colditz: In my home, it’s absolutely up to me to feed my kid healthy food. To a fault. I freak out if a day goes by and I realize my 19-month-old has consumed nothing but bread and milk, and all my attempts at veggies have been thrown in my face. “Why did this become my job?” I whine, sitting on my hands so I won’t end up throwing those carrots right back at the boy. My husband, on the other hand, just shrugs and makes him grilled cheese literally every time he’s in charge of dinner.
This division of labor might have started back during breastfeeding or even pregnancy, when there was no choice about it. All of his nutrition was up to me. Or maybe my husband and I are picking up the gender roles of our own parents. We’re not alone, of course. A rather depressing University of Michigan study found that among 1,055 people with a medical degree, married men with children reported spending 12 fewer hours on parenting and domestic tasks each week than their wives, and married women with children reported spending 8.5 more hours on parenting and domestic tasks than their husbands. Not even doctors get out of the gender role rut.
On the bright side, Colditz placed just as much emphasis on parents leading by example, which means no one’s getting out of this responsibility. It also means I have an entirely new argument in my arsenal the next time someone wonders why I’m so worried about what my son eats. Shut up, [Judgmental Relative, I’m probably preventing cancer here!