Wife uneasy with 8-year-old son’s vegetarianism

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: My 8-year-old son decided to become a vegetarian because he doesn’t like the idea of killing animals. He has kept it up for about three months. It’s slightly inconvenient in terms of going out to eat and having to prepare different things.

Recently, I said something about it, and my wife said, “I wish you’d talked to me before you made this decision.” She has also suggested a couple of times that we just don’t tell him meat is in something or has commented that he’s not getting all the nutrients he needs, but can’t specifically name anything he’s not getting (I make an effort to make sure his diet is balanced).

I’m just not sure how to respond from here. We’re usually on the same page, and of course, both parents should make decisions involving the kids, but I don’t feel like it’s even our decision to make. My son made it, and at 8, I think he’s capable of deciding he doesn’t like animals being killed for his food.

Answer: Good for your kid, and good for you. Not for quitting meat, per se, but for the willingness to stand up for something and the willingness to stand up for him, respectively.

That’s how I suggest you talk about it with your wife. Don’t approach it as a meat/no meat thing, but as a matter of respect. He decided this, you didn’t; your decision was to treat this as a matter principled self-expression for your son.

Instead of responding with this line of reasoning up front, I also suggest you approach your wife not with declarations but with questions. Or if you’re comfortable with it, with reflective listening – i.e. a restatement of something she says, as you understand it to mean: “It’s bothering you that Son chose to be a vegetarian.” Your wife then gets to respond with a correction – for example, “No, it’s not that he’s a vegetarian, it’s that I had no say in it” – or she can acknowledge that’s how she’s feeling. “Yes, it’s really bothering me, and I don’t know why,” or “Yes, it’s really bothering me because I don’t think an 8-year-old gets to run an entire household like this.” Or whatever else. The point of the inquiry/reflection is to draw out the real source of your wife’s objections.

I do think there’s another source, because she’s all over the map – wishing she had been told, suggesting food-sneaks (terrible, terrible idea – be forceful on that point), fretting about nutrition. When there are multiple points of conflict that aren’t particularly coherent, that suggests a bigger, underlying complaint that hasn’t yet been identified or expressed.

It’s OK that you don’t agree – even parents who are typically in sync will diverge on something – as long as you work together in good faith to find a solution you can both accept and apply consistently with your kid.

Comment: Eight is also old enough to start participating in some meal planning and cooking. Get your son an age-appropriate vegetarian cookbook and enlist his help in planning and preparing meals that can please the whole family. It could ease some of the inconvenience and nutrition worry, which might help solve the problems with the wife.

Reply: Genius, thanks.


Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.


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