Oh boy… Yup – If you hear THAT sentence or variances along that line, then a tactful and carefully thought-out and well-considered response might be advised!
In my heart, I might be singing “Yes!”, but in my head, my brain is already envisioning the many possible repercussions of this statement… And I/we have actually lived through this… with varying results/outcomes…
First a bit of historical context: We have brought our daughter up to be respectful, as many…most of her friends to date have been omnivores, and to try to not make them feel bad or react too strongly with them on this topic, but going with the “lead by example, don’t preach’ attitude. However, saying that: kids are kids (esp young ones) and will sometimes just say the honest truth or as they see it. I have found myself, as a parent of a young (then) vegetarian, caught between my ethical beliefs and my knowledge of the real world and importance of social interactions and quite simply: Wanting my daughter to have friends and not feel lonely. So there have been many conversations over the years. Many along the lines of “We don’t look down on other people because they are not vegan/veggie – we respect that they or their parents have their opinions and beliefs and we can just hope that by being who we are and being vegan, that this might influence their own choices at some point.” And then this kind of conversation usually included reminiscing about how I was influenced by a vegetarian boy in my school…and how it changed my life. (Kids do love a real-world personal example!).
So the historical context is to basically say that my daughter does not go out of her way to have that discussion with her friends, but it does inevitably come up, of course.
Here are a few situations where this has occurred, and this is how I/we handled it as a family, and the responses… for your consideration! Oh and to clarify: I am not saying my/our response is ‘the way to go’; no:- it is down to your comfort level, ethics, the people involved and your relationship with them, etc., etc. But thinking this might help someone somewhere if they find themselves in a similar situation:
Early Birthday parties and tricky questions:
So: Having a kid’s Birthday party for your own vegan kid = not such a big deal. Ask the usual about allergies, and then keep it vegan (or vegetarian if that is where you are at). We have had parents inform us their kid has a particular dietary restriction due to religious reasons, and we were able to accommodate that, along with non-dairy requests etc. Home birthday parties have really not been an issue… Even when we ordered pizza as kids got older – just order plain ol’ cheese (vegan or vegetarian) one… and some snacks in case anyone doesn’t like pizza…. Simples. The kids didn’t ever really question it: it was all just party food to them, and so that question on “why don’t you eat meat?” hardly ever came up.
OK – now other kid’s Birthday parties can be more of a challenge: Years ago, I used to be almost apologetic about our daughter’s eating requirements/’restrictions’, when we got the invites, feeling like we were ‘adding extra stress’ to the parent… But time has passed, and we are not so unusual these days , and after the millionth (really feels like it!) party, we grew accustomed to how to handle this: We would of course, get in touch with the parent offering the invite, and after the “thank you, she’s really looking forward to this…” piece (which was sincere, btw), we would let them know that “…She is vegan (or vegetarian as she was in the earlier years), and we can easily send her along with something so you are not having to worry about that” etc. So this approach, even to this day, has often resulted in relief from the parent and a “Yes please, if you could send her with her vegan pizza, that would really help” and often I would hear back from our daughter that they provided vegan friendly snacks as well…. Which is a win- win and daughter is not panicking in case she is eating meat, etc. A few occasions, the parent has gone out of their way to make or buy something for her specifically, and we are always truly grateful for that… but we really don’t expect it. I have held many, many parties for our daughter in the past, I do realize how exhausting it can be! So now our daughter is an early teen, and can navigate all this herself and doesn’t really see it as an issue, which is great.
But what about ‘that’ question: Well… it has occurred at these parties… The early parties would occasionally generate at least one “Why does (your daughter) not eat meat?” And there I would be, stuck in between daughter and the blunt truth and young eager eyes, with parents hovering… I would usually take the diplomat’s route and say something along the lines of “Well, that’s because we are Vegan/Vegetarian… and we don’t eat animals.” Sometimes I would omit the latter part, sometimes I would add it. I did not want to dictate to someone else’s child, but at the same time, wanted to be honest. And so I would tend to leave it there. Tricky one though. I find most kids get the not eating an animal part, but it is not my place, I feel, to start that ball rolling… Maybe they went home and asked their parents – they probably did… And then it is up to their parents to answer them and have ‘that’ discussion, I guess. I am still picturing youngsters, btw, as I write this… It does tend to change a little as they get older, I find… OK, so that is the youngsters at the party one.. Next one:
Tween-age friend of daughter wants to become vegetarian:
So – jump ahead a good few years, and our daughter is now a tween – getting into clothes and TV shows, music etc. She has a close friend, who often stays for dinner or lunch at our house (vegan of course), and the friend tells our daughter she is thinking of becoming vegetarian. I ask daughter how she responded to her friend and am quite proud of her considerate and tolerant approach. I tell her this and remind her that her friend’s parent might not feel this is a good idea, so to wait and see and if she is told she cannot be a vegetarian, to comfort her friend, tell her she can keep trying, and that maybe her parent might change her mind in the future, etc. But actually, the parent respected her daughter’s wishes and even asked if she could borrow some recipe books to try out! I do believe that friend is still vegetarian and proud – and I feel so is her mother… and I really have to commend her mother on her trust and respect for her daughter’s choice. 🙂
OK…. So some tricky questions, a pleasantly surprising outcome, and then… there was this one…hmmm.
So we are hopping back a few years back to mid/late Elementary school age now. Daughter has a friend who comes over regularly for ‘play dates’. Her friend asks ‘the question’, and my daughter, still being quite young, bluntly replies “I don’t eat animals”. And so, as you might expect, this most likely led onto further questions (I was not present in the room at this point, btw). Now, this friend did have an unusual ‘pet’ animal they kept, that might be considered by some omnivores as potential food… and so I can only imagine the thoughts that began to flood her friend’s mind. Our daughter told us later that her friend said she did not want to eat animals either. I talked to our daughter and explained how we can lead by example, but cannot try to push people into decisions, and that although we feel it is good that she does not want to eat meat now, that this might not go down well with her parents…That they might disagree. And that, sadly, was the case. 😦
Play dates stopped happening. I had considered getting in touch with the parents and explaining we were not trying to indoctrinate or brainwash their child, but then… I had no evidence the play dates ceased because of this. And it could be something else entirely – kids fall out, right? But inside, I do feel this might very likely be the case. I told our daughter: “You know what? This is OK… because maybe a little seed has been sowed.” I reminisce with her how many of my friends/roommates in the past have (albeit sometimes temporarily) gone vegetarian or vegan whilst living with me… as it often just seems easier they tell me… And not due to my preaching – but they get to experience not needing to eat meat… and I think they like that… and I know I do!
So I have shared these scenarios purely as examples of the kind of situations you can expect from parents with typically curious kids. And you might respond differently – to which you have a right – and I respect that. I try hard to lead by example, condone respect, tolerance and hope that by being a vegan family ourselves, that this might influence others at some point. I do not want to dilute the impact of activists and animal rights protesters – for whom I do support, but my route – my journey and my place is peaceful respect and the hope for others to ‘see the light’ when they are ready – for their own health, for the planet… and of course, for the animals.
To all the parents of kids who are asking/wanting to become vegan: Pls give them time – listen to them. Do some research – and try not to search on the defense (“Why we need meat” etc.) but try to be open, watch some documentaries and (even if your child is quite young), take time to inform yourself so you can have a real discussion… maybe you are thinking it is a fad… but you could let them work through it. If you are concerned about missing nutrients, well, there are many excellent vegan medical experts, health and diet coaches out there you could contact. Oh and please don’t listen to the whole ‘where will you get your protein from?’ argument: Seriously, vegans can get HEAPS of protein: Green vegetables, beans, nuts, tofu…etc.
Good luck to all the parents caring about their kids: You are awesome! 🙂