Is food a symbol of love? Is food a substitute for love? Does our family feel loved as they enjoy the food we prepared for them? Let’s think about some of the roles that food may play in our lives.
Babies feel loved when fed
A baby, while drinking their first food, feels warm, protected, peaceful, sated and what evolves into …wait for it… LOVED!
Oxytocin, the love hormone, is produced in the brain of the infant while drinking milk. Skin and eye contact with the parent also promotes, among other positive feelings, a bonding while baby drinks from his bottle or from mother’s breast. Feeding time is also a time of having a parent’s complete attention and love. So soon after birth an association is created between food and love.
Toddlers learn mental and sensory stimulation
The toddler brain is stimulated as he learns the names, textures, tastes, consistencies and colors of foods. While being cute as they play and explore food, they receive the total attention from their parents which may help with bonding, promoting social development and hopefully feelings of being loved.
After School Snacks
Young students are often hungry, tired, bored or frustrated after a long day at kindergarten or school. They just spent the whole day learning about school subjects, social life, like making friends, and all of the stressors associated with school.
What happens when they get home? (I realize everyone’s after-school time is different depending on their home life, parent’s work situations, interactions with siblings and family dynamics.) But after school most kids are hungry, right? They want to “drown out the “droning” of the ABC’s; stop the drilling of math tables; in short they want to disconnect from the whole school thing for a little while.
My mother always had an after school snack of cookies and milk or some other sweet thing that buoyed our spirits above the drowning waves of school. We felt so loved and safe while enjoying our mother’s thoughtfulness which provided a balm for the stressors of education and social life.
I think most kids greeted with snacks and attention feel loved. Perhaps one of the parents, asks about their day while they eat. Again food may be a time of bonding, feeling warm, protected, peaceful, sated and…you got it! ..LOVED. I realize that some parents may be stressors themselves on the children to succeed and make “A’s.” That causes a whole different set of feelings in the kids (which I am not covering here).
Teenagers still need food/love.
Food, family and life changes when the kids become teenagers. After school the teen goes to activities with friends and may grab their own snack on the way home.
Then there is supper, perhaps not always the best time to relate to each other, especially when teenagers want their privacy, or one or both parents work and are tired. So now eating may become just a matter of taking in nutrition. Hopefully it is sometimes still a time for family fellowship, depending on the emotional dynamics of the family.
Now For The Parents
Both parents get a hit of oxytocin just from the sight, smell, skin and eye contact with their baby. The mother gets her milk flowing and the uterus tightens while breast feeding. Oxytocin is also released when hugging or being affectionate with the baby. So the giving of food and the conversation that may go with it, is associated with affection, warmth, and love for the parents as well.
When the children are young and the parents want to cheer them up with something that says, “I love you,” what do parents often do? They make cookies, go out for supper, serve ice cream, or some other confection. The parents may get a jolt of “love” from the appreciation of their kids.
Hopefully all the parenting we did when our kids were little stuck and the kids remembered, at least vaguely, the feeling of warmth, love, and bonding that took place when they were babies and on through their life.
We, like them, received oxytocin into our bloodstream making us feel all warm and fuzzy when we watched them drink their milk, learn to eat and taste food, refresh themselves after school, and hopefully we enjoyed their company as they grew up at the breakfast or dinner table.
Think about this: When your grown daughter or son moves out on their own do (did) you worry about how healthily they are eating, and try to give them food to be sure they were eating with good nutrition ? (Well I did, I don’t know about everyone else.) Or are we trying to tell them they still need us? Or are we trying to regain that feeling of being needed by our adult child again?
I realize some of this is over-simplification and certainly does not apply to all families. But it kind of makes sense as a few examples of how important food is to us above its nutritional value. Think about what role food plays in your life, the lives of your children, be they little or adult.