Who decides what foods to give your baby, and when to give them? Chances are, probably you—the parents. Grandparents, friends, and strangers may have their own opinions and suggestions, but the final decision belongs to the parents.
Or so I thought, at least.
We’re not into junk food. I can’t say we’re vegans, vegetarians, or organic-food-only people. We’re not. But we try to eat healthfully, and we try to avoid giving our kids junk.
So you’d probably expect that our kids wouldn’t have tasted junk of any kind until they were at least 1.5 (especially since we don’t use daycare).
Except that here in Israel, every kid is everyone’s kid. Every baby is everyone’s baby. And while I love this culture, and I love the warmth and family-like feeling here in this country, sometimes I don’t like the “side effects.”
READ: I Fed My Kid Only Candy For a Day & This is What Happened
My son received his first bag of Bamba at the age of 7 months. He received a store-bought chocolate chip cookie at 8 months, when my husband’s back was turned and a neighbor in synagogue handed him a cookie from the table.
My daughter received Cheetos at 11 months. She got chocolate cake (mine) at about 7 months, but that was my choice (second kid, more relaxed mom). But the chocolate pudding at 11 months was not my choice. (We did give her Bamba at around 6 months, because hey, if it can prevent peanut allergies, why not?)
When our kids were given these things, we weren’t asked. The people who gave them these “treats”—security guards (Bamba and chocolate pudding), neighbors (chocolate chip cookies), and students (Cheetos)—decided that my babies “needed” these things.
The reason? Either, “Because it’s healthy, and s/he needs it,” or, “Because s/he likes it, and kids deserve to have some treats.”
We weren’t asked. In fact, in most cases, we protested. But how do you take a piece of Bamba out of your kid’s hands, in front of the people who are telling you not to?
And these people are usually older than you. They “know more” than you. Often, they could be your parents, or almost your parents. They’re kind of pushy, and even though you could argue with them, it’s really hard. Try to think of logical arguments when you’re worried about your kid, in front of your kid. Try to think of logical arguments when you’re feeling like you’re the odd one out and maybe just an overprotective parent.
READ: Why I Worry About Other Kids’ Food Allergies
You’ll probably get why we felt half helpless, half amused, a quarter appreciative, and a quarter annoyed.
So, who decides what your kids eat and when?
Honestly, I don’t know. Usually, it’s me or my husband. But when we’re out, I try to smile and let go.
I want to appreciate the genuine concern and love that Israelis have for every kid. I try to remember all the times I asked, was asked, or simply witnessed, a parent leaving their kid with a perfect stranger, so that the parent could pee, nurse, wash their hands, or chase their older kid.
I try to remember the time, when I was pregnant with my son, stuck on a sunny bus in a traffic jam. The lady sitting next to me gave me her second bottle of tea, with a straw, because she saw that I looked dizzy. I met her again a few weeks after he was born, and she asked me what I’d had and wished me mazel tov.
I want to remember why I live here: because the people are terrific; because they are honest, caring, and worry about each other as if we were family.
When there is a war in the north, residents of the center and south open their homes to those living in the north. They offer a safe place to stay, homemade food to eat, and the comfort of their collective embrace…for free. When there is a war in the south, the residents of the center and north turn around and offer the same hospitality that they received just a few years prior.
READ: Me, My Adopted Sons, and Our War with Food
When there are air-raid sirens at unexpected hours, families who live on the ground floor and have a safe room are happy to leave their front doors unlocked so that anyone passing by can easily access a protected space.
So the next time my kids receive junk food (that we’d never buy) from well-intentioned strangers (or friends), I think I’ll give up after the initial protest and just enjoy living in Israel.