This is something that I’ve struggled with for years, as Miette splits her time between my home and that of her biological father. He and I have an amicable relationship when it comes to Miki’s needs, and we work hard to go the extra mile to ensure that Miette gets plenty of quality time with the wealth of people that love her. That certainly makes it easier, but yesterday brought her return from dad time, and with it an uncharacteristic attitude. You see, we were doing an interview about being vegan/vegetarian for a journalism student, and while usually Miki is super excited to talk about being a vegetarian and animals and dinosaurs (all of these things are heavily interconnected for her), she was standoffish, evasive, distracted, and downright did not want to talk.
She mentioned to me, and the journalist, that she ate meat this past weekend “on purpose, but it was an accident.” A confusing statement, no doubt. Her father is an omnivore, but always has vegetarian options available for her, so this seemed strange, and given her demeanor, not something I wanted to further inquire about with a new person in the conversation. So, we dropped it until after the journalist left, and as we sat down to eat dinner, I asked Miette about it again. Apparently, “on purpose, but it was an accident” means something along the lines of “forced to eat meat by a friend’s parent.” During her time with her father, she apparently ate dinner at a friend’s house, and he was not present. Without going into too many details, even though her father told them she was a vegetarian, and even though she told them she did not want to eat meat, an adult, acting as an authority figure, told my daughter that she had to eat meat, and my daughter complied even though she didn’t want to. And, to top it off, my daughter feels guilty about it, because she is well aware that she ate an animal and she has pretty strong ethical convictions about that.
I’ve talked to her father about it, and he has agreed to put the kibosh on unsupervised visits with this friend. This goes beyond food: an adult coerced my daughter into doing something that we are opposed to and that made her feel uncomfortable, undermining not only our parenting but disrespecting our values. What would have happened had Miette been more persistent and continued refusing? Would this monster of a parent have disciplined her? And how? I actually had nightmares about this last night.
This is also difficult because she didn’t mention this to her father, instead waiting to talk to me. While it is nice to know that she counts me as a confidante and champion of her causes, it is important to both her father and me that she understands that while they don’t share the same moral opinion about eating animals, he does support her convictions and will stand up for her. Being a parent means being a protector, a teacher, an advocate. Apparently, however, this is not a universally held belief among parents. The entire ordeal has been wildly disheartening for Miette.
Honestly, I was preparing myself for the possibility of something like this occurring, but wasn’t expecting it so soon. I was a vegetarian child, although I was older than Miette is now when I became vegetarian, and I recall being bullied and mocked by parents of my friends at times. Perhaps as a side-effect of having a few more years under my belt, I was far more salty and sassy in response to such rudeness and didn’t take it so personally. So, now it looks as though it is the time to discuss one of life’s important lessons: age is not an indication of intelligence, compassion, or wisdom. And grown-ups are often times far more misguided and mean than children.