My husband’s family tell me they are respectful of our decision to raise our kids as vegans; but then constantly ask if the kids can ‘have a bit of ice cream’, or ‘do they want the fish’, when we are out. It’s starting to put a strain on our relationship, as I’m normally a nice person and don’t want to rock the boat, but I’m afraid I’m going to end up screaming at them. What do I do to navigate this?
L from Ireland
I find that many people, including those close to us, like to use the term “respect” to mean that, while they don’t understand or have admiration for our decision to abstain from eating animal products, they’ll still allow us to be vegan. It’s kind of hilarious, considering what a non-gift this is.
When vegans are faced with this issue, I find that a lot of us exude a deep fear of being rejected by our family members, or causing rifts in already sensitive relationships. It’s, frankly, a phenomenon that I don’t quite understand. Your family members are the ones rejecting your decisions and causing the boat to rock. Making them aware of the chasm they are creating will help you both to build a bridge of understanding, and will give them the intelligence to practice the respect they preach.
If your family is anything like mine, I think your in-laws might not know exactly how to navigate your veganism, and are simply yearning to share something special with your children. From their perspective, animals and their products are simply food: it’s gross and sad, but it’s inescapable.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “oh it won’t hurt him” when a relative has tried to coax my son into taking a bite off their plate. The first thing I would do, if I were you, is to make sure my children felt empowered to say no. I’ve told my son, from as early as he could understand, that he’s responsible for making sure he remains vegan, especially when I’m not there. I feel confident, because of his self-regulated veganism, to let relatives know they can direct their questions to him. He always responds with a solid “no.” Once they do this a few times, I bet the questions will stop.
I find that it’s much easier for family members to hear it straight from children, with their own voices. When we say no for them, it just reifies our in-laws’ silly image of us as evil vegan captors of our otherwise normal children. If your kids are at ages or abilities where they cannot yet advocate for themselves, next time I would let them know that while you wish they could share more food together, your kids are too young to remember to say no to vegan food, and they would feel upset if they knew they were eating animals.
Another thing you can remind them of is that vegan children, especially those who have been vegan from birth, simply don’t have the enzymes or immune systems to handle some animal products, like dairy. If they don’t get the hint, I think it’s time for a serious conversation, away from the kids. Remind them about what veganism is and how much it means to you that they already respect your decision to raise your family in this way.
Let them know you’re afraid of hurting their feelings, and that you want to see them and eat out with them as often as you can. Strike a compromise, like pointing out accidentally vegan food they can share with the kids: those French fries are vegan, or maybe your little one would like a carrot from grandma’s salad, etc.
Your in-laws cannot express the respect you need from them until they know exactly what it is you need. If you treat this exercise as a gift to your in-laws, and not as a potential conflict, I bet you can do it without murdering one of them.
Best of Luck,
A Note From The Raise Vegan Staff
Don’t forget to check out the Facebook Group Vegan Eats For Smaller Feet, for some great ideas on easy peasy meal ideas for that amazing plant based family! If you’re looking for other like minded parents, we have the main group, Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting, over thirty thousand parents, all Raising Vegan! From homeschooling, to food and everything in between. We have you covered for every over asked question that may come your way. Check out articles such as The Rhogam Shot & Rh Negative Blood and Breastfeeding, Parenting and The Relationship It Brings.
Raising children vegan is sometime wrought with worries about nutrition, and doubts from outside influences. You are doing an amazing thing for your kids, the planet, and most importantly, the animals. We thank you, we are grateful to you, and we admire you! Keep on rocking vegan parents, we are changing the world together!