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Family Meals Focus

The Ellyn Satter Institute Newsletter

Prairie as a life metaphor

by Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist

This month, we have a change of pace in honor of August – vacation month, last gasp before the push back to school. This issue of Family Meals Focus is for and about young mothers who are finding their way with home and career. Many of today’s young fathers identify with this story, as well, and you have my blessings. We are all in this together.

Weaving together all the threads

One of my friends, now in her 40s, recently got a job that allows her to weave together the threads of everything she has ever done. After getting her education and working a while, she took time out to raise her family. I have seen many other women and a few men do this, and I did it too. I consider it a great privilege, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. At the same time, it was hard. I still don’t fully understand why staying home with children is so hard. I have seen others experience the same ennui that I did, and beyond offering my encouragement, I haven’t been able to explain what those feelings are all about. I suspect that it has something to do with lack of creativity. It seems so irreverent to say that being with children 24/7 is not creative, but there it is!
During those stay-at-home years, to challenge myself, I worked part-part time, did volunteer work, read and thought, taught and took the occasional workshop and University course, and puttered away at writing Child of Mine. When I was 41 years old, my youngest child was 11 years old, Child of Mine was published, I got my master’s degree in clinical social work, and I hung out my shingle as a family therapist specializing in eating and feeding. At that point, I discovered that those child-raising years had been tremendously productive for me. To tell you why, let me share a metaphor that grows out of my native gardening hobby.

  It’s all about trust in yourself and your life circumstances.


We remember the pre-settlement prairie

I love the prairie, and here in Wisconsin we enthusiastically preserve prairie remnants and restore native prairie. In pre-settlement times, grasses and flowers dominated the plains from the Appalachians to the Rockies. Prairies grew “as tall as a man on horseback” and were broken only by the occasional small grove of huge old oak trees. Periodically, fires swept the prairies and reduced them to ash. The fires were started by lightening or by Indians who had observed that grazing animals preferred the tender grass that grew back through the ashes. The old oaks survived the fires because they had very thick bark. In contrast, the young oaks that sprouted from the acorns were burned to the ground.
When the settlers came, they plowed the prairies to plant their crops, and that stopped the fires. And the young oaks grew like weeds. The settlers got the impression that the oak was a very fast-growing tree, when in reality, it grows very slowly. But those young oaks had root systems which were decades – centuries – millennia old. When the fires stopped, they got their chance, and grew and grew.

You are developing your roots

You are like the young oaks. Over the years, as you raise your family and live your life, you develop your root systems – your skills and resources. When the time is right, you too will grow rapidly. I was born in 1942, and I think I got a lot accomplished in the last 35 years. The same can hold true for you. Trust yourself, trust life to give you opportunities to grow, do it at your own pace, and know that you will find the path that is right for you. What does this have to do with eating competence and feeding dynamics?  It’s all about trust – trust in yourself and your life circumstances.

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