Working On It

My Need To Patrol My Family’s Healthy Choices Has Itself Become Unhealthy

Here’s how I’m trying to do better.

by As Told To Matt Christensen
Originally Published: 
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images

Health and fitness have always been a big part of my life. I want to foster a healthy, positive environment around wellness for my family, but I can sometimes go too far. I’m trying to build a less rigid mindset about nutrition, exercise, and wellness and set a better example, one that provides a more relaxed atmosphere where health and happiness coexist.

While my wife and kids understand the importance of health, there are moments when my pursuit of perfection creates a sense of rigidity. They don’t resent it, but they sometimes feel the pressure of my high standards, which, in turn, influences their own choices.

I became aware of this through open conversations with my wife and kids. They expressed hesitation when choosing foods, often asking if something was 'healthy enough.' It was an eye-opener for me as a father. And it was challenging to realize that I had indirectly impacted their relationship with food. It was humbling, and prompted me to change my approach.

“Working On It” is a regular series about self-improvement. In each installment, a dad talks to us about a bad habit he has, how it affects him and his family, and what he’s doing to work on it. Here, Joe, a 37-year-old father talks about how his over rigidity about healthy choices frustrated his family.

It’s not always easy. There have also been occasions where I've planned a wholesome, balanced meal, only to face resistance from family members. It's frustrating, trying to serve a nourishing salad when the kids have their hearts set on fast food or other tempting yet less healthy choices. These moments can turn family meals into dilemmas. But I’ve learned that they can also be opportunities for discussions and decisions about healthy choices.

Of course, working on cultivating meaningful health isn’t just about eating. It’s about balance and mindfulness. I once had a late-night editorial meeting with my staff. I was so immersed in the Zoom call that I lost track of time, missing my daughter's school performance.

And, when I come home after a hard day and feeling physically and emotionally drained, there are moments when I am emotionally distant and struggle to be fully present in my family's conversations and activities. They notice this, and it has an impact on the quality of our interactions. They’ve let me know they miss having me fully engaged.

I’ve taken several steps to help reset and redefine what is important to me, and to my family. I begin and end each day with meditation and practicing gratitude — setting intentions and thinking of things I'm grateful for. Even if it's just for 10 minutes.

And I try to make opportunities for health and wellness that involve everyone, and are fun and enjoyable. We recently organized a backyard Olympics. The first time I suggested it? There was a mix of curiosity and skepticism, but they eventually warmed to the idea. The event was a success, filled with laughter and friendly competition. It was encouraging to see the initial hesitation turn into enthusiasm.

We’ve also designated device-free zones and hours, which has been a crucial step. At our home, these zones include the dining area, where phones and tablets are off-limits during mealtimes, and the hours are typically from 6 to 9 pm. Initially, we found it challenging to adjust, but we all — including myself — have slowly acclimated to these boundaries.

My mission is trying to find a balance between health, well-being, and a happy family. It’s an ongoing journey and, so far, we're all embracing healthier, more active lives. And while it's wonderful to see everyone participating with enthusiasm, there's always room for growth.

I'm still working to make these activities a consistent part of my family life and, in the process, create a foundation for lifelong habits that promote both health and happiness.

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