Article written by Ron Shulman
When it comes to the finer points of trying to raise a child as separated or divorced parents, we do come across situations where the parents have different views on diets and food-related lifestyle choices. In fact, this issue is becoming more common as more adults make the switch to all-organic, vegetarianism, veganism and gluten-free diets.
The motivation to limit foods or remove foods from a child’s diet may also pertain to religious-based constraints that prohibit the consumption of pork, shellfish, etc.
But no matter the specifics, parents’ questions to us around food and diets typically take one of two forms:
- “My Ex wants to raise my child vegan [or with some other dietary constraint]. Can I stop this?”
- “I want to raise my child to be gluten-free. How can I get my ex to cooperate with my wishes?”
Although they may appear different, both questions ultimately point to the same issue: How do separated and divorced parents come to an agreement on what their child can or cannot eat?
By Court Order
Perhaps ironically, the easiest of scenarios is the one where the parents have already raised the issue before a court, as part of their formal resolution of their separation/divorce issues. In this context, a court will evaluate the best interests of the child – after considering the parents’ evidence on the point – and will make a ruling accordingly.
The outcome may be a ruling that a parent is prevented from restricting a child’s foods (e.g. by imposing a too-strict vegan diet on a young child). Conversely it may involve the court ordering an unwilling parent to abide by the restraints or dietary wishes of the other as far as the child is concerned (e.g. making sure a child with a slight food allergy to strawberries does not get exposed to them during a visit to the other parent’s home).
Note that these kinds of court orders may become clearer under upcoming changes to the Divorce Act: A court will be entitled to allocate the parents’ respective “parenting time” according to a set schedule, which will allow each of them during that time to make day-to-day decisions about the child. If necessary, the court-imposed parenting order can expressly allow for parents who agree to raise their child as a vegetarian to each choose appropriate meals during their respective parenting time.
Where No Order Has Been Made
If there is no court order in place, then the parents will have to try to come to an agreement themselves. Although it’s easy to allow these kinds of disputes to become a power-struggle, the focus should always remain on the well-being of the child.
Of course, especially when it comes to food, the assessment of what’s in a child’s best interests can vary greatly, even between two parents who are otherwise on the same page as to how their child should be raised. There are many factors that come into play, including the individual ardency of the parents and the depth of their well-meaning belief that they are doing what’s right for the child.
The challenge is amplified by the fact that nutrition is not an exact science, and there are many conflicting philosophies (and fads) around which foods are “good for you” and which ones are “bad”. One parent may merely suspect the child to have food allergies or sensitivities, but may not have medical proof because the child has not been formally diagnosed. Or, one parent may be religiously observant, while the other is not. The non-observant parent may lack the dedication to adhere to dietary constraints in his or her home, at least to the standards expected of the other observant parent.
In the end, the answer lies in cooperation – and in many cases, compromise. Barring those situations where the child truly has a serious or even life-threatening allergy, parents who insist on imposing their own dietary and nutritional expectations on the other parent will have to evaluate how significant the matter is to them.