Can I Have Another Snack?
Can I Have Another Snack?
31: Gentle Parenting Has a Diet Culture Problem with Eloise Rickman

31: Gentle Parenting Has a Diet Culture Problem with Eloise Rickman

Are the Crunchy Kids Really Only Eating Sourdough and Dandelion Butter?

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In today’s episode, I’m speaking to writer and parent educator Eloise Rickman. Eloise’s work focuses mainly on challenging adultism, championing children’s rights, and helping parents and educators rethink how they see children. In this episode, we touch on how diet culture shows up in gentle parenting spaces and how mainstream ideas of gentle parenting don’t always challenge where power comes from and how it’s leveraged. We’ll also talk about kids’ embodied resistance and Elosie’s new book, It’s Not Fair.

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Find out more about Eloise’s work here.

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Here’s the transcript in full:


Laura: Hey and welcome to the Can I Have Another Snack? podcast where we talk about appetite, bodies and identity, especially through the lens of parenting. I'm Laura Thomas, I'm an anti-diet registered nutritionist and I also write the Can I Have Another Snack? Newsletter.

Today we’re talking to

. Eloise is a writer ( ) and parent educator. Her work focuses on challenging adultism, championing children’s rights, and helping parents and educators rethink how they see children. 

Today we’re going to talk about how diet culture shows up in gentle parenting spaces and how mainstream ideas of gentle parenting don’t always challenge where power comes from and how it’s leveraged. We’ll also talk about kids’ embodied resistance and Elosie’s new book, It’s Not Fair.

But first - just a quick reminder that Can I Have Another Snack is entirely reader and listener supported. If you get something from the newsletter or podcast, please consider a paid subscription - it’s £5/month or £50/ year which helps cover the cost of the podcast,  gives you access to our weekly subscriber only discussion threads, the monthly Dear Laura column, and the entire CIHAS archive. Head to to subscribe now. And thank you to everyone who is already a paid subscriber.

Alright team, here’s this week’s conversation with Eloise Rickman.


Laura: Alright Eloise, can you start by telling us a bit about you and your work?

Eloise: Yeah, of course. And whenever I do these, I'm always absolutely terrified, that I'm gonna forget something really big , like “I'm a writer” or “I work with parents”. So yeah, I'm a writer and I work with parents. I write books about children and about children's rights.

And I've just finished writing my second book, which is on the idea of children's liberation. which looks at all different sorts of topics from parenting to education to children's bodies. And alongside my writing work, I also work with parents running courses on home education and on rights-based parenting and on workshops as well.

I'm also – at the same time as doing this – home educating my daughter, who at the time of recording is eight, which also kind of feels like a full time job and just because life is not complicated enough, I'm also doing a Masters in children's rights at the moment, which is brilliant.

Laura: Okay, I have no idea how you find the time in the day to do all of those different things, but I am in awe. And you mentioned that you just finished writing your second book, but you didn't say what it's called.

Eloise: Sorry, I didn't, you’re right! So it's called It's Not Fair. Which is a title we deliberated over for a really long time, but I really like it because it's something which we hear so often from our children's mouths.

It's not fair, this isn't fair. So it's called It's Not Fair: Why it's Time for a Grown Up Conversation About How Adults Treat Children. And that really does sum it up. It's really looking at how we treat children in all different aspects of life. And why a lot of that treatment isn't fair and why we need to rethink it as adults who have more power than children.

Laura: Yeah, and I mean, that's really what I want us..we're going to explore these ideas a little bit in a second. But yeah, I've had a little sneaky peek of the book so far. And what I read is incredible. And I'm so excited for this book to be in people's hands because – we'll talk about this a bit more as well – but unlike a lot of just, you know, gentle parenting, like, more prescriptive books, I think that just tell you how to parent, what I really appreciate about your work is that you bring in the kind of socio-political lens, which I feel often gets missed out of a lot of these conversations. So, yeah, I'm really excited about your book coming out and we'll pop a pre-order link to it in the show notes so that people can have that little happy surprise delivered to their doorstep. There's nothing better than, just like, a book showing up that you've forgotten… 

 Eloise: Oh, I love it. 

Laura: …that you ordered six months ago! 

Okay. A lot of your work centers on the idea of dismantling adultism. I'm not sure that people will be completely familiar with that term, so for anyone who is just coming across it, can you explain what even is that and where do we see it show up in our kids’ lives?

Eloise: Absolutely, and I think you're totally right that it's not a term that most of us are familiar with at all, and I think that's a huge problem actually.

You know, we are now, I think, generally, as a society, getting better at spotting things like sexism or racism or ableism, and that is really important, you know, being able to name injustice when you see it is the first step to dismantling it, to tackling it. Otherwise, how do you really know what it is that you're dealing with and why it's a problem?

But yet, when we think about some of the treatment which children experience at the hands of adults, whether that's the fact that in England, at the time of recording, it's still legal to hit your child, even though we would never dream of women being allowed to be hit by their partners, or the fact that, you know, it's still really normal in so many school settings for children to be publicly humiliated, to be losing their break times and so on.

All of these seem to be quite disconnected from one another because we don't have the language to join them up. And I think that's why having a word like adultism is the first step in kind of joining those dots and being able to see that children as a social group are marginalised and discriminated against vis-à-vis adults.

And I think that term probably feels quite uncomfortable for a lot of us, especially if our children are relatively privileged. You know, if you have a wealthy white child who is not disabled, the idea that your child is discriminated against or is somehow marginalised might feel really shocking. Like, whoa, what do you mean?

You know, our child is so lucky, but again, as we've seen with times, like with racism, we talk about white supremacy. The idea isn't that if you have white privilege, you don't have any other problems. You know, you can still be poor or disabled and still have white privilege. And I think in the same way we can see that adults have it easier in a lot of different aspects of their lives.

And that doesn't mean being a child is always terrible. It just means they're discriminated against because they're children. So the idea of adultism is really just a way of referencing this age based discrimination, which children face. 

And I think it really encapsulates this idea that in so many of our societies, adults are seen as the kind of default position, and they are seen as more competent, more capable, more rational, more sensible than children are. And there's a wonderful academic called Manfred Liebel, who talks about these four conditions of adultism. 

And one of them is that children are just seen as less capable, less competent, less rational, and that they're seen as sort of unfinished. So there's this idea that you're not really a proper person until you become an adult. And that justifies a lot of adult control.

Laura: Yeah. Sorry. I was just going to say, there's like this sense that, okay, well, you don't really know what you're talking about. You don't really have any kind of, like, say in what's going on until you turn 18.

And, and it's almost like this idea that, yeah, your life doesn't matter, anything that happens to you before 18. It's kind of like a write off somehow. Yeah. Anyway, that was just what was coming to my mind. And I'm sorry for interrupting you. I'm curious to hear more about these conditions of adultism!

Eloise: Yeah, but I think that absolutely is true. And that's a really big part of it or where we don’t see children's lives as important or their experience as important. And I think we're getting better now as a society at noticing when things are traumatic or when things are adverse childhood experiences, but often those are described in terms of: this has an impact when they become adults.

So they have poorer earning potential or it harms their future intimate relationships, but it's not…so much of it is not focused on children's lives in the here and now, and under adultism, it's very frequent, I think, whether it's in policy documents or whether it's in the language that schools use, or whether it's in parenting manuals, this idea that childhood is this sort of preparation or training ground for when you're a real person, for when you're an adult, and that parenting, education, all of these different things, thus, should be you know, optimising the child's future life without really thinking very much about children's experiences right now. 

So, and some other examples of adultism as well are, that tied to this, we often think that because parents know best, parents can protect their children from things that we see as harmful. And I think this probably links quite a lot also to diet culture and the way that we see that, you know, oh, I must protect my child from ultra processed food or from sweets because I know best, but actually these things can end up being quite harmful to children because they're not given the opportunity to take risks or make mistakes or to figure out their own body's needs, decide what's best for themselves

And I think there is this real assumption that adults know best and that if a child makes a decision, which is against what adults believe is best, then the child must not be capable of making that decision yet. They must be incompetent. So even if we're saying to a child, okay, you choose. And then the child says, well, I'm going to eat all of my Hallowe’en sweets in one go, or I'm going to eat all of the, you know, chocolates out of my Christmas stocking in one go. 

And then the adult says, well, actually that shows they can't be trusted. And next time we'll have to, you know, divvy them out or give them more slowly. And I think that sense that children cannot make good decisions if they vary from what we as adults believe are good decisions, also have a wider consequence in that children are really excluded from political decision making.

And I think this is twofold, both in terms of the fact that children can't vote, which as you're listening to this, you might think, ‘well, of course children can't vote, you know, why would they be able to vote? They're only children.’ But yet, this is exactly the kind of argument which used to be made for women not being able to vote.

Today’s guest - Eloise Rickman

And actually, over the course of history, we've seen huge changes in which populations were seen to be considered sort of capable and sound of mind and able to take part in the very scary business of voting and putting a cross in a box. And again, there are lots of people now challenging this, but I think just the very fact that we have a whole section of society who we say ‘you don't have a voice’ is really important to grapple with.

I think there could be an argument made for this if our politicians were genuinely taking children's voices, views, concerns into account. But as we've seen with things like education funding, childcare funding, the complete lack of any sort of meaningful action on the climate crisis, children's priorities and futures aren't being safeguarded by those in power. And we tend to have very short termist political structures. 

Which again, exacerbates this sort of, you know, serving adult populations, but actually the things that children need, the things that are important to children get completely left out of the conversation.

Laura: Yeah. Oh, I mean, I don't even really know where, where to kind of go from there. I think you've just…

Eloise: Sorry, it's a lot!

Laura: It is, it's a lot. And you summed it up. And I think, like, what I kept thinking about as you were speaking is, I think, there is this, like, notion or fantasy that we're not living in Victorian workhouse era, kind of, you know, we're not putting kids into workhouses anymore.

And there's this sort of sense that, like, childhood is held in such high esteem, such high regard, like…But what you're saying is there's a real disconnect, right, between this kind of, like, fantasy of childhood versus the reality of how we're treating our children. Do you know what I mean?

Eloise: Absolutely. Yeah, totally. And I think that's exactly right.

And I think, again, to a lot of people, it will seem strange to talk about children being discriminated against because we're spending, you know, hundreds of pounds on Christmas presents for the children in our families or because we are seeing that children now have access to all these cool opportunities that we didn't when we were their age. And we tend to think that childhood is generally getting better. 

And in some ways it is, you know, in terms of things like corporal punishment, we are actually getting better as a society. Fewer children are being smacked. It's becoming less normalised, but there is still this real disconnect between the fact that children are…in some circumstances have better material goods, except we're definitely not seeing that for everyone. And actually, you know, as we know in the UK, one in three children more or less lives in poverty, which is a huge political issue in terms of adultism, actually. And it is a real…it's a political choice rather than just a side effect.

And, you know, we might not need to get into it now, but there have been lots and lots of policy decisions over the last decade or so, which have pushed families deeper and deeper into poverty. But even for those of us living in very privileged households, we might see, oh yes, well, my child now has an iPad or my child has this, that or the other.

But actually in terms of the things that really matter to children, having a safe, healthy environment, having the freedom to be able to go out and see their friends without being overly controlled, having privacy, having independence. We're not really doing much better on any of those sort of key indicators, really.


And that power discrepancy. And I think that power is probably the main word in all of this, that adults still have the say, adults still have a final decision. Adults still have more power in our families…hasn't changed since those times. And I think that's what we're really needing to grapple with now.

Laura: And I think that that is shifting a little bit in terms of kind of the explosion of gentle parenting, which I think is a concept that probably most of the listeners are familiar with. But just for anyone who isn't, do you think that you could maybe just, like, give your…because I know there's no, like, one set definition of gentle or respectful parenting, but can you tell us a bit about what that concept means to you?

Eloise: Yeah, of course. So I think the way that gentle parenting, in a kind of mainstream definition of books like…well, I'm not going to name a lot, but you know, any kind of gentle parenting book you might walk into Waterstones and pick up off the shelf will tend to be much more child focused than, you know, Gina Ford type parenting books.

So it will focus on, you know, how is your child feeling, validating their emotions, listening to them, not making them feel bad for crying or for having strong feelings, for trying to work together with them to fix problems rather than just doling out punishments, you know, not putting children in timeouts, really listening to them, having a very warm, nurturing relationship with children.

It doesn't necessarily have to go into attachment parenting, but I think there is a sense in gentle parenting that the real aim is trying to have this loving relationship with your child, where they feel heard, they feel listened to, they feel seen. For me, that feels like such a positive move forward collectively as a society.

I know that my mum for example feels that she might have parented in a different way had she had more options around at the time. I'm sure my grandparents would have also parented in a very different way if they had had access to some of these ideas. So I think as a society we're definitely moving in the right way.

I think the piece for me that feels still sort of missing from gentle parenting, is a lot of it still doesn't question this fundamental aspect of child-parent relationships, which is that it is a fundamentally unequal power dynamic. So what traditional gentle parenting will do, I don't know if you or anyone listening has heard of this idea of these different sort of parenting styles from someone called Diana Baumrind, who talked about. On the one hand you have the authoritarian parenting. She's very strict, very cold, has very high expectations of children's behaviour. On the other side, she talked about permissive parenting. Which is very warm, but has very low expectations of children. So, you know, you might imagine a kind of warm chaos where the kids are kind of running around doing whatever.

Laura: Right. There's no, there are very few boundaries. It's a bit more of a…

Eloise: Very few boundaries.

Laura: Free for all.

Eloise: Free for all. It's chaos. Yeah. Kids are in charge kind of idea. Then she posited for actually the middle ground, which I think is what a lot of gentle parenting writers will refer to, is that in the middle you have what she kind of called authoritative parenting, which is both very warm, seeks to understand the child, seeks to not have too many rules, but yet still has those expectations in terms of behaviour.

So, you know, you're going to step in if you see your child drawing on the walls or going to hit their sibling, you know, you're going to have expectations, for example, of how dinner times might be held or how you greet other people. And I think this is where a lot of gentle parenting books sit, in this idea that you have power as a parent, but you use it benevolently to try and do your best for your child.

And I have a lot of sympathy for that. You know, I think as parents we’re under so much pressure to do well, to do right, especially when we're told from so much developmental psychology, but the impact of these early years on children is so important and it's going to ruin your child's life

But I think for me, what feels like perhaps the next step, and I think we're already starting to see more and more conversations doing this, is being able to step outside of that sort of traditional view that you're either very authoritarian or permissive or you're kind of somewhere in between and remove ourselves from that entirely and say, well, what about the power dynamics?

What if parents weren't the ones in charge, but actually we were in partnership with children, making decisions collectively and aiming for respectful relationships just as we would do in our romantic partnerships, in our friendships, in our work relationships of just being humans in the world, trying to figure out how to get along together in as respectful a way as possible.

And obviously this is much, much easier said than done. I am absolutely not doing this all the time in my own parenting, let's be really clear. But for me, that feels like the conversation we need to be having more of. And alongside that, it needs to be not just looking at the parent child relationship.

Which I think again, a lot of traditional parenting books will do, but really trying to understand that your parenting is impacted by so many things. You know, we live in a capitalist society and the fact that so much of our society is based on getting parents away from their children, separating families out, trying to put children into often very underfunded childcare systems, school systems, making it almost impossible for parents to be relaxed when they're having to work sometimes two, three jobs where they're dealing with poverty, where they're worried about the climate crisis, you know, these things don't happen in a vacuum

And I think it is completely unrealistic to be talking about having this beautiful, you know, egalitarian, no power differentiation relationship with our children, when we're not also trying to dismantle the many, many, many structural issues which are keeping us stressed and exhausted and, you know, kind of triggered by our children as well.

Laura: Yeah. As I was preparing to speak to you, I was thinking about a couple of New York Times articles that came out, I think it was last year, that really pushed back on gentle parenting.

And then I also saw something in Romper yesterday that was like, you know, here are 10 reasons why gentle parenting doesn't work for my family. And to me, I have a lot of, like, sympathy for parents who are trying out these tools, these ideas, these suggestions, which, you know, may or may not be helpful for them. But, you know, like maybe they buy into the idea sort of cognitively and emotionally, but then when they, when they put it into practice, like it all kind of falls apart for them.

 And it seems like with those NYT articles and, and with the Romper piece, it really was just missing the lens of like all the systemic and social stuff that we're kind of dealing with that makes it so much more difficult to have a kind of equal distribution of power in those relationships and and not, not sort of a certain power over but but you know giving power to our children to have some autonomy to have some say in their their day and over their bodies and what they want to do it all just feels so impossible when we have yeah like capitalism breathing down our neck, colonialism breathing down our neck, racism, ableism, anti-fat bias, like all of these systems that are, are making our lives so much more difficult.

They have an impact on gentle parenting or our ability to parent, but it's not, it's not the, the gentle parenting in and of itself. That's the problem, right? It's all the other shit that we're dealing with.

Eloise: Absolutely. Yeah. And like you say, I think there is a fundamental sometimes misread of gentle parenting, but it's just another tool. You know, you do this because you want your child to be more empathetic to their peers, or because you want them to learn more moderation in the long run, or because you want them to be able to self regulate their emotions. 

And some children absolutely will do all of those things. So there's lots of research showing that actually, if you want children who do tend to have more pro social behaviors, as they're called, that being very controlling, being authoritarian is not the way to do that. And the more we punish children, the more there are lots of different outcomes, all of which are pretty negative. 

But I think that still misses this wider picture that fundamentally we don't, for example, decide to not punish our daughter or not shout at her or not put her in timeout because we think that's the best way to create a good, happy person

Laura: Compliant child. 

Eloise: Yeah, we do it because it feels really fucking unfair. Like, I wouldn't want it if my husband was like, ‘Hey, I don't like the way you just spoke to me. So I'm going to remove your debit card for two days’. You know, that would be abuse. We would call that abuse.

He, you know, I wouldn't like it if one of my friends was like, ‘Oh, you replied to my text a bit late’. Or like, ‘I didn't like that you didn't, you know, you, you missed something out. So I'm just going to ghost you for a while.’ You know, that's not how we have relationships with people we care about, but yet we have completely normalised this way of treating children.

And I think that, yeah, there's a missing piece, which so many of those big New York Times and so on articles seem to miss is that this is not about having another method. This is just about fundamentally treating children like fellow human beings in a respectful way.

Laura: Yeah, you're so right, that oftentimes we're kind of weaponising gentle parenting as a, like as a ‘nice’ way, inverted commas, a ‘kind’ way, caring way to try and control and manipulate our children. 

Eloise: Yes, totally. 

Laura:  Like, again, I get that. I get why, like, you know, having some tools in your toolkit so that your kid will put their fucking socks on or brush their teeth in the morning so you can get out the door, like why that's helpful. And yeah, if we're doing it solely for the purposes of compliance, that in and of itself can become problematic because it's another way that you're kind of leveraging power, I think.

It's a complicated, kind of topic to discuss. Sorry, I'm having like a few different thoughts of where to go! I think maybe I'll stick with gentle parenting just because we've kind of been on that topic. And I was saying to you off mic that I have a feeling that gentle parenting has a diet culture problem.

And what sort of spurred this was a reel that I saw, I think just before Hallowe’en. So we're recording this at the beginning of November. We've just had Hallowe’en a couple of weeks ago and there was a kind of quite well known, like, I guess they're gentle parenting influencer coach? I don't know what you would, you would call them.

And they basically were talking about how they only let their kid have, I think it was like a cake pop or something on special occasions, which turned out to be like three times a year. And I was like, I was just waiting for people to send me this reel and be like, what, what do you think of this? And the first person to send it to me was Molly Forbes from Body Happy Org. And she was like, gentle parenting has a diet culture problem. 

And I wanted to get your take on that. Is this something you've seen in, not necessarily gentle parenting, I'm sort of picking on that, but like in children's liberation spaces where there's kind of like a, we want to change the power structures so much. But when it comes to food, and policing bodies, there seems to be like a bit of a disconnect there.

Eloise: So I think there are two different strands to this. And I think maybe first we can talk about the kind of more, I guess, like mainstream Instagram version of sort of gentle parenting, which I think absolutely does have a diet culture problem. And then maybe we can talk a bit about this idea of children's liberation, which I think to me feels much less…you know, a lot of the people I know who are talking about children's liberation are also talking about fat liberation, around black liberation, around disability liberation.

Laura: Right. They have that intersectional lens on. Yeah. And I think that's a really important distinction. So I'm glad, I'm glad that you made that. Cause like my next question is, was going to be, could you tell us more about, you know, children's liberation. So yeah, I'm really glad that you kind of separated out those two strands.

So maybe start with the, like, Instagram…which I can see, just like, I can see the despair in your face. I think it seems like how I feel a lot about, like, a lot of kids feeding stuff online is probably how you feel about a lot of parenting stuff.

Eloise: Yeah. Again, I think so much of it means well, but I think there is quite a big intersection between sort of like gentle parenting influencers on the one hand and wellness culture. And I think that often goes really hand in hand. So this idea of kind of like crunchy parenting, you see it a lot as well in homeschool spaces. 

So obviously I home educate my daughter. I follow home ed accounts. I often get shown stuff in my, like, what is it, like, ‘Explore’ section of my Instagram. And I think depending on where you hang out online, there is a really strong mix of, you know, I home educate my children and I gentle parent, and I also use essential oils. And I also don't ever buy processed food and all of these things coming together in a very aesthetically beautiful and pleasing package, which doesn't… 

 Laura: Ballerina Farm effect. 

Eloise: Totally. Yeah. I'd love to know if Ballerina Farm has a, like a secret snack cupboard with her kids. It's just like a munching on dandelions.

Laura: Sourdough and yeah, dandelion butter.

Eloise: Yeah, absolutely. And again, I think that is this sense from people who maybe were raised, you know, lots of us were raised in the eighties, the eighties, especially in the UK, didn't have great culinary vibes. Sure, like I get that we want to do better.

Laura: I grew up in Scotland, we had battered Mars bars. I don't know what you're talking about.

Eloise: That sounds great, sign me up. Yeah, I think that sometimes we can maybe go too far or not go far enough. So a great example of this for me feels like the division of responsibility approach to family meals, which I think for so many people feels like, yes, this is kind of different to how I was raised, you know, this isn't about children finishing their plates or being reserved the same meal until they finished it.

You know, you really do hear some horror stories when it comes to people and their relationships with food, which started, as so many things do, when they were children. Yeah. And so I totally get that there is this searching for something better. And I think for some people, this idea of division of responsibility, which I'm sure people will be familiar with as they're listening to your podcast, but this idea that I choose what to serve and I choose when to serve it, but you choose what to eat. It looks nice on the surface, but again, it doesn't have any of that interrogation of a power again, like I'm going to sound like a broken record, but imagine if my husband was like, ‘right, I've planned out all of our meals for the week, all of the snacks, all of our meal times, but like you can choose. It's up to you, babe. You know, if you want it, you can have it. If not, have shit.’ 

And I feel like, again, we wouldn't do this to people who were not children. You know, we might do it to people at institutions, but again, is that really what we want to be going for? And I think a lot of this is done with real love. You know, we want our children to be healthy. We want our children to be happy. We're constantly told in every aspect of our lives, if you have a fat child, they will be miserable and unhappy and unhealthy. And that's the worst possible thing you can do as a parent. And I think that unless you have really engaged with anti-diet culture, fat liberation culture, I can see the appeal of this quite like wellness, you know, Deliciously Ella style approach to feeding children, which I think goes really hand in hand with this idea of wooden toys and gentle parenting and kind of slightly alternative living, but which is packaged up in a very kind of consumerist way. 

Laura: Totally. Yeah. Yeah. I've talked before about not being a division of responsibility purist and kind of going back to what you were talking about before about authoritarian versus permissive, is that right? And then, yeah, I always get confused, authoritative is kind of in this, in the middle. 

Share Can I Have Another Snack?

And I think a lot of people do position the division of responsibility as being that middle ground. And in a lot of ways, I think, especially when kids are really little, it can be like a really helpful way to kind of parse out and, and help kids kind of understand like hunger and fullness cues, for example, and things like that. But yeah, like as kids get older, they, like, want to have a bit more autonomy over what they're eating. They want to have some decision making power. Why, why wouldn't they, right? 

Like you say, we make decisions about what we're eating all the time. And if somebody tried to stop us from doing that, we would like, yeah, throw a conniptions. So yeah, I think this is where the, the responsive feeding piece comes in, where it can be really helpful, is that it can be containing for a child to have sort of set meal times, you know, to know like, okay, I will always provide breakfast. I will always provide lunch. I will always provide dinner and, you know, snacks are maybe sort of like somewhere in the middle there. Yeah. I think having that, like a bit of structure can. In the same way that boundaries can be helpful, that that can be helpful. 

But yeah, if we are then, especially as kids get older and start socialising with people outside of our families and you know, are going to like, you know, outside of primary school, going into secondary school and have more, you know, have their own money to buy things, for example, if we are then still trying to like micromanage every single aspect of what they're eating. Then, yeah, that's really, really unhelpful. 

And I guess I never really thought of it so much as through the sort of like lens of power dynamics, but I think that that's a really important piece that you're, you're bringing to that conversation. What do you see in terms of, like, in those same spaces around like conversations about sweets and restriction and that kind of thing? I'd love to hear, yeah, what you see around that.

Eloise: Yeah, I mean, you can probably imagine, I think. And again, I think there is a real diversity. So I'm kind of caricaturing a bit here. And I think it's also important to say that, like, with all of these conversations…you know, we were just talking about division of responsibility.

I think that is quite a big gulf between, say, a wealthy influencer who is talking about this stuff and someone who genuinely has no choice about just serving three meals a day because they've just been to a food bank. So I think all of these questions around, like, giving children choice and being able to be very child led still do come with quite a privileged lens.

I have to say again, you know, in terms of sweets and things, I have seen people being like, here's how to make your own fruit flavoured gummies and switch these out instead. And, you know, look, I have no problem with any of this. I enjoy cooking. So that's something…like, I've never made my own gummies, but I would absolutely, you know, I sometimes make our own cakes or biscuits or bread.

It's fun. It's part of, like, eating nice food. I enjoy doing it. But I think this idea that to be a kind of good parent, you have to restrict…often the discourse is around, like, refined sugars…seed oil. That's a new thing that I haven’t really engaged with. 

Laura: Don’t, don’t, don’t.

Eloise: E numbers, red dye, all of this stuff. And again, look, I get it. I get that you want to give your child a healthy diet. And, you know, I think I would be hypocritical…like we also try and give our daughter a pretty balanced diet where she has access to lots of vegetables and fruits alongside things typically kind of coded as unhealthy, like chocolate or crisps. But for me, it just feels like it makes such a big issue out of these foods.

And then…you know, I say this as someone who, as a child, had quite restricted food. So I had really bad eczema as a young child, and my parents were also on a very low income, and so we didn't just have a snack drawer with loads of like pre-packaged snacks, you know, that wouldn't have been in my parents budget, and also with terrible eczema, my mum… She was quite a young parent.

She, you know, she didn't know what to do with it. And she went to lots of doctors. They couldn't help. We tried all sorts of different things. And one of the things she tried was cutting out refined sugar, for example, because people had told her this might help. So for a lot of different reasons, I had quite, like, a restricted upbringing in terms of, again, things typically coded as like ‘junk food’. 

And I really saw the impact that that had on me as I grew older and had access to my own money or had access to, you know, food choices at school. And I remember being absolutely mystified going to friends’ houses that they could have cupboards with, like, chocolate and crisps in and not just want to sit and eat the whole thing because like, ‘Oh my God, you have chocolate and crisps. Why wouldn't you want to eat the whole thing?’ 

And I think for me that has served as quite a powerful reminder of so many of the brilliant conversations I see, like the ones you have had around not overly restricting certain types of food. And I've really seen it in action with my daughter as well, where we're pretty chill about what she wants to eat.

It's her body, you know, we might have some conversations if she was wanting to eat doughnuts for every meal. What has been really fascinating is just seeing that because this stuff has never been separated out from other foods. She isn't hugely fussed. And again, you know, sometimes she is. Hallowe’en, it's really exciting to have access to all these new different chocolates.

Laura: Totally. The goal is not to take the pleasure out of food like that, right? Like, I think that's sometimes what parents…the interpretation of sort of the message that I'm trying to communicate and other people in this space are trying to communicate is that we want to, like, burn kids out on sweets so that they never eat them again.

That's not it. Like, food is joyful and pleasurable and like, that's, you know, especially in the context of kids not having any, like, any autonomy or any power over anything. Like, can we just throw them a fucking bone and give them some chocolate, right? 

I really appreciate what you were saying Eloise about, well, there were just a couple of things that I think, are really important to highlight, you know, in these conversations that a lot of people don't have the choice, right, to offer their kids a more liberal access to sweets and chocolates and crisps and things. And, and the restriction is born out of poverty and deprivation rather than what I think we see in a lot of sort of more privileged well to do spaces where, you know, people may have, can afford plenty of, I don't know, Oreos, but they're not providing their kids access to them. 

And yeah, I think also the piece around having complex medical needs where you might have no choice, even if there's an allergy or something where it's also really difficult to provide kids the things that you would like to provide them all of the time.

So it's not a straightforward conversation and I'm glad that you kind of brought in that complexity. Something else that you mentioned was, you know, if you separate out the kind of like Instagram aesthetic approach to gentle parenting versus kind of more of a radical approach to parenting that is rooted in children's liberation. Can you tell me more about that and yeah, how, how things feel different in that space?

Eloise: Definitely. So a very potted history is that people started talking about children's liberation with that language in the 1970s with writers like John Holt, who some people will be familiar with. He writes a lot about alternative education…wrote. And people like A.S. Neill, who founded the Summerhill School, which again is like a big radical school in the UK. 

But the children's liberation of the time – as many of the writing in the 70s was – was very radical, so it was sort of based on this idea that children should be given the exact same rights as adults, even when it came to things like sexual relationships or information in terms of, you know, children should be allowed to watch whatever movies they wanted to.I think some of these ideas are still absolutely worth exploring and engaging with today, but obviously some of them will be very radical. 

And I think what he missed…this was before the UN declaration on the rights of a child. And I think what that did is for the first time brought together this idea that children have lots of different rights. They have rights to be protected as well, as well as being able to participate fully in society and to be provided with basic levels of, you know, healthcare and decent quality of living and so on. And I think children's liberation now has to be able to grapple with these things. 

So the idea that yes, children…we should be fundamentally trying to rethink these power differences, but they do need to be also rooted in the understanding that children's needs are a bit different from adults and that we can still assume that children are competent and still listen to children's voices and involve them in every aspect of society without having to go as far as absolute like legal equality. So we can still give them equality in their rights and equality and just dignity in how they're treated. 

So for me, this is what Children's Liberation is really trying to do. It's this idea that it's a way to sort of combat adultism that we talked about earlier and really trying to see children as complete people who are able to have a say in every aspect of their lives and where they're really trusted. But that goes alongside having adults around who are also willing to provide support and care too. 

And I think that then when you start looking at things like food from this perspective, you really see it as just a wider aspect of children's bodily autonomy of being able to choose what happens to their bodies and for children to be able to learn and make mistakes. And yes, have it within these really loving, supportive relationships, either with parents or with other people where, you know, if your child is routinely eating so much chocolate that they're making themselves sick. Then of course, you know, I'm not saying, well, you just ignore it and you think, well, this is a great learning experience. Although it might be if they did it once, you know, this is about sitting down and having a conversation just like we would do with any other thing. And saying, how are you feeling? This is what I'm noticing. Do you want to talk about different strategies? You know, we can also have these just really being in relationship with our children and trying to figure these things out as a team.


I think it's fine to have conversations with children around, okay, we don't buy this food because X, Y, Z, or as a family we prioritise X, Y, Z. Does that feel cool with you? You know, is this working for you? It's not about making sure that…you know, sometimes I see the opposite position as well. Like, you know, mothers are already so stressed. Do you expect us to be short order chefs? Of course not. But it can be as much as checking in when you're doing the grocery shop and just being like, ‘Hey, are there any meals you especially want to eat over the coming week? Is there anything, this was what I was thinking, is there anything here you really don't like the sound of?

And you know, sometimes I cook stuff that my daughter doesn't like and that's fine. But I just have the assumption then that she can eat something else and I'm not going to be cross at her for doing that. Again, just as I would with my partner, I'd be like…I know the kind of foods he likes. I will sometimes prioritise those and I'll sometimes prioritise the stuff that I like. You know, it's just about being in relationship together. 

But I think we are getting better at highlighting where children are able to consent, for example. And I think that food is such an important part of that. And it's also such an important part of children's sort of embodied resistance when they feel that they don't have enough power.

You know, we tend to see a child pushing their plate away and being like, I don't like it. I don't want it, as bad behaviour or being overtired and maybe they are overtired, but also maybe they're really fed up of having their meals controlled all the time, and that's something we should at least be exploring.

Laura: Yeah, I love that in your book you have a chapter on, I forget what the title is, but it's sort of the intersection of children's liberation and body liberation. What's the title of the chapter?

Eloise: It's called Body Politics

Laura: Body Politics. There you go. And I love the way that you talk about embodied resistance and how children literally will protest with their bodies, like things that don't feel good, that things that don't feel uncomfortable.

And I think like you say, so often that's written off as they're tired or they're hungry or, or something like that. But oftentimes they're like really giving us a clue as to how they're feeling. ‘No, I don't want more food, like, forced into my body. No, I don't want to eat that particular thing. I don't want to… whatever it is. Like I'm fed up. I'm feeling like I don't have any agency or autonomy in any of these situations.’ 

And the only way that I can exert that is through, like, stiffening my body and going, like turning it into a plank so that you can't get me in the bath or whatever it is. I really love that section in that chapter where you talk about that.

Is there anything else that you wanted to say? Because again, like the intersection of children's liberation and body liberation or body politics is like, it's so much more than just food, right? That's kind of my, like, bias, but you talk about a lot of other intersections. in the book, and I'm wondering if there's anything else that you wanted to say, anything that feels really pertinent right now.

Eloise: Yeah, I mean, I think we're getting really good as women at noticing how things to do with our bodies are actually deeply political, whether that's diet culture, whether that's the way that we're marketed anti-ageing products too, whether that's abortion rights. There are so many different aspects to this, but we tend to see that these are political and that they can be engaged with in these political ways.

But again, I think we miss the nuance of this when we're talking about children's bodies, whereas actually even from the tiniest age, the way that we manage, measure, control, discipline children's bodies are all so deeply political and are all tied into all of these different ideas. And I think what we really see with diet culture is it becomes yet another thing that adults do to children from a young age and then children inevitably will often learn to do this to themselves and we see this in other things too, you know, and not all of it is bad. For example, many of us will teach our children table manners because we know that eventually it will help them later on in life because, I don't know, people will treat them better because they'll see that oh, my child is not speaking with the mouth full or whatever.

And that's part of that is just the social norms of whatever society you live in. And as we can see, table manners look radically different across the world. But sometimes, you know, and we can see, I think there are really strong parallels with diet culture and with the way that we treat neurodivergent children in terms of kind of masking.

And, you know, when you talk to lots of autistic adults or adults who are neurodivergent in other ways. They talk about how as children, they really had to learn to mask. And so much of that would have been adult led, you know, telling your child, don't wriggle, don't do that. Don't make that noise or your teachers at school…don't do that.

And then as adults, they've kind of internalised those things. And they don't do it and they mask so much and then, you know, so many autistic adults now will talk about this process of unmasking and de-masking and learning how to sit in yourself in a way that to me feels very much in parallel with people who as adults come to this idea of being anti-diet culture, of fat liberation, of trying to slowly unlearn these habits of how we look at our bodies and how we feed ourselves and so on.

And I mean, you can see in other aspects too, but to me, they feel, like, so strongly linked. And once we start recognising this, you know, so much of it is about how – and you've written beautifully about this in the past – how as children, we are so embodied, you know, we make sense of the world through our bodies.

We often…most children, unless children are very unwell, will find joy in their bodies. They'll move their bodies, they'll make noises, they'll explore things. And gradually as they get older, and sometimes from a really quite heartbreakingly young age, they will learn to start being critical around their bodies, judging their bodies, comparing their bodies to other people.

And I think that, again, if we are thinking about this in terms of adultism and how we can start to dismantle it, I think thinking about this lens of what does society expect of children? In my book, I use the term, we have this sort of normative view of children or what a ‘normal’ child should be, whether that's in terms of our physical development, what their body looks like, their emotional development, their intellectual development, and at every stage of children's lives, starting before children are even born, you know, we're ranking them, we're plotting their centiles.

Laura: Fundal height! Yeah. 

Eloise: Yeah, absolutely. And we're figuring out, you know, what “abnormalities” our children might have, you know, I've put that in scare quotes. And as parents. Or educators, if you've got teachers listening, we're so used to now viewing children through this deficit lens of, ‘oh, you're too fat. You're too noisy. You're not smart enough’. Rather than just seeing children as these glorious individuals who all have differences and who all bring different stuff to the table. 

Laura: Yeah, I love that. And I really, really love the parallels that you drew between unmasking and kind of unlearning a lot of the things that we have internalised around diet-culture, around policing our bodies. I'd never made that connection in quite that way before. And I think it's, it's really powerful. 

And particularly when you think about it through the lens of adultism and, and how so much of, so much masking is learned because of adults expectations and the power that adults hold over children. Likewise, you know, so much of the healing from diet culture involves unlearning the messages that we internalise from our, you know – and again, well meaning most of the time – caregivers that in a lot of ways we're probably trying to keep us safe, but in a sort of misplaced kind of way. 

So yeah, I appreciate that and I love that final sentiment that you had there around just embracing the differences that children have and, and the unique qualities that they bring and, and sort of…yeah, just kind of going back to what we talked about earlier, just really like having an appreciation for who they are right now, even if they're not adults, but the things that they have to bring to the table and that, that they have to offer, like in the here and now rather than waiting until they like ripen and mature or whatever. They're kind of bad analogies people use. 

I really appreciate this conversation. Thank you so much Eloise. Before I let you go though I would like for you to share your snack. So at the end of every episode my guest and I share something that they've been snacking on can be anything, a literal snack, a book, a podcast, a TV show, something you're wearing, whatever.

What do you have for us today?

Eloise: So I've got a great book, which fits actually really nicely and kind of accidentally with the theme of this conversation today, which is called Trust Kids. And it's edited by someone called Carla Joy Bergman. And it is this wonderful collection of, she's got some essays in there, interviews. Some of the interviews are between parents and their children. They've also got young people writing some of the essays. There's poetry in there, so it's kind of something for everyone and it deals with lots of different themes, including lots of themes around bodies as well. And it is great. 

And because of its format, you know, no piece is more than I would say four or five pages, so it is perfect to snack on. And especially as a parent or caregiver, you know how it is. Your kid is engaged in something, so you grab a book for two minutes and it's perfect to read while the kettle is boiling, whatever else you've got going on. And it is brilliant. So I can really recommend it.

Laura: Oh, I've heard of that book. It's been kind of on my, like, to read list, but I haven't got around to it yet. So thank you for the little nudge there. I'll link to it in the show notes so other people can check it out. And I really, I've been struggling to read lately. So the thought of, like, dipping in and out of something is really appealing.

Okay. So my snack is, well, today is actually my husband's birthday. So I guess my snack is birthdays in general. We've got our birthday tree up, which I've talked about before. It's a big bright pink Christmas tree, basically that we decorate with like happy birthday lights. There's balloons everywhere. And this morning we had a delivery from Flavourtown.

Do you know Flavourtown Bakery? Yeah, Eloise knows. So we've got chocolate sprinkle cupcakes. They look amazing. I'm very excited about them. And we're going out for dinner tonight as well. 

So like, yeah, just the whole like birthdays, but specifically Flavourtown cake. If you haven't had it, they do like vegan options. They do gluten free options and just like regular. And they're like American style, like loads of frosting. You can get, like, rainbow cakes. You can get ones with Biscoff. Like if you like a really saccharine, sweet, indulgent cake, then these are the ones for you. 

All right, Eloise, before I let you go, could you let everyone know where they can find out more about you and remember to say the name of your book one more time, uh, so that people can pre order.

Eloise: So yes, my book, It's Not Fair: Why it's Time to Have a Grown Up Conversation About How Adults Treat Children. You can pre order it. It's out in June. It's very exciting. I can't wait for you all to read it. And then I'm also on Instagram @mightymother_. And I also have a Substack called Small Places, which is probably the best place to kind of find out more broadly about my work and find links to ongoing things as well. So yeah, those are the best places.

Laura: We will link to all of those in the show notes so that people can find you. I really appreciate this conversation. Thanks so much for coming on.

 Eloise: Thank you so much for having me. It's been such a joy.


Laura: Thanks so much for listening to the Can I Have Another Snack? podcast. You can support the show by subscribing in your podcast player and leaving a rating and review. And if you want to support the show further and get full access to the Can I Have Another Snack? universe, you can become a paid subscriber.

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Can I Have Another Snack? is hosted by me, Laura Thomas. Our sound engineer is Lucy Dearlove. Fiona Bray formats and schedules all of our posts and makes sure that they're out on time every week. Our funky artwork is by Caitlin Preyser, and the music is by Jason Barkhouse. Thanks so much for listening.

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ICYMI this week: What Are You Eating Right Now?

Can I Have Another Snack?
Can I Have Another Snack?
Can I Have Another Snack? podcast is an exploration of appetite, identity, and bodies. We talk about how we feed ourselves and our kids (in all senses of the word!), and the ingredients we need to survive in diet culture. We’re sitting with the questions: who or what are we nurturing? And who or what is nurturing us? Hosted by Laura Thomas - anti-diet nutritionist and author of the Can I Have Another Snack? newsletter.