A month or so ago Warren linked to an article
about an incident where a monitor in a cafeteria decided that the bagged lunch a child’s mother had packed for her didn’t meet the state’s requirements (even though it actually did), and forced the kid to get a cafeteria lunch instead and charged the parent for said lunch. It may seem like an isolated incident, and in this case there was some overreaching, but if things continue as they are I worry that it is more a sign of things to come.
It may interest you to know that the lunches I packed for Margaret to eat at preschool last week would not have measured up to the standards of the school in the article. I would have been in violation. What did I pack for Margaret? Last week both lunches contained a baby back rib (leftover from a Red Bones order), a generous handful of baby spinach leaves, 5 or 6 baby carrots, a clementine orange, a strawberry, and an 8 ounce bottle of water. I’m hoping that right about now you are wondering what the heck was wrong with those lunches. Obviously since I packed them I think they were just fine, and given that Margaret ate everything except the strawberry (which she shared with Duncan at home) and some of the spinach I’m guessing she was satisfied with her lunch. The “problem” with the lunches I packed for Margaret last week was that they contained neither a grain nor a dairy item. Would Margaret’s lunch have been healthier if I’d omitted some of the fruit and vegetable items and instead added in a handful of pretzels and a piece of cheese? I don’t think so, but that would have made it comply with the standards of the school in the article. Luckily for me the only constraint Margaret’s preschool puts on lunches is that they not contain anything that is allergenic to any of her classmates. It’s a bit of a pain that I can’t give her some things she loves (walnuts, cashews, grapes), but at least they’re not micro-managing what I do pack.
I know there are some bad parents out there. I know that there are some parents who no doubt send their kids off to school with a bag of chips, a can of soda, and a sandwich containing some heavily processes meat, and they consider that OK. I know that there are more and more overweight and obese children out there. I know that people want to do something when they see bad parenting. The problem is, what constitutes bad parenting is often not clear cut. If I had a child who was both lactose and gluten intolerant, being forced to include both a grain and a dairy item in each and every lunch would be bad for them in a way that most people I know can understand. I also imagine that my vegan friends would be horrified if they were required to provide their kids with both a meat and a dairy item in each and every lunch. Most of the parents I know care about what foods they give their child. Having specific regulations on what must be in a school lunch is intrusive and an unnecessary burden on the majority of parents who know their child better than anyone else and who do their best to give their child food that is reasonably nutritious and something their child is willing to eat.
While we haven’t personally had any issues with food, we have been affected by how heavily preschools are regulated in this state. Margaret’s preschool has a mandatory nap period right after lunch. This is due to state regulations for kids her age. The thing is, Margaret stopped napping on a daily basis over a year ago, and she’s down to napping maybe once a week these days. Some kids just need less sleep than other kids the same age. Duncan has consistently needed more sleep than Margaret did at a similar age, so I don't think my parenting is the only factor in how little Margaret sleeps. When Duncan’s three and a half he may well benefit from a daily nap, but right now it’s wasted time for Margaret who is bored during this time and does not want to stay on her mat. I’m assuming that since Margaret’s school is a Montessori school that if it were up to them they’d try to find some solution that met the individual needs of each child if it were not for the state regulations. State regulations are also keeping Duncan out of the preschool next year. The preschool is licensed for kids who are 2.75 years old and older. Duncan will be a few weeks shy of this in September. In theory we could ask the school to try to get a waiver and take him, but when I asked about this the director said that her inspector had previously told her that he would not give her a waiver for any child, and the child she’d been asking about then was only three weeks shy of the cut-off. Why? They’re worried about evacuating the building in case of a fire, and “toddlers” need more help walking than “preschoolers”. I’ve no idea what sort of magic they expect to happen between 2.6 years old and 2.75 years old in terms of walking. I’d also note that Duncan has been walking on his own since before he was 10 months old and currently runs, jumps, climbs ladders twice his height, and can follow instructions. I understand that having some regulations on preschools is a good thing, but there needs to be some recognition that kids are individuals who do not have uniform needs. In other word's, I'd be a lot happier with a system where the people who know and interact with the individual children have some leeway to use their judgement.
My big worry is where does this stop? It seems that the lives of kids are getting more and more regulated, and I don’t think it’s a good thing. Kids are individuals, and sweeping regulations meant to cover everyone are just going to get in the way of taking care of each individual child. We're not raising an army of clones, or at least I don't think we should be trying to.