Controlling What I Ate Was How I Tried to Control The Messiness of Midlife Parenting

My lifelong obsession, and earliest memories, are attached to food. 

The smell of an onion sizzling in the pan reminds me of being small with the Saturday Night Fever album thumping on my parent’s speakers. Hearing the low pops of pasta boiling soothes me, reminding me of my Italian Grandmother’s “gravy” and her Philadelphia row home kitchen. 

I still long for the comfort of that world. But I’ve learned that food won’t fix anything. Making careful food choices won’t give us control over our messy midlife. Instead, I’m learning to eat through it. 

blond woman on front steps
I’m sick of measuring my worth by teaspoons. (Twenty20 @MusingsOfAmber)

As a kid, I could and did eat a lot

As a little kid, I remember specific bites of food, the moment when the melting cheese and meat became a meditation. Food was joy. And I could eat a lot. If seconds were offered, I was in. The usual was two-quarter pounders with cheese, a large fry, and a Coke. And as a high school athlete, I ordered two lunches in the cafeteria. I had no problem eating it all; they didn’t call me Side-Order Serianni for nothing.  

It wasn’t just the sensory pleasure or taste but also the community of eating with others. I have fond memories of our family of five eating manicotti under a yellow Tiffany lamp in our suburban Maryland kitchen. And I’ll never forget the boy who gave me the small half of his hoagie as I eyeballed it across the lunch table. Food meant I was included, that I belonged. 

Food made everything better until it didn’t. 

Food calmed my anxiety

It’s no surprise that when everything got harder in my late teens — applying to college, playing soccer on three teams — I began to eat more. I was anxious, and food calmed me. To self-soothe and fit in at college, without parents or my normal environment, I overate. I drank too much, ate greasy pizza at 1 am, and slept until noon, learning to be independent of my parents.

Before returning for my sophomore year of college, I had to figure out a way to hold all my responsibilities together — my double major, two collegiate sports, and scholarships. I sought to control all this through food, which I’d later learned is a trap. 

I lived on white rice. And Snackwells, those amazing, puffed pieces of fat-free chocolate air. Coupled with my new running routine, I could eat as much as possible. I learned how to maintain straight A’s and fit into tight black pants for Wednesday penny draft nights. 

I still try to control my life with my eating

I look back at this time with weird admiration. Those achieving behaviors are part of my DNA. And I notice, too, how I still try to control today when life gets too much, with two kids, a dog, a full-time job, and life on a 47-year-old hormonal roller coaster. I dip from Look at these magnificent trees! to I hate this lamp! Perimenopause is a dizzying whiplash; I often feel possessed. The calendar reminds me (since I can’t remember) to take my progesterone cream, ashwagandha, and drink my Tulsi tea. 

When my mom to-do list is a mile long, especially during those last ten days of my cycle, I try to slow down time and pin everything to the ground. I attempt to control something by measuring my granola to ¾ of a cup or eating only 17 chips. It’s when coffee becomes a snack, and I berate myself for not getting on board with intermittent fasting. It’s when I eat healthy TikTok recipes or nonsense three days in a row.  

This chaotic time makes me want to eat completely alone. As my kids keep changing, and the midlife ground beneath my feet keeps shifting, all while I’m hormonally imbalanced and out of whack, I need solitude. When I feel off the rails, I sit and eat utterly alone in my office, with the door shut, downstairs in the basement in front of the computer. I’m busy, I say. That excuse makes more sense than feeling like I’m making a big mess of parenting at midlife. 

The world feels out of control and so scary

I fondly remember the raw days of sleepless early motherhood with two small kids: the cold stroller walks, quiet naps, and a messy house. It was a precarious time, yes, but it was contained. The world was small — about a two-mile radius between the park, the coffee shop, and the indoor play gym. Sometimes I long for those baby classes, six-month-olds in our laps, sitting on a gym mat, a protective circle against the world.

Today, with older kids, our universe has grown exponentially, and it’s large and scary, and so often, I feel like I’m way-finding in the dark. I toggle between should my daughter get her ears pierced and Jesus Christ, another school shooting. It is a lot. Life with older kids opens up to more joy but even more intense heartbreak and hard feelings. 

I cope by controlling my eating since I can’t control anything else. Somehow, I think intentionally choosing my food provides a buffer against hurt. But I know that a salad won’t save me. The last thing I want is for my family to see my out-of-control behaviors, attempting to control what I can’t. 

I’m tired of measuring my worth with a teaspoon

Rather than retreat, I’m learning to stand in the crushing overwhelm of my and my kids’ lives. Balls will be dropped, and I’ll make questionable parenting decisions. But parenting, like eating, is about more than right and wrong or making good choices. It’s about sustaining ourselves, nourishing those around us, and learning to savor and enjoy. It’s not about failing; it’s about living freely, without self-imposed rules.

I’m sick of measuring my worth with a teaspoon. I’m finding a food place that allows me to savor my meals and my family together. In my most challenging mom moments, I need support when I want to go solo. I must remember what I’ve always known: food brings us closer together.   

I’m learning to eat and live without worry. I refuse to do Taco Tuesday alone.

More Great Reading:

When a Grumpy Teen Meets a Middle Age Mom

Midlife Is When You Should be Reaching for Your Goals, Like this Mom

About Natalie Serianni

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