THE BLOG

Are Grandparents Great Big Sugar Pushers?

08/12/2014 16:19 GMT | Updated 06/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Parents and grandparents are squabbling over sugar. The sweet substance - and exactly how much of it children should be allowed - is causing a hostile generational divide.

Mums say to Grandmas: "Stop feeding the kids so many lollies. Please!"

And Grandmas reply: " Oh relax, it's not hurting them. You turned out fine and I gave you just as much."

How much sugar grandparents are shovelling into our kids is a regular topic of outrage among my friends. Some are quite incensed by the large amount of sweets, lollies and chocolate our children guzzle when visiting their grandparents.

The problems occur when children come home, bloodstreams pumping with sugar overload. When those sugar levels rapidly drop the tantrums and meltdowns begin, and mum and dad suffer through the fallout. This is what irks parents most: the fallout.

And the next day the children are hitting up parents for lollies. My friends and I joke that grandparents are the "sugar pushers" and grandchildren their "sugar junkies." Parents are the Drug (Sugar) Enforcement Agents.

Some weeks ago a friend imposed a complete sugar-free diet for her young son and daughter. She insisted their grandparents respect her new regime. But last week her father-in-law, Poppa, gleefully confided in me he sneaks brown sugar into the grandkids' porridge. And loads of it.

"And she (his grandchildren's mother) wonders why they won't eat their porridge at home. That's because it's bland, it's meant to have sugar. They eat all their porridge at my place," Poppa says, adding that he slips them lollipops too.

He reckons our fear of sugar is silly and that kids need the sweet stuff because they burn so much energy. His generation have no real beef with sugar. Have today's parents become a bit precious about sugar? Poppa thinks so.

Paediatricians and nutritionists believe that sugar, in controlled amounts, can actually have a healthful place in a child's diet (or an adult's). But many kids get too much, too often. Controlling portion size is important. The problem's start when children's blood sugar levels rise too high. Hello meltdowns.

Another friend's three children are loaded with lollipops and chewy caramels when they visit Granny's after school, or on the weekends. This is despite the mother's ongoing insistence that the sugar treats stop. Her children are completely wired and cranky when Granny drops them home. The irony, says their mother, is that Granny reckons giving sugar is "a sign of love". It's how she chooses to spoil her grandchildren.

Grandparents spoiling their grandchildren with sweets is nothing new. I remember my Nana buying my brother and I large bags of boiled sweets from the local lolly shop. Guaranteed tooth cavities, in a bag. We were regularly fed ice cream too.

Sugar was something to indulge the children. What's changed is our understanding of just how bad sugar really is for us. You have to be living under a rock these days to not know that excessive sugar causes harm. Which is probably why parents today are more mindful of its effects; and harp on to grandparents about reining in the sugar binges.

If you're an adult who has binged on sugar you can take yourself off to bed, or slump on the couch because you know how to manage the resulting tiredness. But children don't have the emotional wherewithal for this - instead, they hurl themselves around the house like mini tornadoes.

On the other hand, should we really sweat the occasional sugar feeding frenzy with grandparents? After all, time spent with grandparents is very precious and not forever. In the long run will the sugar episodes really matter, especially if it's not every day.

I'm actually quite relaxed about sugar in my family's diet. The reality is we don't overindulge that often. What bothers me is not so much the sugar (because that actually tastes rather good) but the painful hours spent managing the girls through their post sugar meltdowns.

My girls' Nanas will indulge them in sugar-filled treats. One Nana has a shelf in her cupboard which she has named "Treats". Its chock full of chocolate biscuits, candies and bags of unnaturally yellow-coloured chips. I've been known to raid it myself, from time to time. Nana's pretty good at checking in with me to ask how much she can indulge the girls, but I know that the quota is exceeded - regularly. I know this because the girls come home frenzied and wired, ready for meltdown.

Perhaps if Grandparents were asked to preside over these epic meltdowns, instead of leaving it to the parents, they'll see that a lot of sugar isn't so sweet after all.