I have a fuzzy memory from when I was about 23 or so, sitting at a breakfast restaurant, eyeing the table next to me where a family of five was trying to eat together. There was the mom and dad, of course, and three unruly toddlers. I still remember the misplaced disdain that washed through me as I watched the scene unfold. Mom and Dad were desperately trying to get their kids to eat something—pancakes?—and the kiddos were making a giant mess of syrup and spilled milk. I sat at my own quiet table, full of haughty pride, thinking, “My children will never be like that. Surely not.”
This is me, right now, eating my humble pie.
Fast forward a few years and I have a 3 year old and an 18 month old. And it just so happens that my two boys are quite possibly the pickiest eaters alive on this planet Earth.
I’ve tried all manner of things to remedy this pickiness. I’ve read the books, listened to the podcasts, scrolled through the recommended Instagram accounts, taken a course, listened to advice, talked with the pediatrician, consulted therapists. Nothing. Works.
“Where did I go wrong?” My mom brain wonders.
Sitting in a restaurant with our children is basically my personal Hell, so Rob and I try to avoid it. We go out to eat still, but we shell out for a babysitter. I tell myself that my boys can try a restaurant when they’re eighteen. Maybe by then, they will be willing to try even a chicken nugget.
I tried fighting the food battle with sword and shield. And oh, I fought valiantly. But fighting made dinnertime awful. One of the four of us would end the meal in tears. (Most often: me.) Rob and I came to dread dinner—the hardest meal—and something that was supposed to make for sweet family memories turned into something we just had to get through.
Their pickiness was maddening. I couldn’t make sense of it, couldn’t understand how to fix it. I gritted my teeth and kept at it, determined to change them into good eaters. Determined to pass on good nutrition.
And our boys met my stubbornness with their own. We ran into something called “cheek hoarding”, where essentially Auden would take a bite of food, hold it in his cheek, and refuse to swallow for the entirety of the meal. He would sit there for literally an hour, with one bite of food in his cheek, and no amount of my demanding or pleading could get him to swallow it. My desire to get my children to eat decently turned into a power struggle of epic proportions.
Somewhere in the food battle, I lost my love and tenderness and patience. I realized I was losing my temper more than I was keeping it at meal times, and that was not okay with me.
So I set down my sword. Hesitantly set down the shield.
I think it’s part of parenting to teach your kids to eat well and balanced. But even more importantly in parenting is loving your kids where they’re at, being emotionally present, holding them with tenderness, treating them with kindness and patience. Because I was so caught up in the eating, I forgot what was more important.
So now, I take a much more laissez-faire approach to my children’s’ eating habits. I’ve released my iron grip of control, and with it, released unrealistic expectations and unnecessary frustration. I’ve stopped comparing the boys to other kids and have accepted the mantra “it is what it is” at the dinner table.
This has not solved their pickiness whatsoever. Maybe it’s made it worse. But it has radically changed my attitude, and I’m a better mom for it.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many vegetables my children will or will not eat but, rather, if I’ve loved my boys well. And if a surrender in the food battle means I’m loving them better, then so be it.
One day they will try a new food and enjoy it. One day they will eat a carrot. Today is not that day.
In the meantime, my boys will be eating macaroni and cheese, and I’ll keep sneaking spinach in their smoothies, and the world will spin on, and they will be just fine.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Breaking News”
If you enjoy reading my blog, please subscribe to get it right to your inbox!