Dinner time in my house is admittedly tense most nights. As I child, I was made (first by my father, then by my stepfather) to eat things I hated. Occasionally, I had to sit at the table until the food was finished. It was a struggle I carry with me even all these years later. I try not to enforce that same rule on Jax, who is almost 4 now. Yet I occasionally find myself raising my voice, temper flaring, at the dinner table because he either won’t try something new (or something he’s had and liked before but doesn’t remember) or he won’t eat more than 2 or 3 bites before saying he’s done. I often make two meals–one for him, consisting primarily of chicken nuggets (good ones, don’t worry) and mac and cheese (organic because he eats it daily), and another for my husband and me. It is hard to not be resentful about this.
Let me be clear: I don’t blame my father and stepfather for trying so hard to get me to eat things like meat, brussel sprouts, and milk. I understand, as a parent now myself, they wanted me to have important nutrients necessary for optimal growth–and I’m sure they didn’t want me wasting perfectly good food. I was a skinny little thing, just like Jax. Because he isn’t yet 30 pounds and is the smallest boy in his class at daycare, I often find myself worrying about his eating habits. The thing is, I know better than to obsess about this. The facts are: he is the child of parents who were very skinny as children, he looks a lot like my brother (who is still very thin), he is very healthy and happy, he has maintained the same growth curve since birth, and my coercion is potentially setting him up for food-related issues later in life. I’ve read Ellyn Satter, who advocates “division of responsibility.” In other words, she believes the parent is responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding a child, and the child is responsible for the how much and whether to eat the food provided.
I agree with this concept wholeheartedly and have the best intentions when it comes to feeding Jax. Yet possibly because of my own childhood experiences and my anxiety over my son’s growth (again, he is so little!), I find myself begging, pleading, and sometimes yelling at him to eat another bite. And another bite.
I need to chill the hell out about it. What I also need is for the people in our lives to stop pressuring me about his eating–not that they always realize this is what they’re doing with their comments about how little he is, how picky an eater he is, and so on. They mean well, I’m sure. And since I can’t change other people’s behavior, I should focus on tuning out those kinds of unhelpful comments. Particularly the comments in my own head!
This morning, I found myself googling “Do French mothers meal plan?” I won’t even go into detail about what led me to this odd search. But I stumbled upon a post by Jeannie Marshall, whose blog I’m completely unfamiliar with, about French food rules for children. I am fascinated and on board with these rules from a book by Karen Le Billon–although I hate to apply the word “rules” to feeding given that I’m already struggling with tense mealtimes!
The one that resonates most with me is this: 10. Remember, eating is joyful. Relax!
So, even if I forget all the other rules, I’m going to try my hardest to enforce this one. I’m considering commissioning someone on Etsy to make me a sign for my kitchen, to serve as a daily reminder!
Do you struggle with feeding your children? Share your experience and/or advice in a comment!