Sunday, 2 November 2008

Am I the worst mother?

My daughter's eating habits have been a source of difficulty for me from the moment she started solid food. I opted to try baby-led weaning and by nine months she was still almost exclusively breastfed! It's not that she's especially fussy but that she doesn't really see the point in eating unless she's starving, in which case she must have some food NOW!! So I spend an equal amount of time persuading her to eat up her meals as I do trying to reason with her that I don't have any food in the midde of the park/museum/swimming pool. It is frequently a source of tension and distress on both our parts as I try to come up with new and inventive ways to get her to eat a sensible amount at a meal times, choose a filling snack mid-morning/afternoon and not fuss about every meal. Three days ago we started yet another star chart, which worked great on day one, so-so on day two and failed dismally yesterday.
The thing was, she said she felt sick. She didn't look great and felt a little hot so we didn't force the issue of lunch. An hour later, she was complaining of hunger, so I fixed her a snack from her new list of options that we had chosen in the supermarket, typed and laminated and pinned up in the cupboard. She had a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt and then complained of feeling sick.
What would you do? What would a caring and compassionate mother do? What would a wise mother do?
I sat down with her and spoon-fed her the yoghurt. At least I did, until she threw the whole lot - juice, breakfast and yoghurt - up all over the floor, my slippers and my trousers!
I can't say I was patient, kind or sympathetic, but once I'd cleaned her up she got to sit on the sofa with a Disney movie.
At tea-time I suggested to my husband that we didn't force the issue of making her eat. Her response was to dance around the kitchen telling her brothers in a sing-song voice that she didn't have to have any tea!
Am I the world's worst mother for forcing my child to eat until she is sick? Or am I being played for a fool?


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what I'd do but I don't think you are anywhere near the worst mother. My kid has always been a good eater but some kids just need less food than others. I think maybe the important thing is that what she does it is reasonably varied so she's getting all the nutrients she needs. That said, one of my friends had a picky toddler and her doctor told her that as long as the kid's diet balanced over 6 months, that was okay.

When I think about food and eating habits, I think about what I want my child to learn about food. And what I don't like about other people's food habits. And what comes up for me is people not being in touch with their bodies and what their bodies are telling them. So I would try to move towards respecting her own interpretation of her body. Let her eat when she is hungry and not eat is she is not. That'll mean making sure you always have something with you when you go out (healthy snacks). But it sounds like she never wants to eat much at any given time anyway so maybe just a couple of little plastic boxes with nuts, fruit, cereal and some kind of drink.

Of course there is another function of family meals, which is about being together as a family. So I would still require her to sit at the table with the family and participate in conversation. If she is not hungry she doesn't have to eat. If she is hungry she can eat some of what you have.

Also when she does eat with you give her really small portions and let her ask for seconds. That way she won't be overwhelmed by the amount.

If this is a control issue the fact that you are letting her decide (within limits) should help. But don't go overboard. You don't need to make separate meals for her, just provide healthy snacks.

Good luck. This must be really really tough. As far as I know, kids don't usually starve themselves.

Kathy Grubb said...

I had a child, at about two, who would cough and gag when she was eating something she didn't like. If we "made" her eat it, she would make herself vomit.

It took a few messes for me to realize that this was a very deep control issue. I communicated to her that coughing, gagging and purposeful vomiting is NOT acceptable and she will be punished if she did it again.

Truthfully, I was bluffing. A little. I didn't know for sure it was her will. But there was never any pattern nor additional symptoms, just a determination to get her way.

I followed through, though, with my punishment, and eventually the behavior stopped. She (now 10) has a very strong stubborn streak, but it only shows itself in subtle ways.

I do not live with your fussy eater. But from your simple description, this is a control issue, not a nutritional one. Perhaps you make an agreement with her that she absolutely must eat 10 bites at each meal before she can do anything fun -- then, of course, be prepared to stand firm. (Also, no snacks at all, if they haven't eaten enough at mealtime.)

I would tell my kids, "Ten bites!" and, because they couldn't count would say, "No, twenty!"

Then I secretly prayed they married someone with a head for numbers.

I hope this helps. Pray, also, that God reveals the truth. He knows that little heart. I wonder how "God told me you're faking" would go over?

Gaynor said...

Kathy, you are so right that food generally is a control issue for my little girl, although on Saturday she was running a temperature and very pale and I just made the wrong call! Some time ago I wised up to how anxious she got if faced with a lot of food and we cut her portions right down and let her ask for more if she wanted. I think the two key issues for me are (1) that she will be willing to eat up some of what she doesn't especially like, always useful eating at other people's houses, and (2) that she would gauge her hunger/fullness levels better so that she doesn't need a snack an hour after lunch! There's a lot of insecurity in me as a parent trying to get it right too. All that said, the current 10 star-a-day chart is working well, apart from Saturday, so we're in more positive place!